Southeast Asian surprise

Weekend Glitz | Natasha Tai 8 Oct 2021

What's distinctive about Southeast Asian cuisine? Is it the aromatic blend of herbs and spices? The bold and vibrant flavors?

It's time to re-explore the unique aspects of both traditional and fusion Southeast Asian cooking as restaurants return with new dishes.

At Bibi & Baba, Singapore-trained Malaysian head chef Ho Wai Kong incorporates a blend of Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian cooking. "Malaysia is a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities, hence we can see a big influence of this in the food too," said Ho.

"Being a Malaysian and having grown up with this cuisine, I can say that it is the flavors and unique ingredients that I like most."

Featuring local and imported ingredients, Ho's menu includes a wide variety of authentic dishes such as Bibi & Baba's Special Prawn Mee (HK$102), beef rendang (HK$148) and a wide selection of desserts such as bubur cha cha (HK$58), made with sweet potato and taro cubes in coconut milk with sago, palm sugar and homemade tapioca jelly. Don't forget to keep an eye out for Ho's favorite - Nyonya fish head curry (HK$388), made with his own family recipe.

Having just celebrated Malaysia National Day with the unofficial national dish of nasi lemak, Ho hopes Bibi & Baba can bring authentic Malaysian food to Hong Kong's culinary culture. "I want to take my customers on a journey to discover flavors and associations that aren't familiar to locals in Hong Kong," he said.

Thailand is just across the border from Malaysia but the cuisine is noticeably different.

Those who want a taste of the country's famous food can hop over to Thai Basil, which has recently reopened with not only a brand new look but also a new menu.

Using herbs and spices from Northern Thailand, the Basil presents the sour and spicy taste that is associated with food from the country. The strong sense of authenticity flows through the presentation as well. Dark Green (HK$45), its signature Thai green tea, is an unusual emerald green with herby aftertaste.

The slow-cooked Canada beef short rib with red curry (HK$288) is as fragrant as it is bold in color - the orange curry contrasting with the tender beef and soft green kale.

Desserts also pay tribute to Thai culture. Finish your meal off with a Coconut Trio (HK$88), featuring coconut water pudding, panna cotta with coconut flesh, and coconut sorbet, or the homemade kaya egg tart with Thai tea ice cream (HK$72).

Candy Tse, the head of m.a.x. concepts, said: "Apart from new exotic dishes, the new restaurant also incorporates the Green Kitchen concept for the first time to support sustainability holistically, including saving energy and water, minimizing carbon emissions and recycling food waste."

Another hop across the border and we come to Burma. Hong Kong's only Burmese restaurant, Club Rangoon, introduces a new Sagaw Hta Min brunch (HK$358). Founded by Burmese Nelson Htoo, the restaurant's menu is filled with family-owned recipes.

The new brunch includes a selection of traditional vegetarian street food, such as potato samusa, palatha and dip, and kyaw sone, along with Shan khout swel or Shan tofu made with yellow split peas, chicken and flat rice noodles, finished off with homemade pickles and garlic oil.

Guests can fill up with a variety of curries such as pork belly, meatball, fish, pumpkin or aubergine, finished with Burmese tea ice-cream with homemade banana crumble.

Club Rangoon also offers an alcoholic free-flow (HK$238), which includes cocktails such as the brunch-only Burmese Shandy, using fermented pineapple, and Bloody Thiri, made with chat masala powder and galangal-infused vodka.

There is also a non-alcoholic version (HK$128) which includes mocktails such as Floating Garden - a mix of Seedlip Garden 108 and Assam tea syrup with cucumber tonic.

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