Baconboozer is expanding. And with that, I have been receiving more outreach from restaurants requesting reviews in exchange for meals. I feel an obligation to be utterly and completely honest with my readers: I love eating, and I am not made of money. So, I am thrilled at the opportunity to be offered free meals. In fact, it’s been one of my goals since starting this whole thing. It’s awesome and fun and (usually) delicious, and on top of that it provides me with some validation that I actually have garnered some respect in this ultra competitive food blogging field. I could never afford to go to all of the restaurants that I dream of someday going to, so this gives me hope. My promise remains (as stated in my disclosure) to be 100% honest and as objective as possible with my write ups. That brings me to Bite of Hong Kong.
Now I’ll be really honest… when I first read the email from this restaurant’s owner, I was unfairly judgmental and actually kind of an asshole. I admit it, and hope he will forgive me. Chinese food is great, but not what I was envisioning for the future of Baconboozer. Then I kicked myself off of my pompous high horse, realized how incredibly lucky I am for any opportunity like this, and dove into the idea head first. I started imagining myself walking the streets of Hong Kong like Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern, indulging in weirdly delicious and authentic Cantonese cuisine. I set up the reservation and gradually became wildly excited for the meal, as I was certain that it would be special.
Jason ran into a neighboring shop to get some tip money from the ATM, and I stood outside waiting. I knew I was in the heart of Chinatown when I turned and saw this:
A man was hastily hanging ducks (heads attached) and other yummy looking meats in the window of a shop on the same block as our destination.
A few minutes later (at about 5:00 on a Tuesday evening) we arrived at our destination: Bite of Hong Kong at 81 Chrystie Street. We were greeted by a Chinese man, who I nervously introduced myself to with, “Hi, I’m here for the review, Baconboozer.” I had no idea if he understood what I was talking about, as he smiled, nodded, and led us to a table. In the front there are a few booths and tables. Then you can walk past the fish tanks (I came face to face with my first live eel and obviously instantly channeled Princess Buttercup of the Princess Bride) into a larger dim sum room, full of large round tables with lazy Susan’s on top. We sat in the front and were each given a Tsingtao beer and some peanuts and edamame to nibble on while we perused the menu. Yum.
Ok, now this part stressed me out, a lot. As per my email with the owner, I was expecting some kind of tasting sent out by the chef of specialties or their favorite dishes… no decisions necessary on my part. I am not familiar with authentic Cantonese food and was hoping for somewhat of an education during this experience. However, I realized Jason and I had our choice of anything we wanted from the menu, which was daunting. It’s a huge menu and there are literally hundreds of options. My go to move of “pick the weirdest things on the menu” was impossible as there were even too many of those to choose from: cold jelly fish, sliced ox-knuckle, crispy fried pig’s tripe, house special chicken feet, crispy squab, conch… the list of crazy ingredients went on and on, and that wasn’t even considering the poultry, beef, or noodle sections.
Our waiter was good though. He handled us graciously, giving recommendations and answering my one million questions. While there were moments where I almost begged him to, “Please just tell me what to do,” I felt like he did an excellent job of gently guiding us to make our own delicious decisions. We tried to do a combination of weird and, what we though would be “classic.”
What I will say of true Cantonese food/restaurants is this: throw your etiquette out the window, and get ready to use your hands. I may not be able to tell you what the single most signature dish of the region would be, but I can tell you that you will probably be using your fingers, messily sucking/slurping meat out of something, and tossing shells out of the way… and you’re definitely going to need a giant wet wipe at the end. But it will be worth it.
First came out the sliced pork shoulder and pickled cabbage, one of the recommendations of our waiter. This was a cold dish, and something I probably never would have chosen for myself. Think Asian salami. It was kind of chunky with a rubbery seal of fat encasing it… a little bit of a weird texture. But so, so tasty.
Next was the duck tongue. I’ve had cow tongue before. And, yes, I realize that cows and ducks are significantly different animals. But for some reason that’s what I was expecting. Needless to say, this was nothing like cow tongue. We were served a pile of probably 40 deep fried duck tongues. The first one was difficult, as I learned that duck tongue has some kind of cartilage inside of it. Something popped when I bit it and a wave of instinctual nausea swept over me. But I persisted. With the second one, I started to recognize the “duckiness” of it, the familiar tastes of a gourmet tender duck breast. On the third one, I got a chunk of crispy garlic that was so incredibly flavorful I started digging around the dish for more. I realized there was an unusual saltiness to the batter that was as addictive as potato chips, and by then I was hooked. I ate about 15 duck tongues last night, and I am not ashamed.
Next up were the snails. On their menu Bite of Hong Kong lists snails with fish flavor and snails with black bean sauce. So when our waiter told us about the off the menu item, snails with salt and pepper, I felt like ordering that would instantly make me cooler and I had to do it. I’m an escargot lover. Those French style dishes with six tiny little holes and six tiny little snails drenched in butter and garlic are undeniably wonderful and indulgent. Here, we were served a mountain of snails in their shells, and given tooth picks. The snails themselves were small coils of a not to chewy ocean flavored meat. Taking them out of the shells was kind of fun, and they were guilt free compared to the French version, as they were pretty simply prepared. They did have some super flavorful peppers sliced up in the bowl with them, but other than that the ingredients spoke for themselves: simple, light, and oceanic.
Next came Dunges crab with crispy minced garlic. This was quite the undertaking. Jason and I used forks, shell crackers, and our bear hands to rip this bad boy apart. At one point I got crab in my eye. It was fried, with a gloriously salty batter coating the shells that you got bits of as you sucked the crab meat out of its hiding places. The crab itself sat on a throne of this pork and egg concoction, what I called Cantonese nacho meat. That egg and pork and garlic and scallion and cilantro (cilantro?!) medley was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had. Incredibly salty and fresh tasting and flavorful, I really have never had anything like it. People’s idea of “Chinese food” is just… so… wrong. Unfairly wrong. This is Chinese food in all of its messy and salty and fresh and fantastic glory.
Last up, we had the house fried rice. Fried rice felt like a nice standard choice that even a cautious or picky eater would be open to, so we wanted to give it a try. Again, incredibly different from the typical Chinese take out fried rice. This had golden raisins in it, dried scallops, egg, and some magical pork pieces scattered throughout it. The rice itself was almost crispy. And while I do know that it was probably jam packed with calories, it was the least greasy and lightest fried rice I’ve ever had.
This one is a hard rating to give, as I think it is my first experience with true authentic Cantonese food. Compared to my usual experience with “Chinese” food, this was one billion times more exciting and delicious. I feel like I missed out by not doing the steamed live fish, or the crispy squab, or the jelly fish head, and am dying to go back to try another round of weird delicious foods. I’m giving this place a four star Baconboozer rating. The bathroom could have been cleaner. I think the decor was pretty standard, but could have used a coat of paint just to feel a little fresher and less dated. I felt awkward and scared during the entire meal, but am looking forward to my next visit, where I will confidently be prepared to tuck my napkin into my shirt and rip my food apart.
I would encourage people, if you’re a first timer like me, to go, get some fried rice, and try something that pushes your culinary envelope just a tiny bit. Maybe for you that means curry beef stew, or maybe it means pig tripe. I think no matter what your adventure level in dining is, you will be pleasantly surprised by the authenticity and flavor profiles of Bite of Hong Kong‘s dishes.
After our meal, I obviously still had room (I am a bottomless pit). And I’ve been dying to stop by an ice cream roll place, as I’m seeing these cool cups of rolled ice cream all over Instagram. We went to the nearby Ice Age Ice Cream Roll shop and picked the strawberry and matcha tea red bean flavors. They were just so pretty. Perfect end to a perfect evening in Chinatown!