Hoi Tong – Take a Bow
I have written more about Hoi Tong on this blog than any other restaurant I’ve been to. Of course, it’s because the food is of stellar quality – but also I deeply admire Chef / Owner Leung Yiu Tong, or Uncle Tong, as he is known to his regulars. With his wife by his side, they have been in the restaurant business for over 50 years. Delivering incredibly focused dining experiences at Hoi Tong Seafood Restaurant of such consistency, it felt instinctual.
I once asked Uncle Tong why he continued to work so hard when he had already accomplished so much over a long and distinguished career. He said there would be a day when he would no longer be able to execute to the highest standards, so while he could, he simply wanted to practice his craft. A craft that was honed working in high end Chinese kitchens in Dalian and Hong Kong and had taken him abroad to Japan and then finally Richmond and Vancouver.
You knew the end was coming, but it was still a shock when Uncle Tong announced he was retiring, and the last meals would be served at Hoi Tong just a few weeks after Chinese New Year.
His Cantonese food is a reflection of the high ideals of Hong Kong style restraint and sophistication. Where ingredients are elevated to the highest version of themselves – where the skill and effort of the kitchen does not make itself visible, as though somehow, this little perfect dish just willed itself into being.
Sweet and sour pork underpinned with Hawthorne berry juice for jewel bright freshness. Milk stir fried with egg whites to trembling textural perfection – recalling a time from the chef’s youth when milk was available only once a year from local farmers’ water buffaloes. And to waste such a precious product would be disaster.
Salt baked chicken and roasted squab dripping with succulence – the skin rendered crisp and glossy. Bitter melon omelets bitingly green and fresh, softly set and flecked with preserved meats to give gentle savor. Pork hocks rubbed with powdered sour plum and slowly braised with ginger till it just starts falling apart. Perserved mui cai served over steamed eggplants that are soft and tender, but retaining just the right touch of structural integrity so that it does not fall into mush.
Balance and clean execution.
As much we have been blessed with Uncle Tong’s cooking, he would say that he has been lucky to have an engaged and loyal clientele. Diners with considered palates who don’t fall for easy flavors, but understand the truth of ingredients and an appreciation of a chef’s skills in crafting food with honesty and integrity. Customers who only want the best, and love Uncle Tong all the more for delivering it humbly and quietly, like it was the easiest thing in the world to do.
And so the last meal draws to end, the dishes are cleared, aprons are hung, and the kitchen burners are turned off for the last time. Customers savor their final bites slowly.
Thank you Uncle Tong, everything was delicious.