April 12, 2019


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It's all Fergie's fault.  Years ago he told me about this dinner he organized where they tasted a fish imported from Malaysia that cost what seemed to me a staggering amount of money.  At the time I didn't know the proper name of the fish, only that it was nicknamed 'unforgettable (忘不了)' in Chinese.  The story was that it was so good that once one has eaten the fish, one could never forget how good it tasted.  The joke was that once one saw the bill, one would never be able to forget how much it cost.

So recently Fergie got seafood itchy and decided that he wanted to round up people for another dinner featuring the empurau.  He had befriended someone who would be able to source the fish from Malaysia, and before you know it, dinner was arranged at the Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant (帝苑軒) for 20 of us.

A work emergency and traffic jam meant that I got to the restaurant around 40 minutes late.  The appetizer platter had been served, and the drinking was already under way...

Appetizers : vegetarian goose, jellyfish with spring onion and sesame oil, marinated duck tongue, beef with garlic chips, dace fish balls (佐酒六小福:素鵝 蔥油海蜇 鹵水鴨舌 蒜片牛柳粒 蜆芥鯪魚球) - since I arrived late, my friend had kindly plated these for me.  They were OK, although I have never been a fan of dace fish balls.

Sliced pork in spicy garlic sauce (蒜泥白肉) - OK lah.

Suckling pig roasted to order (即燒琵琶乳豬) - this is always a welcome sight, but many people were pretty reserved and saved their stomach capacities for the main event.

Being the greedy pig that I am, I took 3 teeeny weeeny little pieces...

Famous deep-fried prawns with mango sauce (馳名貴妃大蝦球) - dunno why this was supposed to be famous, but... the batter was rather thick and crunchy, and I guess this yellow goo is a mango sauce although I couldn't exactly taste any mango flavor.  It was just sweet and sour to me.

Empurau served two ways (忘不了兩弄) - everyone got very excited when this arrived.  This, by the way, was just half of the fish... as the 6kg specimen that was imported for us had been split into two by the chef.  Many of us rushed over to the side table to take pictures of the two large plates.

There aren't many chefs in town who have experience cooking this type of fish, and the size of this particular specimen also helped increase the difficulty of preparation.

The flesh of the fish didn't seem very special to me.  It didn't help that the fish was somewhat overcooked, which didn't surprise me for a specimen this large as the difficulty increases significantly with size.  Honestly, I couldn't make out any of that nutty flavor that the chef was telling us about.  Tried as I might I just couldn't get it with my pedestrian palate.  Then again, I'm not exactly one of those "supertasters" like some people...

What I did find interesting was the skin.  The structure looked similar to honeycomb beef tripe, and the texture was really crunchy... and I had the feeling of biting down on springy sandpaper... or wood ear fungus.

The scales of the fish were deep-fried and served separately.  The chef mentioned that some of the scales were as big as the dishes the restaurant used to serve us soy sauce...  Anyway this was really, really unique, as they were pretty damn hard and crunchy... and I felt like I was biting down on some really good, hard potato chips.

Baked crab shell stuffed with crab meat (生拆蟹肉焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - with shredded onions and diced button mushrooms mixed in with the cream sauce along with crab meat.  Unfortunately the cream/mash kinda congealed so the texture was not ideal.  This was OK, but I prefer a couple of other versions around town.

Stabbing it with a fork and breaking that gratin is always fun, as one gets to figure out what's actually underneath.

Double-boiled soup with Chinese yam, wolfiberries, and dried seafood (淮杞燉海中寶) - the soup was pretty nice, as we've got whelk and conpoy.

Braised goose with young ginger, taro, and plum (子薑芋頭梅子鵝) - I was actually too busy gossiping at the neighboring table to actually eat any... Besides, I was already full.

Wonton and young leafy amaranth in fish broth (魚湯雲吞浸莧菜苗) - very nice.  Love the fish broth, and even though the wontons (雲吞) were close to the size of ping pong balls, they were still pretty good.

Baked sago pudding with lotus seed paste (蓮蓉西米焗布甸) - really, really good... but we were just too stuffed to have more than 1 or 2 spoonfuls...

I took things easy tonight when it came to alcohol, and only tasted a little...

2015 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon - nice citrus nose, a little flint and toast.

1990 La Dominique, en double-magnum - earthy, smoky.  Pretty smooth now.

2008 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese - good acidity here with some sweetness, white flowers and flint on the nose.

The fish itself cost a little over USD 2,000 - before any charges imposed by the restaurant for cooking - and this was split by the 19 of us.  No, I didn't think it was worth paying for... but at least I can say that I've tasted it once.  I don't think I need to do it again, but I'm glad Fergie and KC did the hard work and put this dinner together.

The highlight of the evening for me, though, was definitely the round of gossip towards the end of the meal.

1 comment:

JL said...

From a Malaysian stand point, wild empuraus were worth the money.

Then the cost became stupid (MYR800+ per kg) and people started farming it. Hence, the loss of the nuttiness flavour from the meat.

And you are right, the empurau is easily forgotten now.


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