This blog post has been a long time coming and for that I apologise to you all. I initially wrote the post on the plane coming back from Hong Kong and was rather chuffed with myself as I had, for once, hours to compose and fine tune it. I was really satisfied with the end result, but then tragedy stuck as I accidently deleted it upon my return owing to the fact that I wasn’t very familiar with my new computer. So this post is very much an abridged version of the original, which in hindsight was probably far too long and rambling anyway.
During my recent visit to Hong Kong I was fortunate enough to meet up with one of Hong Kong’s most dynamic food bloggers, Janice Leung, over a delicious cup of creamy ‘matcha soul’ tea, at a charming little tea house called Sinmei in Sheung Wan. Like many of Hong Kong’s gem eateries and cafes it was hidden on the 5th floor of a commercial building away from the hustle and bustle at street level. It was an oasis of calm and serenity with its mix of vintage Chinese and European furniture giving it a somewhat boho shabby chic vibe.
Matcha soul tea at Sinmei
Prior to setting up her blog: e-ting food
, Janice worked as Assistant Editor at Luxe City Guides
, so knows her way around Hong Kong (and a number of other cities in fact) better than most. Most recently however Janice, along with her business partner Vincent Poon, have set up Island East Markets
which is Hong Kong’s answer to an organic farmers market.
Janice’s motivation for setting up such an enterprise was down to the fact that she found it increasingly difficult to source good organic produce in Hong Kong; the nearest place for her was in Tao Po, over an hours journey from her house, or the few stalls on Central Pier 7. Typically the fresh fruit and vegetables you see being sold in the various street markets in Hong Kong comes from mainland China where little or no knowledge is known about where or how it was grown and whether pesticides or fertilizers were used.
A typical Hong Kong fresh vegetable stall
There was definitely a gap in the market to launch such an enterprise and having spent time traveling the globe as well as living and studying in Melbourne Australia, Janice had seen the positive effect that having a local farmers market had on the community and the farmers alike. She was keen to create an environment where people would want to spend time getting to know the vendors, trying the different foods on offer and a place that families could wile away a few pleasant hours on a Sunday. As well as edibles and fresh produce, there is handcrafted goods made by local artisans, face painting for the kids and talented local bands. I also particularly like the idea that she has organised for local chefs to come and do food demonstrations using the local food on offer at the market to create delicious dishes that people can replicate at home.
There were a couple of key factors, however, that were paramount to the markets success; firstly she needed the support from the local organic farmers in Hong Kong – namely in the New Territories and secondly she needed a site. For the former she was directed to a body of around 70 farmers who were members of the Organic Farmers Association in Hong Kong, which is similar to the Soil Association in the UK. Using this list as a starting point she introduced the idea to the farmers who responded positively. The second factor could have proved tricky had the Real Estate company Swire Properties not offered them a site in Quarry Bay every Sunday. It was an incredible stroke of good luck that allowed the market to breath life. On Sunday’s the road is closed off to traffic and stalls are set up and a relaxed vibe is allowed to resonate.
So far the market has received a positive reception by vendors and customers alike and although it was closed over the Christmas period it opens up again from Sunday 27th January so if you are living or visiting Hong Kong in the future make sure you take some time out on a Sunday to visit Island East Markets on Tong Chong Street and see for yourself Hong Kong’s answer to an Organic Farmers Market, I know for sure that I will be paying it a visit upon my return in April, in fact I can’t wait!
The recipe for you today was inspired by a visit to a restaurant called ‘The Chairman’
on Kau U Fong in Central. Similar to Janice’s way of thinking the restaurant is also pro ‘local’ and sourcing premium produce from the New Territories, as well as placing emphasis on home-made as opposed to ready-made. Additives and MSG have no place in their kitchen and whilst the menu may not have as widest selection of dishes compared to some restaurants, the dishes that are on offer hit the mark.
The dish below was inspired by one such dish that I sampled in the restaurant. I hope that I’ve done credit to the original. After a few false starts on the home-made satay sauce, I think I have found one that hit’s the high note. I hope you ‘ll agree.
Satay Prawns with Garlic, Lemongrass and Spring Onions with Rice Noodles
Inspired by a similar claypot dish at The Chairman Restaurant in Hong Kong
Serves 4-6 (depending if you are serving other dishes as well)
320g fresh King Prawns (heads removed, shell on or just tails on – up to you)
2 tbsp of ground nut oil
7 garlic cloves, peeled (I like my garlic)
3 spring onions, chopped into 2 inch pieces
2 lemongrass, chopped into 2 inch pieces and halved (white part only)
250g rice flat noodles
250g dry roasted peanuts, unsalted
1 tbsp Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 and a half tbsp palm sugar (or regular if you don’t have this)
1 tbsp of tamarind concentrate (or pulp soaked in 25ml of warm water – you’ll need to squeeze it through a sieve if you do it this way)
pinch of salt
50 ml ground nut oil
200 ml water
for the spice paste you will need:
4 small dried red chillies, deseeded (or more if you want more of a kick)
2 lemongrass (remove the green part)
3 garlic cloves
1 inch fresh galangal
(or ginger if you cannot source it)
1. First make the peanut satay sauce. Coarsely grind the peanuts in a blender or food processor (or pestle and mortar) and remove and place to one side.
2. Next place the spice paste ingredients in the food processor and whizz until they are form a smooth as possible paste.
3. If you are using tamarind pulp soak in warm water for 10 minutes and then press through a sieve.
4. Place the oil in a pan and add the spice paste ingredients and let simmer gently for a couple of minutes before adding the crushed peanuts and stirring together.
5. Add half the water, tamarind concentrate (or pulp), kecap manis, palm sugar, salt. Stir in throughly.
6. Place the remaining water, and add even more if necessary, and let similar for a few minutes. Taste test to see if the salt/sugar elements have the right balance. Let cool and place to one side.
7. Heat a pan with groundnut oil and when the oil begins to bubble add the garlic and lemongrass and let it gently sizzle for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.
8. Add two tablespoons of homemade satay sauce to the pan and stir into the garlic and lemongrass.
9. Place the prawns into the pan and cover throughly with the peanut satay. Add another one or two tablespoons as required. After a couple of minutes add the spring onions and after a minute take off the heat.
10. In a separate saucepan boil the rice noodles for the time specified on the packet – will not be longer than 5 minutes. Drain the noodles and add a further tablespoon of satay sauce so that the noodles are also coated in the satay.
11. Transfer the noodles to a large main dish and place the prawns, garlic, lemongrass and spring onions on top and then let guests/family serve themselves.
Please note homemade satay sauce can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks and in the freezer thereafter.