I am sure that everyone who loves food would no doubt be familiar with the masterful documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi by David Gelb, where Gelb carefully follows the routine of Jiro Ono, commonly regarded as the best sushi master on the planet.
Just right before the climax of the scene (28:00), where Jiro goes on a passionate soliloquy on his love for his craft, his mortality as a chef and his perpetual chase for perfection, he pauses, stares at the camera and simply says “I dream of making of sushi”. To dream of food is a indication of love, hard work and devotion; and as one sushi chef in America said, “Jiro dreams of sushi, but [I] dream of Amber Heard.” Well, just a few nights ago, I dreamt of Singaporean food.
But here’s the thing, I love Singaporean food. Everyone who has been following Wong Eats Hong Kong will know that I love Singaporean and Malaysian food to a rather frightening degree. I love char kway teow, smokey and hot from the pan, with just a whisper of the ocean from the cockles; I adore prawn mee, where I get to slurp slippery yellow noodles in an umami-rich broth made from the heads; and best of all is the mighty nasi lemak, where fragrant coconut rice is married with aromatic curries, the crispiest fried chicken drumsticks known to mankind, and a giant heap of pungent sambal. I have mentioned that one of my filthy dreams is to be abandoned in one of Singapore’s many hawker centres, where I can proceed to gorge myself until my arteries explode. Unfortunately, I am also aware that finding good Singaporean/Malaysian food is like searching for a needle in a rather large haystack, and that the only way I can truly satisfy my cravings was to book a plane ticket. However, when I heard that Papparich, the mighty Malaysian restaurant chain, was opening in Hong Kong, a small flicker of hope rose in me…
… Which was promptly extinguished when the Nasi Lemak arrived in front of me. Instead of a beautiful, humble dish, I was presented with rice that had be shaped into a cone. As one pointy element was clearly not enough, they have decided to include a conical poppadom to the dish as well. It added nothing and was unfortunately soggy. Similar to sushi, the secret to a great nasi lemak lies in the rice. It should be fluffy and light, yet rich with the taste of coconut. Here, because the rice was shaped inside a mould, it was too dense and soggy, and one would struggle to distinguish each individual grain against the rest. It was also overcooked, and save for a faint sigh, there was no hint of the all-important coconut. The rest of the plate fared better. Peanuts and ikan bilis, macabre-looking dried baby anchovies, provide a satisfying crunch and nutty element; while the deep fried drumstick added a touch of luxury, but was not deserving of the hefty HK$35 additional surcharge. The curry chicken had good depth of flavour, providing moisture and a warm, aromatic kick to the dish. Best of the lot is the sambal chilli paste, all spice, pungency and saltiness. It demands to be slathered on everything. Still, this was an underwhelming dish, especially when you consider the price.
Thankfully, the Char Kway Teow fared much better. Slippery ribbons of rice noodles were tossed in a hot pan with fish cakes, bean sprouts and egg until everything was properly caramelised. It is big hits of soy, salt and fire. Unfortunately, the all-important cockles were missing, coupled with suboptimal prawns, meant that the dish lacked the vital umami punch that really makes the plate sing. The pickles and accompanying sauces? Unnecessary and frivolous. Disregard them and dive straight for the noodles.
Papparich may have slandered the good name of my beloved nasi lemak, but they do make a good char kway teow. So while I am not a huge fan of the restaurant, you will see me sitting on one of the tables regularly slurping up thick rice noodles drenched in soy.
Papparich, G/F L-Place, 139 Queen’s Road East, Central