When people ask me what Hong Kong cuisine is like, I find it hard to sum up in a handy buzzword. Fusion? East meets West? Wacky bastardized food from all corners of the globe? Maybe the difficulty stems from the fact buzzwords and culinary genres are so full of misleading, stereotyped cow poopie. Half the restaurants in the city label themselves American or French American, but they all serve beet salad, cheese plates and steak. The average HK resident likes their cuisine more clearly labeled, even if it’s just under the catch-all moniker of “western food.” Although, there is precisely where the unique HK cuisine fails to do.
After a rather nostalgic lunch at the recently opened Cutting Board, I’m getting the distinct temptation to point people to the place as an explanation of HK cuisine worth a thousand words. Japanese udon, Italian pasta and American lobster rolls bump shoulders in the redbrick tenement slot at 53 Bayard, smack-dab in Cantonese Central Command. It’s certainly not a new concept; XO Eatery and the old Coluck Cafe come to mind when it comes to Hong Kong comfort food, but the second I saw Lemon Ribena on the menu, I knew it was home.
The British blackberry drink kicked up with a slice of lemon is symbolic of where Cutting Board, and HK in general, succeeds. It’s a simple drink, only one boiled coca-cola away from home remedy, but the combination works exceedingly well. That goes for just about everything on the menu: simple potsticker gyozas become an unusual treat with a fresh, tart sauce, not to mention a delectably soft skin with a warm, savory meat filling. A Taiwan bubble tea gets the injection of genuine flavor, healing the breach between smooth tanins and sweet milk with the nutty, buttery taste of black sesame. Simple tiramisu befriends powdered matcha, a friendship that makes as much sense as Goku and Vegeta.
Of course, not every item succeeds in the fusion dance. The lobster sliders drive me nuts, for example: the lobster mix is delicious, but why is it on a dried-out hamburger patty? Also, why have a signature Cutting Board salad with just avocados and tomatoes in a dressing? Thankfully, not everything gets the fusion treatment. Cutting Board’s appeal is in the quality of the food; where they do a simple curried beef over rice, they do it as standard as possible. Meat-flavored sauce with only a touch of curry, paired with the daft potato salad and the bonkers pickled cabbage and carrots? Done and done, eat it and go home to sleep.
Hong Kong is a place where cultures collide, clash, and ultimately become symbiotic- in a nutshell, so does the food. The best way to experience it is to dive in unimpaired. Don’t be afraid of the curt waitstaff or the inaccurate menu descriptions, just order the most insane thing on the menu and expect to be pleasantly surprised. Apologies for all the Dragonball references, and I really regret not trying the pork cutlets.