Yung Kee's Yvonne Kam On Why Stinky Tofu And Pomelo Skin Are Essential Hong Kong Dishes
As part of a new series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Yvonne Kam – third-generation owner of Hong Kong roast goose institution Yung Kee, and its contemporary spin-off Yung’s Bistro – explains the laborious processes behind many of Yung Kee’s signature dishes and why roast goose has become so synonymous with Cantonese cuisine.
Tell us about some of your favourite Hong Kong food memories…
Food has always been a part of my life, and there are a few special memories from my childhood which we rarely see nowadays.
The first is deep-fried fermented tofu, aka stinky tofu. This is a street food you either loved or hated because of its unique “stinky” smell. Normally, its pungent smell would lead you to the hawker selling it, even if you were quite far away; those who hated it would re-route, while those who loved it, like myself, would get excited and I’d ask my mom to buy it for me as a snack. Although we can still buy stinky tofu in Hong Kong today, the taste is not as good because making it is a very tedious process and since it’s quite a divisive food, it’s not worth it for the hawkers to make it properly anymore.
The second is dim sum carts – I think choosing dim sum from the mobile carts passing your table must have been every child’s highlight at lunch! I remember how some of the ladies would cook the dim sum straight away for you table-side and for the really popular items, we needed to line up besides the cart and “fight” for our order!
What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?
I have a few! Firstly, black mate goose, which is raised only in the Canton area and is the only type of goose that is good for roasting. Due to this, roast goose has become synonymous with Cantonese cuisine and remains one of the most popular “comfort food” items for many families. During the pandemic, we noticed that our roast goose was one of the most popular items at both Yung’s Bistro and Yung Kee when people were ordering takeaways.
Secondly, mini crab roe—a classic dish laboriously made by hand-picking crab roe, which is prized for its strong umami flavour and delicate texture, from many mini crabs. Handpicking mini crab roe is considered a very labour-intensive task, which is why no one prepares this ingredient nowadays. It has therefore become a very rare food ingredient in the market, but you can find this dish in both our restaurants.
Finally, pomelo skin; although this isn’t an expensive ingredient, you need to know how to choose the right pomelo and the correct way to cook it, in order to prepare a good dish with it. The best pomelos are from Zhangzhou and Xiamen in Fujian. We usually select pomelo that are not completely ripe during the fifth month of the lunar calendar, since the skin would then be the perfect thickness and tenderness for dishes served at Yung Kee such as braised pomelo peel with assorted meats and pig's giblets, braised duck and pomelo peel in zhu-hou sauce, and braised pomelo peel with shrimp roe.
The process of cooking pomelo skin is complicated, and you cannot skip any of the steps in order to achieve the perfect taste and texture. First, you have to boil the skin to soften it and remove the bitterness; then we soak it in cold water to maintain the texture of the skin. The above boiling and cooling process is repeated several times to achieve the perfect texture and balance out the bitterness. After that, the pomelo skin needs to be simmered for seven to eight hours, so that it melts in the mouth with a soft smooth texture and sweet flavour. We also cook the pomelo skin with dried shrimp, crushed scallops, flounder and dace fish bones to enhance the richness of its flavour; the skin’s fibre has already loosened after the soaking, boiling and cooking stages, so it absorbs all the flavours from the above ingredients too.
The process of cooking pomelo skin is complicated, and you cannot skip any of the steps in order to achieve the perfect taste and texture
If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be – and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?
Without wanting to sound cliched, it would have to be Yung Kee, as I have grown up there and it feels like home. It’s one of the few restaurants in Hong Kong that operates all four main cooking departments of Cantonese food—roast meats, dim sum, congee and noodles, and the kitchen (廚部)—but more than that, it’s a place with heritage and nostalgia where you can discover Hong Kong’s culinary culture.
It’s one of the few restaurants left in Hong Kong that has grown together with Hong Kongers for almost 80 years. Through the interiors and dishes, you can find lots of handicraft skills which have slowly disappeared in Hong Kong, as nobody is willing to do those tedious jobs anymore. You can also find lots of unique things in Yung Kee, such as its 3D dragon and phoenix hall. Lastly, it’s a place that insists on serving authentic Cantonese cuisine using only the best ingredients; we will never compromise on this, which is why every time you visit Yung Kee, you’ll find yourself surrounded by customers who have been dining with us for three generations.
Yung Kee, 32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2522 1624