At Sheung Hing Chiu Chow, meals begin bitterly. You have no choice, you’re just along for the ride. A small, plastic tray bearing tiny cups of steaming brown liquid are unceremoniously placed on the table, alongside the usual salted boiled peanuts and pickled cabbage.
I drank the tea, waiting for the mild caffeine kick of the usual black Chinese brew, but was met with a lukewarm, bitter shot that reminded me of roots, dirt, and rotting leaves. What I swallowed was Gongfu tea, or the ‘espresso’ of Chinese teas, so called for its formidable kick, anti-thirst-quenching qualities, and palate-cleaning effects.
Our feast was a terrific introduction to traditional Chiu Chow-style cuisine. Sheung Hing is famous for its chilled braised goose, which arrives heaped high, shining with fat, and cleverly hiding a nest of tender, fresh tofu underneath. Not everyone loves the rich, gamey flavors of goose, but it’s hard not to obsess over the tender sheets of breast meat, which we doused in a garlicky vinegar sauce, or the cold, pimply skin, which coagulated into a velvety, supple slick of fat that dissolved in my mouth.
We also ordered the braised goose “web and wing,” which was a little freaky in texture (rubbery, chewy, hard) and appearance (is that a foot? Am I eating a foot?), but intensely satisfying in a salty meat lollipop kind of way.
There are a million other mouthwatering dishes to try at Sheung Hing, like the tender, succulent baby oyster omelet, which reminded me a crisp frittata, or the stewed winter vegetables with glass noodles, our only virtuous dish of the night. Then there was the lemon soup — which we ordered on the good word of Gary Shteyngart — enriched with a golden duck leg that bobbed in the clear, daffodil-hued broth.
My dad surprised everyone by ordering the hit dish of the night: braised duck with taro root complete with a feather-light, crispy coating. This dish totally blew my mind, both in construction and in taste — imagine deep-fried duck-confit-mashed-potatoes. Picture a mouthful that explodes with silky, buttery, sweet and earthy flavors and textures. I’ve never had anything like it in my life.
At the close of our meal, the owner brought out a crispy, deep-fried noodle cake and a jar of white sugar. We shook liberal amounts of the grainy sugar over the cake and dipped it in a tar-like saucer of black vinegar. (Here’s a great story on the history of the dish, and how to make it).
The freebies didn’t end there. We finished the meal, sated beyond recognition, with warm, cozy bowls of corn porridge, mildly sweet and deliciously gelatinous.