Ask me about my graduation day and I’ll probably need to dig out my photo album to remember the details but this, my first taste of a lobster, I can describe it instantly.
In the early 90s, a very generous relative treated us to a Cantonese feast at the Tropicana Golf and Country Club’s Chinese restaurant helmed then by Chef Tam, or known as Tam Si Fu to his largely Chinese-speaking clientele. Dishes served that night included giant white crabs and, yes, lobsters. I remember exclaiming the unparalleled sweetness of its meat, which I should now properly characterize that taste as being umami. Such exhilaration that I told my folks that I was not planning on brushing my teeth that night, to have that taste linger in the mouth for as long as it could.
In the years that followed, through some winning bets, we’d been fortunate enough to be invited (again) by the relatives to dine at Chef Tam’s restaurant, which had moved several times since. Every meal here was a lesson in modern Cantonese cuisine and a discovery of new dishes; like shabu-shabu geoduck and steamed multi-star grouper.
Not surprising that our lives, not unlike those shown in the family dramas on television, flashed before our eyes. Although we can now afford to dine here occasionally without depending on lucky strikes, everyone seems to be too busy for dinner on weekends or has moved to a new city.
One fine day, we’d decided to revisit this Si Fu. A reunion like this called for the Hong Kong-born chef’s signature dish that we’d loved all these years – stir-fried lobster with superior stock. A good stock can only add to the flavour of the dish but it’s the skill that ensures the succulent meat be tender and coated just thinly with the lightly starched, golden stock. Although the dish was visually a simple blend of garlic, stock and lobster; the taste was very much sublime. What's more when the lobster was brought in fresh from the nearby live seafood wholesaler. New discovery number 1 this time around was 蝴蝶腩 or butterfly brisket. A search on the internet revealed that it's a cut near the stomach and mostly available in Hong Kong. Rendering in a claypot with scallion, shitake and ginger might sound tad conventional but it worked well, providing a flavourful, soft bite of the meat. New discovery number 2 came steamed with the classic soy sauce/fried garlic oil dressing - the 燕子斑 or swallow (as in the bird) grouper. It was perfectly cooked to have each flake still retaining some steam and moist. Why swallow? I don't know but I believe it has got to do with the size of the fish. I'm definitely looking forward to more of this sweet breed in the future. The head, tail and legs of the lobster were not wasted and used to umami-fy the yee mee or egg noodles, which was stir-fried with some aromatics like scallion and sliced ginger. Good stuff, of course.
And finally, some glutinous rice balls for dessert. A sip of the syrup that was heavily infused with ginger warped me back to my first taste it. It felt weird back then, this combination of sugar and ginger. But this time, it was very much comforting. And made sense too, basically to neutralize the richness of the sesame paste filling.
Often, the more experienced palate prefers newer and more exciting cuisines...but of course, whether new or exciting equates to being memorable is another matter. There are only a handful of dishes I had in the past 3 decades that are worth mentioning. Chef Tam's stir-fried lobster with superior stock is one of them. After all these years, I'm glad it's still as good as the first time.
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