Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Departed (Seafood, that is)

At the Hilton (nothing to do with the hotel or the scandalous fashionista heiress) Seafood Restaurant in Lamma Island we devoured huge platters of fresh seafood one glorious Sunday. At around 12 noon they were alive and kicking, swimming happily in their tanks while tourists and locals alike ogled them and pointed accusing fingers at their intended "victims". By 12:30 the first of the departed started arriving at our table. In our excitement to partake of these jewels of the sea in all their fresh, perfectly-cooked and reasonably-priced glory, we forgot to take pictures of the heaping plates. Instead, we made up for it by clicking away just before the final pieces entered the bottomless depths of our tummies.

Oh, and did I mention we rode a company yacht to get there? Lovely weather, a cool breeze, a pristine white vessel with attentive staff... sitting on the top deck pretending I was part of the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" show, what a fantastic day that was!

Before eating a friend requested the following: pungent garlic slivers; bright red chopped chillies, seeds and all; red vinegar
It comes with the territory: red vinegar, dark soya sauce, chili-garlic paste
We wanted something ice-cold to wash down our enticing lunch: freshly-squeezed orange juice and Tsing Tao beer. Ahhhh, this is the life.
A shrimp head frantically trying to get included in this shot. Look at the orange pulp!
Mantis shrimp (some might say crawfish) deep-fried with salt and pepper. It was crunchy, and the sweet, oily juice spilled down out chins as we bit into its purple-streaked flesh. It tasted like a cross between squid, lobster and prawns. We ordered another plate of this just because it was so tasty and fun to eat. The tiny legs were abrasive to the tongue but we still ate all the parts, except the head and shell.
The last piece of mantis shrimp... all for me!
The last 7 members of the hipon family. Steaming shrimps should be relatively easy, but many restos bungle the task and return the crustaceans to the table an overcooked deep-orange, and customers can barely peel them. These ones were cooked exactly right. Their shells glistened with moisture, the heads were plump and juicy, the flesh slid right off the shell like smooth hands from a well-fitting glove. Paired with some vinegar and garlic, their simplicity reminded me of summer vacations with my family where we would welcome fishermen with their catch, grill seafood by the beach, and eat with our hands.
The baked lobster in cheese sauce wasn't a big favorite. The sauce was bland, watered-down and thin. I ate a similar dish at Lei Yue Moon, also known for their fresh seafood, and although the lobsters there were tad rubbery and I ran out of Mandarin phrases when haggling with the seafood guy, the sauce was excellent! A creamy, cheesy, butter-yellow velvety coating for the 3 large lobsters we ordered.
Bamboo clams sauteed in black bean sauce. These funny-looking creatures are housed in a long, razor-like (they're also called razor clams) receptacle. The flesh is cream-colored, slightly rubbery, and as we divested the hard brown shells of their inhabitants an explosion of three flavors assaulted us: salty, sweet, spicy.
Crabs cooked with eggwhite. The taste was ho-hum, but the meaty crab was a sight to behold and I enjoyed sucking the life out of its many crevices.
The Chinese have taken steamed fish to a new level. A sauce made of soya, ginger and spring onions never fails to marry well with steamed white rice. Teasing the bones from the tender flesh without breaking up is easy to look at but difficult to master. As evidenced by this picture, the vultures at our table made short work of stripping this fish down to its bones, tail and fins. It was a massacre of the gastronomic kind!
On our way back to the yacht we passed by a street food vendor. Manong fishball or isaw in Manila. In Hongkong there are various kinds of balls to choose from. In this cart we see curried fishballs at the bottom left, plain fishballs with soya at the bottom right, octopus balls on the top right, and siomai on the top left. The siomai is the cheap kind made with processed fish paste and not your usual pork and shrimp.

A view of the cart: there were also cuttlefish tentacles ready for deep-frying, and an array of sauces.

On a sad note: the little store in Lamma selling the yummiest taho (soybean) drink and dessert I've ever tasted, along with some native Hong Kong kakanins (sticky rice pastries) filled with sesame paste, red bean paste and peanuts and a red bean bibingka was still there, but it was yummy no more. I took pictures, but I'm so sad at the decline in taste and quality I'd rather grieve silently, without visual reminders of the desserts that were.

1 comment:

PV Beley said...

arrrgghhh!! you make me so hungry and envious as we don't have an easy access to the seafood delights which you have in HK.