Cowering among Hong Kong streets's flashy red shop fronts stuffed with plastic displays and celebrity testimonials is the humble little eatery, Kaiinkaku. With antique clocks crammed into the window, this inconspicuous hole in the wall looks more like a Kowloon bric-a-brac store than a restaurant. Perhaps that's why this gastronomic gem in the midst of tourist traps is one of Chinatown's best-kept secrets.
Those in the know arrive early, as tables here are a scarce but highly popular commodity. Equally sought after are the shumai (¥480). These firm and meaty pork dumplings, which arrived almost before we'd finished ordering, were so scrumptious it was tempting to order another round. Perhaps the tasty dumplings and beer went to my resident Chinese expert Shou's head because he boggled his languages and mistakenly ordered chashu (Chinese barbecued pork - ¥1900) instead of the famous butabara nikomi(stewed pork-¥1900). As it turned out the barbecued pork in a mysterious marinade-fragrant Chinese five spice, we concluded - was a perfect prelude to our seafood umani main course. Packed with vegetables and ever-so-tender squid, tako, shrimp and scallops in a thick piquant soy sauce, the umani according to my discriminating dining companion could have used a dash more dashi (stock). On that matter of taste we agreed to differ. For me, it rivaled anything that the Taipei Grand Palace serves and left the Beijing competition turning a shabby communist gray.
When our table companion's kurumaebi karani (deep-fried shrimp tails, ¥4000) showed up, my companion was almost salivating as they wrestled with the crunchy shells and sucked out the succulent insides. He kicked himself again when our neighbor's nori tamago soup (¥1900) appeared in an oversized bowl. We quickly scribbled down the names and vowed that next time we wouldn't forget the soup, with its classic blend of seaweed and egg.
We rounded off our glorious meal with gomoku chahan (mixed fried rice - ¥750), which was a cut above your usual chahan. At that point, a surfeit of chashu, which seems to pop up in almost everything, and the generous portions were beginning to take their toll. But that didn't stop us from finishing the savory rice.