December 31, 2023

The best dishes I had in 2023

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Another year of eating pretty well, now that we've been released from the shackles of the pandemic and resumed travel around the world. Revenge travel, it is called, and I've made no less than 6 trips to Taiwan just to see the Parental Units. Of course, there were other trips, too... and I finally made it outside of Asia towards the end of the year.

Once again I have compiled a list of dishes I've enjoyed during the year which drew the most emotional reactions from me. I've had many, many delicious dishes over hundreds of meals, and as always it is no easy task to pare the list down to a manageable number. The dishes were tasted in Hong Kong unless otherwise indicated.

Golden roast pigs from New Territories Farms (新界農場大金豬), from Red Seasons Aroma Restaurant (季季紅風味餐廳) - it had been four years since I was last able to taste this roast pork... where the pigs were roasted in underground ovens and the very crunchy crackling come with that beautiful smoky flavor. Just so, so happy to be able to enjoy this with friends again.

Nutritious sandwich (營養三明治), from Tian Sheng Pu (天盛鋪) at the Miaokou Night Market (廟口夜市) in Keelung, Taiwan - I waited in line for 1½ hours for this, which tells you a lot about how much I wanted to eat this. I absolutely LOVE this sandwich whose bun has been deep-fried to golden brown, where one can get the a balanced diet from 5 major food groups (carbohydrates, meat/protein, vegetable, fruit, and fat/oil), it absolutely fits the name of "nutritious sandwich". And yes, I would absolutely take a 45-minute train ride just to eat this.

Cherry salmon (桜鱒), from Sushi Saito (鮨さいとう) in Tokyo - nicely aged so that the neta was just so, so, soooo tender. A beautiful piece of sushi.

Keisan-guma a.k.a. mamma bear (経産熊), from the Yakiniku Shunyasai Fanbogi (焼肉旬やさい ファンボギ) pop-up in Kyoto - I don't get many opportunities to eat bear, so this piece of "mamma bear" - from a female which has given birth - well-marinated with all that fat, was nothing short of stunning. Oh, there was a piece of baby bear that evening, too, which was just about as tasty.

Kor muu yang (คอหมูย่าง), from Restaurant Chedi in Singapore - when you make char siu from ibérico pork secreto, there's no way it doesn't turn out delicious.

Soup: fat greenling, myoga ginger (お椀: 油目、茗荷、針ウド、木の芽), from Imoto (井本) in Fukuoka - this bowl was stunning for all its purity... the delicate and ethereal flavors of the dashi, the unseasoned piece of fish showing its natural flavors, and the herbs which provided their fragrances.

Cutlass fish sushi (太刀魚の棒鮨), from Imoto (井本) in Fukuoka - torching the fish melted the fat so that it was absorbed by the rice, and the balance between the acidity of the vinegared rice and the fat, together with the tender fish which practically melted in the mouth, was just heavenly.

Japanese Kagoshima beef, Japone sauce top of Japanese pepper flower (牛肉: 鹿児島黒毛和牛 花山椒), from Chisou Nakamura (馳走 なかむら) in Fukuoka - the dish features two cuts of wagyu. The chateaubriand was, of course, very fine... but it was the rolls of aitchbone (イチボ) that made my eyes pop out. The fat melted in the cooking process and oozed out when biting down. I'd say this was the best beef dish I had this year.

Firefly squid (螢烏賊), from Tempura Motoyoshi (天ぷら 元吉) in Tokyo - I really love firefly squid, and this was just about the purity of the ingredient.

Japanese glass shrimp (白海老), from Tempura Motoyoshi (天ぷら 元吉) in Tokyo - a very bouncy ball of shrimp paste topped with the best raw glass shrimp. Doesn't get any better than this.

Bonito (鰹), from Sushi Saito (鮨さいとう) in Tokyo - the marinated bonito here is always one of the highlights, and on this day it was simply fantastic. Just so, soooo tender and flavorful.

Meishan pork rib (梅山豚のバラかつ), from Tonkatsu Narikura (とんかつ成蔵) in Tokyo - I've always loved fatty pork belly, and the fat on this piece was just amazing... especially when it's been coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried.

Kogane pork millefeuille (黄金豚のミルフィーユかつ), from Tonkatsu Narikura (とんかつ成蔵) in Tokyo - this was, hands down, the best piece of tonkatsu I've ever had in my life. Squeezing out the delicious juice while biting down on this was one of the epiphanies of my dining life. No, that's not a hyperbole.

Somen noodles (煮麺), from Godenya (ごでんや) - there are other dishes from Godenya that features sakura shrimp, most of them more elaborate than this, but I just love the simplicity and purity of a bowl of noodles topped with a pile of deep-fried shrimp packing a big punch of umami. It never ceases to make me happy.

Pain de rustique, from Ta Vie 旅 - there are many, many things from Sato-san that makes me happy, but I really need to tell the world about this simple piece of bread. The crust was so, so delicately thin and crispy while the crumb had a wonderful moist texture. Simply ethereal.

Braised ox tail (燒汁焗牛尾), from Forum Restaurant (富臨飯店) - a seemingly simple dish of braised ox tail, but how amazingly tender the meat was! And how surprisingly delicious that sauce was!

Ink scialatielli | aori-ika squid, leek, from Estro - Juve Fan's pastas are some of the best I've ever tasted, and this one has got the squid ink scialatielli cooked in squid broth, with squid cut into thin "noodles". The dish would have been amazing as-is, but the caviar on top actually made things better. Outstanding!

Stir-fried rainbow clams with spring onions and ginger (薑蔥海瓜子), from Yong Fu (甬府) - tiny little rainbow clams (海瓜子) are a real delicacy, and these were really packed full of flavors. Such a privilege to be able to taste them.

Roast whole suckling pig with glutinous rice (原隻金陵乳豬烤香苖), from Sun Tung Lok Chinese Cuisine (新同樂) - more than 15 years after first tasting this pig, and more than 9 years since the last sample that disappointed, I finally got to have my favorite stuffed suckling pig again. And it was cooked by the chef who invented it. And it was every bit as deliciously satisfying as I remembered when it had it for the first time.

Charcoal grilled freshwater eel with egg omelette mixed with cucumber, lettuce, and sesame (鰻 玉子焼き), Sushi Shikon by Yoshitake (すし 志魂) - the crunch of the grilled eel inside the mouth was just amazing.

Bonito (鰹), Sushi Shikon by Yoshitake (すし 志魂) - for me, a well-aged and well-marinated bonito will beat any bluefin tuna... and so it was with this.

Coconut crab curry with tosed noodles in scallion oil, from the Goh x Wing Lei Palace (永利宮) collaboration in Macau - I already had an amazing curry at Goh in Fukuoka earlier in the year, and it would have been on this list had I not gone to Goh-san's collaboration with Chef Tam in Macau. The inclusion of local ingredients like fried spring onions and deep-fried pork lard more than made up for the missing firefly squid.

Sauteed sweet peas and Jinhua ham (火丁甜豆), from Shanghai Fraternity Association (上海總會) - I was raised on this dish from childhood, and there are fewer satisfying dishes where a vegetable is the star. With this, I don't need anyting else other than a bowl of steamed rice.

Sago boiled in young coconut water (สาคูเปียก ลำไย) : longan ice / longan jam / frozen coconut milk / grilled coconut, from Sorn (ศรณ์) in Bangkok - one of the best desserts I have ever tasted, and the second time around wasn't any less amazing than the first time more than 4 years earlier.

Chicharrón taco, salsa verde, from MONO - how is it possible to not love anyting with big chunks of chicharròn?! 'Nuff said.

Langoustine, consommé de fruits de mer, poivre timut, from Caprice - the reason Hairy Legs if sometimes referred to as the King of Sauce is because he always comes up with these amazing sauces and broths that just knocks you out. This shrimp and ginger consommé never fails to floor me.

Rouget, sauce au safran, from Caprice - then there's the red mullet with THAT saffron sauce. And one-two punch with the last dish.

Deep-fried chicken in "pei pa style" with Cristal Blue shrimp mousse (脆皮藍天使蝦百花琵琶雞), from The 8 (8餐廳) in Macau - it's difficult to imagine how tender and succulent chicken could be when it has been cooked this way, but that was exactly the surprise. And the combination with the crispy shrimp mousse along with that sweet barbecue sauce...

Olive wagyu filet mignon (オリーブ牛ヒレ), by Foursheets - BM very kindly gave us a piece of filet which came from cattle raised on Shodoshima (小豆島) in Kagawa Prefecture (香川県) fed with olives. Foursheets cooked it sous vide and then seared the sides. It was so, so silky and tender that while it didn't quite melt "like buttah", it nevertheless came close.

Coral trout "chicken rice", from the JL Studio x Neighborhood collaboration - this might look like a beautiful leopard coral trout (東星斑), but the sauce that was served with it fooled you into thinking that you're having Hainanese chicken rice. That's some voodoo right there.

C'est laqué: Saint-Jacques de Dieppe grillée à l'unilatéral, laquée des sucs de bardes, chou en frisotis, sotolon, from Table by Bruno Verjus in Paris - this has to be one of the best scallops I have ever tasted, which was grilled on one side but only so little of it was cooked while the rest was raw. The reduction of scallop skirt that was brushed onto the cooked side was just beautiful.

Chou de Pontoise farci, from Café des Ministères in Paris - I couldn't begin to tell you how giddy I was at the sight of this giant meatball stuffed inside cabbage. It's the kind of thing that just isn't "in" anymore, and it was served to me by a chef who was crowned the national champion of the dish in 2022.

Lobster (龍蝦), from Mudan Tempura (牡丹 • 極上 天ぷら) in Taipei - one of the most memorable pieces of lobster I have ever tasted, it was coated in very light and thin batter and fried till mi-cuit, so that the texture was just incredibly springy and bouncy... and the flavors of the crustacean just punched you right in the face. Wow!

Gifu A4 wagyu with mushroom (岐阜A5和牛 段木香菇), from Mudan Tempura (牡丹 • 極上 天ぷら) in Taipei - my second-favorite beef dish tasted this year featured fatty sirloin wrapped around a mushroom and deep-fried. The melted fat mingled with the flavors of the mushroom... and felt like paradise.

A total of 34 dishes tasted across 10 cities around the world. Very grateful for all the chefs and restaurants who fed me so well in 2023 (and some who have fed me for many years). I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in 2024.

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