There really isn’t a lot to say about Hong Kong beef brisket noodle soup. I’m not aware of any interesting origin story of the dish and since it’s just called what it is there is no history to be implied from the name. Braising brisket is common to many parts of the world as a way to make a cheap cut of beef taste delicious. Taking chunks of that softened meat and putting it on top of some slurppy noodles with a little daikon radish in soup is a pretty obvious idea, and adding a little chilli sauce into the mix elevates the whole concoction to mouth-watering status.
Even if you aren’t a frequent eater at Hong Kong style noodle houses you are probably familiar with the idea of wonton noodle soup and you may have heard of roast duck or Chinese BBQ pork being served on noodles in soup. Braised brisket is not as famous a soup meat as the others, but when done right it may be the tastiest.
A Hong Kong style braised brisket isn’t anything like a southern BBQ smoked brisket, or a pastrami style brined brisket. I’m not sure if it is actually a slightly different cut of beef or perhaps a result of the braise being a little less low and a little less slow, but good Chinese braised brisket maintains a perfect balance of fattiness and chewy bits to go along with the fall apart in your mouth meatiness.
The fattiness and slightly chewy grissly bits are probably what makes this dish less appealing to a western palate that prefers to avoid those textures; however, if you haven’t tried it I urge you to give it a shot because properly made brisket balances the fattiness with some acidity and spice in the soup and the chewiness should be just enough to add texture without forcing you to mash it around in your mouth.
If you’ve read my other Hong Kong Comfort Food posts you’ll know where to find this dish. Just like the other comfort foods, beef brisket noodle soup can be found at any of the ubiquitous noodle shops scattered around the city. While you can find it everywhere, there are a few places that are famous for their brisket and it is worth seeking out the best.
From my Hong Kong Foodie 5 responses Jason from Life as a Bon Vivant and Gastonomous Anonymous both recommended the brisket from Sister Wah but perhaps the most famous place for brisket in Hong Kong is a place called Kau Kee [openrice.com].
While there are many ways to order it including in spicy soup and with soup on the side, I prefer the clear broth version. At most noodle shops you’ll find a small container of chilli sauce at each table that looks like mostly hot pepper seads in oil. This chili oil is less flavorful than a sirarcha sauce but manages to add heat while enhancing the flavor of what you add it to. I prefer to spoon up a little and drizzle the oil and seeds in one complete circle around my bowl.
I ended up sampling the soup pictured above with a tall cool glass of Hong Kong iced lemon tea completely by chance. I had managed to ditch the family for an afternoon of exploring and photography on the Kowloon side of the water when I happened to come across a shop called Supreme Beef Brisket Soup. Normally a name like that might send up some warning flags, but the shop had tables spilled out on the sidewalk and every single seat was taken. I was intrigued and a table opened up just as I walked in so I grabbed it.
To find the Supreme Beef Brisket Soup shop [maps.google.ca] get to the Yau Ma Tei stop on the Tseun Wan MTR line on the Kowloon Peninsula. Head south on the famous Nathan Road and then turn right when you get the Wing Sing Lane. I don’t believe that they have an english menu, but they do have pictures on the wall so you can point at what you want. If you really feel adventurous you can also ask for fried fish skin to go along with your soup. They keep it in a plastic jar behind the counter and it’s yummy.
This is the third post in my Hong Kong Comfort Foods series: