Walk into any Hong Kong chaan teng (restaurant) and you'll be able to find it: gon Chao ngow hor (乾炒牛河), or fried beef noodles.
Although ubiquitous on Hong Kong menus, ask anyone in the know about the geographical origins of gong Chao ngow hor, and they reference the small town of Shahe, in the Tianhe district in Guangzhou.
"Anecdotal history suggests that its origin is from Guandong province. Shahe county is where ho fun originates from since around the 1860s," says Jowett Yu, the executive chef at Black Sheep Restaurant Group's Ho Lee Fook, who also enjoys learning about Hong Kong's culinary history.
You might also be surprised to learn that the wet version of the fried beef noodles preceded its dry cousin.
Yu adds, "Originally, it's a 'wet' stir-fry with a starch slurry until in the 1930s one restaurant owner ran out of starch slurry one service and made it without. It became really popular and hence the evolution into gon Chao ngow hor."
The story that chef Yu refers to is a story that has been disseminated in local history over decades, although no hard evidence appears to substantiate it.
In a more detailed narrative, the restaurant owner could not run out to get cornflour to make the gravy for the dish because the town was under curfew during the war. The customer " allegedly a Japanese spy " believed that the restaurant owner was insulting him because he thought that the owner somehow knew he was a traitor. The spy became more aggressive and demanded the restaurant owner make the dish.
As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention". The cook created the dish without the sauce and the Japanese spy enjoyed the chef's creation better than the original.
The proliferation of such anecdotal evidence is all we have here, but as the anthropologist Sidney Mintz once wrote, "(The population) all believe, and care that they believe, that they know what (a cuisine) consists of, how it is made, and how it should taste. In short, a genuine cuisine has common social roots; it is the food of a community " albeit often a very large community."
That's not to say that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth but: in the realm of culinary history, anecdotes or shared memories can often help us get as close as possible to understanding local dishes.
We can also see chef Yu's enthusiasm for regional Chinese cuisine and its historical developments in his menu at Ho Lee Fook, which is inspired by old-school Hong Kong dai pai dongs and cha chaan tengs, and Chinatown hang-outs from 1960s New York.
So here's to a great story and an even greater dish " and here's to chefs who share a passion for our regional culinary history and let these stories live through their cooking.
Did you know?
Many traditional recipes for this beloved local dish call for wide flat rice noodles (河粉, ho fun), marinated beef, spring onions, beansprouts, and a medley of light and dark soy sauce. Your local restaurant may add onions or even shredded carrots and cabbage if they're feeling a little subversive or indulgent.
Yu, concurs with the ingredients used in a traditional recipe, adding that cooks might also include "a touch of sugar".
However, most important might not be the ingredients themselves, but the chef who domineers the wok:
Chef Yu explains, "It's a true test of skill for a Cantonese chef to make this (dish) without sticking, using just the right amount of oil. The final product must have Wok Hei."
When making gon Chao ngow hor, there is an inordinate amount of stress placed upon Wok Hei (鑊氣), literally translated as "wok's breath". This classic technique in Guangdong cuisine offers a complex aroma and charred flavour that can only be administered under intense heat and quick-stirring from the wok.
Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.Artikel Asli