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What did we see this year on plates in Hong Kong?
For vegetarians and carnivores, 2012 has been a fantastic year. Donna Mah wraps it up.
With restaurants becoming more aware of the dietary needs of vegetarians and vegans, menus have been expanded and adapted to cater to these diners, and no more so than this year.
Yet, 2012 has also been a year for meat-lovers.
The steakhouse continues to be popular with Hong Kong diners with choices including Australian and Japanese Wagyu, OBE meat, free-range and USDA prime.
Restaurants are now covering all bases with dishes that cater to diners with different dietary requirements. We see many more menus indicating dishes that are gluten-free, egg-free, milk-free and meat-free, or a combination of these.
Where it works: Grassroots Pantry and Mana have both earned a lot of media attention and customers with their organic vegetarian dishes.
More organic ingredients are being used with vegetables being sourced from local farms in the New Territories of Hong Kong or from nearby Guangdong province.
The use of low-temperature methods of cooking such as sous vide is in everyone's repertoire now.
Food is vacuum-sealed in plastic pouches and immersed in a water bath for much longer than when using traditional cooking methods at much lower temperatures. The result is evenly cooked and more succulent food. Everything from eggs, fish, meat and vegetables are being cooked using this method.
Where it works: At The Principal, where chef Jonay Armas has just earned his first Michelin star, a 63 C egg is one of the signature dishes. At Shore Steak, chef Jason Black serves trout cooked sous vide which gives it a wonderful soft texture that is incredibly flavorful.
As for cuisine, big hits this year have been Spanish and Mexican food.
Though French, Japanese and Italian food continue to be firm favorites for diners, there seems to be an avalanche of Latin-inspired venues has hit the city — be it a small, no-nonsense taco place like Taco Chaca in Sai Ying Pun, to the tapas at Vi Cool from Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola, to the just opened Hong Kong branch of New York's Boqueria, to name just a few.
Where it works: Vi Cool serves fresh dishes that have wonderful textures and flavors including ceviche, steak tartare and meatballs served with cheese fondue.
Across every cuisine, the emphasis in 2012 has been on ingredients. Locally sourced, organic, sustainable and less waste with nose-to-tail cooking, each and every chef has been busy creating using a mix of what is often locally sourced using traditional Spanish, Italian, or French cooking methods.
Traditional Chinese, usually country-style or home-style dishes, has also seen a resurgence.
Having said that, some Chinese restaurants have also started using what are usually considered Western ingredients and incorporating them into their dishes, like Iberico ham, foie gras and cheese.
Where it works: Linguini Fini makes their own pasta, uses local ingredients and practices nose-to-tail cooking. T'ang Court serves sauteed prawns with asparagus accompanied by crispy-fried shrimp with goose liver terrine and baked avocado filled with scallop, cream sauce and caviar topping.
Traditional cooking methods and recipes passed down through the generations continue to keep diners happy. People look forward to having dishes they've been eating for years.
New and innovative may be important for technology, but when it comes to food, people often want what they are familiar with. It's the old adage of not trying to fix something that isn't broken.
Where it works: Gaia continues to serve an old favorite — its pappardelle with rabbit stew ragout. Gaia has been serving it since it first opened 11 years ago and it is still one of their most ordered dishes.
What didn't work this year?
Some ideas simply couldn't be sustained. They included Hong Kong-style cha chaan teng (tea house) food made with organic and hormone-free ingredients. It sounded like a good idea, but the truth is cha chaan teng food was never meant to be good for you. A lot of the ingredients come from cans. That is not what people expect and want. Don't mess with it.
Celebrity chefs seem to be flocking to Hong Kong these days. Though their reputations will draw crowds initially, not all the restaurants have lived up to the big-ticket names attached to them. We will see whether some of them are still with us in 2013.
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