It’s my third week in Hong Kong, and I’m obsessed with finding out where a girl can get a steak in this town. Now I’m not talking about steaks that come with a hefty price tag at a high end, hotel restaurant. I already know those options exist, and I’m pretty sure those restaurants can provide an experience equal to one in New York or London or Paris. Probably so equal, in fact, that you might forget that you are still in Hong Kong. No, the kind of steak I’m looking for is loved. It is fattened up in a pasture and caressed on a butcher block before being seasoned and seared on a hot grill by yours truly. So why the obsession with steak all of a sudden? I’m in a city full of noodles and dim sum. What’s exactly happening here?
After spending two and a half months in a professional kitchen, I came to Hong Kong with a bag of new tricks. I had the tools, but then when it came time to find the materials, I was left completely out of sorts. The second day I arrived, I went down to the corner shop and grabbed a few breakfast essentials that I was used to having in London -milk, butter, bread, and honey. Being adventurous I went for the Chinese brands. After I tucked into my first plate of toast with tea I noticed something. I felt like I was eating the sponge that sat in our kitchen sink. And the honey was so sickly sweet it actually stung the back of my throat. Not only did all these things not quite gel together as they usually did back home, but I also paid nearly $100 HKD/£8/$12 USD for the lot. The toast debacle showed me that my habits and everything I think I know about food don’t necessarily apply here.
I grew up in the US, a country that provides such abundant sustenance and choice that it’s tough to keep waist lines from expanding to epic proportions. From Costco and Walmart to Whole Foods every kind of food product is available, any time of year. Quality is important, but convenience and abundance are at the consumer core. Then I moved to England. In the UK, every effort is made to support local producers. As you peruse the aisles there are stickers that proudly inform you that the products you’re buying are “British strawberries” and “Welsh lamb”. Heston and Delia and Jamie smile in ads that encourage you to “make the most of the season” and very politely tell you their favourite way to prepare a roast.
Now, I’m in Hong Kong. So far, my impression of this city is one of chaos. If you want to enjoy living here, you have to find the beauty in the madness. Rather deep thinking for a blog post I know, but funny enough shopping for food here is a great example. When I walk into a supermarket, I am instantly slapped in the face with choices. I’ve seen more variety in brands than I have anywhere else in the world. But when I take a closer look, I’m wondering -what exactly are my choices? Hmmm, do I want Jalapeno Cheetos, Cool Ranch Doritos, or Tyrell’s crisps? And over here we have seven kinds of Japanese mayonnaise with MSG! Oh and look, all those American sugar cereals like Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, and Count Chocula are once again smiling at me in the aisle. Notice a theme here? This is not exactly the way I’ve been eating for the past few years. In fact, when it comes to finding fresh ingredients, I might have to visit three stores before I can find something as simple as a red onion. Sure we have wet markets which have incredibly fresh as well as cheap fruit and veg, but you cannot bank on finding everything you need and you may very well be walking right back into the supermarket anyway.
Which brings me to the second point of supermarket shopping in Hong Kong -there is no rhyme or reason to price or quality. Of course you expect a very high end grocery store to have expensive products. I winced a bit when Tom spent $50 HKD/£4/$6 USD on one bulb of garlic at 360 (Whole Foods). But then what did I find when I went to International, a more modest chain? They were still selling bulbs at $10HDK/£1/$1.30USD a pop. So I think to myself, surely it must be a simple matter of availability? But then a trip to City Super, one of the most expensive stores in the city, and I found four different varieties, one of which was local (a rarity), going for $4HDK/.33p/.50c per bulb. Why this happens, I’m not sure, but I will say it makes it difficult to do “one-stop” shopping.
Which finally brings me to the biggest challenge in this town -finding good quality meat, at reasonable prices. I have not been to the wet markets for meat or poultry yet, and the stores I’ve managed to visit were less than encouraging. I had a rather difficult episode with some chicken I purchased from a supermarket chain called Wellcome. Wellcome looks like a Tesco’s, feels like a Tesco’s, but let me tell you, it’s no Tesco’s. That’s a mega shout out from me, considering I don’t even really like Tesco’s, but I would have given anything to have had a bit of their chicken on that particular evening. I should have just said “no” when I noticed the chicken breasts had a sort of radioactive glow to them. But I thought it better to keep an open mind. Upon opening the package however, the smell was more than just funky. It smelled like a market, and not in a happy, “that’s the smell of fresh blood” way, but instead a more fetid, “it’s been sitting around outside in the sun for a while” way. I won’t bore you with the details of what followed, but basically I found it completely inedible. The taste was similar to that of moth balls and formaldehyde. I am generally not a picky eater, but I could not even start my meal, let alone finish it. When looking at other options, City Super offered one, shrink wrapped chicken breast for $90 HDK/£7/$12 USD. One breast. Finding a non radioactive, not too expensive variety of chicken was quickly turning into a headache.
Along with checking different supermarkets, I was Googling like a maniac. My first criteria was to find something near our neighbourhood. Cost and quality were an equal second. Somehow, we stumbled upon a website called www.meat.com.hk. I don’t know who found it first, but I’ll give Tom credit because I am a loving girlfriend. Rather intrigued, we decided to pay a visit one weekend.
Two blocks from our flat we found an unassuming entrance to an office building that was sandwiched between others just like it. Feeling like we were on a very geeky scavenger hunt, we took the lift up to the second floor and there was the glass door. Giddy from the entire oddity of the situation, we stepped straight through the portal to our possible meat wonderland. I’d like to put this place in the category of the friendly local butcher, but I can’t because nothing is actually “butchered”.
Instead we saw freezer cases that held sealed packs of meat and poultry. Most of the meat was actually imported from Brazil or the US with the only local option being mince pork. I had had enough of chicken and decided to change up the beast entirely. We opted for two, Angus beef, ribeyes at $90 HDK/£7/$12 USD each.
It was fun to pay through a bank-teller like window that looked in on another office. The employees sat at their computers eyeing us curiously, wondering how the hell we had found our way to this. Tom was even so confident as to fill out a membership card which will give us discounts on future visits.
I grilled the steaks the next evening and served them with mash and roasted radicchio (from City Super, of course). I doctored the steaks with some seasoning as I always think frozen meat needs a bit of life added back into it once it reaches room temp. In the end, they were surprisingly good both in flavour and texture. Plus the portions were huge for the price. I did feel a bit odd eating meat from the US in Hong Kong. But I don’t think sustainability is a word that’s really hit this part of the world on a grand scale yet. The other drawback is the thawing time which means it’s not really an option for a last minute meal. But overall, I’d give www.meat.com.hk a thumbs up. The quality is reasonable, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, the location is decent, and if nothing else, it’s a fun experience.
3 cloves grated garlic
a generous amount of olive oil
a pinch of sea salt
fresh black pepper
a pinch of cayenne pepper
Place the steak in a bowl. Don’t go crazy with the spices as you don’t want to overwhelm the steaks. Add about a teaspoon of each unless otherwise indicated. Mix and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Get the pan smoking hot and sear for 3-5 minutes depending on how thick the meat is plus how bloody you like it. Resist the temptation to flip right away or futz. When finally flipped, the second side will need much less cooking time, 2-4 minutes.