Sanrio’s multi-billion dollar cat has been around since the 1970s, and from humble origins as a kawaii or ‘cute’ character aimed at Japanese children, has grown to world domination. You can find Hello Kitty pretty much everywhere from fashionable accessories to kitchen appliances and even extremely expensive jewellery. And food.
I have seen plenty of sweets and cookies shaped like Kitty or simply her famous bow, but dim sum came as a bit of a surprise. We happened to inch past this restaurant in a Hong Kong traffic jam, without quite realising what it was, but when I saw it advertised in a food guide later, I knew I had to go back.
For Hello Kitty fans, this restaurant is a must see. Everywhere you look – furniture, crockery, pictures, light fittings – that famous face stares back. I would say smiles, except of course that Hello Kitty does not have a mouth…
Being by myself, I could only sample a small number of the themed offerings on the menu, but, quite apart from looking amazing, everything I tried was very tasty indeed and I enjoyed myself immensely. It probably helped that I was surrounded by giddy Asian girls taking endless photos, and a highly amused, very friendly staff.
So – flaky char siew (barbeque pork) pastries, translucent rice flour har gau (prawn dumplings), and chicken vegetable pao (steamed buns), all decorated with cute Kitty faces and pretty pink bows. Even the paper underneath the dumplings in their steaming baskets was a Hello Kitty shape.
It was all a highly entertaining interlude, and (by the time the very nice manager had brought me a chocolate and mango Kitty dessert on the house) so filling I did not manage to eat dinner later. Which, since this cost almost HK$200, was probably just as well. And I promised, should I ever be in Hong Kong again with daughters #1 or #2 in tow, I will be back…
Shanghai-style soup dumplings are hugely popular in South East Asia, and a delicious snack at any point during the day. Bao means ‘bun’, the xiaolong is the bamboo basket in which they are usually steamed, and the tasty morsels are served with a dipping sauce of vinegar, soy and shredded ginger. Once you start to eat, it swiftly becomes clear why – instead of the usual 3 or 4 in a traditional dim sum basket – these dumplings come in multiples of 6, 8 or more.
The secret ingredient is the soup, which starts off as a gelatinous aspic added to the filling before the dumpling skin is drawn up and pleated round the top. As the bao steam, the aspic melts, and the delicious broth which results makes each mouthful a riot of different textures and sensations.
You can get all sorts of variations on the traditional minced pork filling, but one local restaurant in particular has produced a colourful and exotic selection which puts the rest in the shade.
Paradise Dynasty, at Vivo City in Singapore and numerous other locations around the region, offers 7 wildly unusual flavours in colour coded skins. You can order a basket of just the one type, or a special ‘tasting basket’ with all of them to sample at one go. Helpfully, this comes with instructions on how best to eat the bao, and in which order to try them (see below).
Having spent my time to date popping them into my mouth whole and risking a burned tongue on the broth, I now know I should nibble a piece of the skin away first, then sip the broth before eating the rest of the dumpling. I will say that a small hole in the side of the bao lets you add more of the wonderfully zingy dipping sauce, which is definitely a good thing!
The dumpling selection was a bit of a challenge, although certainly amusing. Together with daughter #2, I worked my way up from the original, through ginseng, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe and garlic to the final – spicy – Szechuan. We each had a basket to ourselves, and made sure neither of us skipped any of the weirder flavours, but in the end, decided we really liked the traditional style the best. Nothing would persuade me to try the cheesy one again, the garlic, ginseng and truffle needed a lot more taste, but I was surprised how well the crab roe, Szechuan and foie gras dumplings worked. This was great fun and a nice treat on the way to the cinema next door.