Although most food genres in Hong Kong aren’t restricted by seasonality, there are certain kinds of food that are best eaten at a certain time, such as claypot rice in the winter. For me, summer is the best time to enjoy Okinawan food (沖繩料理), which tends to have stronger and spicier flavors than other Japanese food with influences from Chinese and American cooking styles. The scotching sun in Mid-August gave us a perfect excuse to visit Kushuya Rakuen 古酒家樂宴
for a feast of Okinawan alcohols and food.
One of the reasons to visit 樂宴 is the extensive selection of awamori (泡盛), a special Okinawan liquor made with rice and black yeast in a single distillation process
. I am no awamori expert but luckily KC took charge of the alcohol selection and the food pairing. Note that I said food pairing because the main focus of the night was tasting awamori
, and for detailed reviews of these fine awamori concoctions, you can read KC’s blog: http://gourmetkc.blogspot.com/2009/07/episole-1.html.
The dinner strategically advanced in 4 rounds with progressively stronger awamori for tasting. Since the food is served to support the awamori, an array of chinmi 珍味, fried food, and small plates seem to be the natural choice. Round 1: A lot of cold appetizers to kick off the night Featured 泡盛: 残波 25度(新酒, 1.8L, $700) 海ぶどう (Sea Grape, 海葡萄), $55
- a type of edible seaweed with tiny seeds that hangs from its stems, and with a texture like caviars these seeds burst into juice concentrated with oceanic umami flavor. チャンジャ (Korean Style Pickled Cod Stomach, 韓風漬魚腸), $55 & たこわさぴ (Octopus with Wasabi, 芥未八爪魚), $48
- they aren’t uniquely Okinawan but the spicy and savory “fishiness” complement the alcohol just fine. 島ラツキョウの天ぷら (Okinawan Shallot Tempura, 炸沖繩特產蔥頭), $53
- Very subtle sweet shallot flavor, a good fried food for alcohol 沖繩ソーセージ盛り合わせ (Okinawa Sausage Platter, 沖繩香腸併盤), $65
-Average porky flavorRound 2: Starting to have stronger flavored food to complement the awamori. Featured 泡盛: 島唄古酒 25度 (古酒3年, 1.8L, $653) ミミガー (Preserved Sliced Pig’s Ear, 胡麻醬青瓜豬耳), $45
- Crunchy juliennes of pig’s ears blended so well with the light sesame dressing, awesome! ヤリイカ沖漬けルイベ (Sliced Frozen Squid, 螢光魷魚漬), $78
- This has always been one of my favorite items as the oceanic fishy flavor is so intense! Here the ika is marinated in house, and if you are lucky to get its “heart”, it is an explosion of briny bile essence! Slimy with a chew, the texture may not be for anyone, but people who appreciate it (like us) can’t stop raving about it. In fact, we encored for another! 豆腐よう (Fermented Beancurd, 沖繩腐乳), $25
-Another Okinawan 珍味 with a flavor similar to our Chinese 腐乳, it’s the Japanese answer to cheese-wine pairing, only this time with awamori! 鯛カルパツチョ(Snapper Carpaccio, 酸汁半生熟鯛), $105
- Very mild in fish flavor, one enjoys the refreshing sauce than the carpaccio itself 沖繩產ゴーヤー チツプス (Deep Fried Bitter Gourd, 炸苦瓜片), $65
- Fried food is always a good companion to alcohol, and the bitter aftertaste of the Okinawan goya is certainly stronger than the Chinese bitter gourd. A good contrast to the subtle bitterness from the awamori.Round 3: Moving on to the stronger awamori, heavier food with grease like pork helped us to neutralize the alcohol. Featured 泡盛: 海乃邦 10年貯蔵 25度(古酒10年, 720 ml, $420) ラフテー と大根の煮物 (Miso Flavored Stewed Pork with Japanese Radish, 蘿蔔煮豬肉), $65
- A famous signature Okinawan dish, this local version of 豚の角煮 features fatty, tender slices of pork stewed in a sweet brown sauce made from soy, 泡盛, miso, and ginger
. I consider it a clear wisdom of using 泡盛 in cooking as the pure and concentrated fermented rice flavor deeply penetrates the meat and tenderizes it simultaneously. The version at 樂宴 is expertly prepared, with the entire slice of pork (not just the fatty parts) extremely scrumptious, and not an ounce of dry, stringy pieces
. In fact we said that texture-wise it surpassed 東坡肉 in many famous Chinese restaurants like the downhill version at 天香樓. Don’t forget the daikon which has absorbed all the wonderful pork juice, awamori, and miso. A bit of this pork and a sip of the 海乃邦 = 泡盛 on top of 泡盛! A MUST TRY! 明太カマンベール (Camembert Cheese Topped with Fish Roe, 明太子芝士餅), $45
- A simple fusion dish which works surprisingly well! We encored this again, and I even make it at home now! ゴーヤーチャンプルー (Goya Champuru, 苦瓜煮豚肉), $72
One cannot talk about 沖繩料理 without mentioning ゴーヤーチャンプルー. While it doesn’t appear new as we have similar dishes in Chinese cuisine, it just seems so appropriate to order it here and it still satisfies as a hot dish ゴーヤー天(Deep Fried Pork with Goya, 苦瓜豬肉餅), $55
-Not strong in either pork or bitter melon taste, this is average but very filling and good if you are getting drunk (which we were…
)Round 4: We are in high emotion at this stage, but certainly not stopping! Next is a very strong awamori, and one really needs some carbohydrates to combat the alcohol! Featured 泡盛: 久米仙5年, 40度 (古酒5年, 720 ml, $630) クーブイリチーチャーハン(Fried Rice w. Seaweed and Pork, 沖繩風昆布豬肉炒飯), $68
- Surprisingly good in flavor and the saltiness simply drives us to have more awamori お茶漬け & おにぎり(さけ,梅)(Rice in Soup and Rice Ball – Salmon and Plum, 飯糰&茶泡飯-三文魚,梅), $50 each
- Standard offerings and exactly what we need when drunk...Round 5 (Final): Now that we are winding down with most of us completely drunk and lying on the floor (luckily we were in the private room), a relatively mild and approachable awamori is chosen
. Featured 泡盛: くら, 25度(古酒3年, 720ml, $340) テビチのスモーク ボン酢和添え (Smoked Pork Knuckles, 燻豬手), $68
- Very delicious with a powerful smoky flavor!
The tender gelatin from the knuckles coats my lips and mouth, in a good enjoyable way! I will totally order this again next time! スパイシー テビチの唐揚げ (Spicy Pork Knuckles w. Garlic and Chili, 椒鹽炸豬手), $65
- This is not as juicy as the smoked knuckles but benefits from the fried garlic. Not spicy at all サーターアンダギー (Okinawa Styled Deep fried Donut, 沖繩風炸冬甩), $10 each
- A native Okinawan dessert, even the sweets can’t escape the deep fried process, and this is sweet , filling, but a bit doughy at the same time. 沖繩塩アイスクリーム, 抹茶アイスクリーム(Okinawa Salt Ice Cream 沖繩盬味雪糕 $30, Green Tea Ice Cream 抹茶雪糕 $25)
-I make sure to get a scoop of the salt ice cream and while its salty taste, as far as I am concerned, is the same as the salt ice cream you can get in grocery stores in Japan (but not as good as artisan ice-cream). Excellent~This was certainly a great awamori tasting and an epic for those who attended as there were so many funny stories with the drunken minds!
The food is fantastic and very authentic, and I know this will not be the last time we come here for more awamori and fun!
*Total Cost: $699 Food Alone: $365
R1: 残波, 海葡萄, 漬魚腸, 芥未八爪魚, 炸蔥頭, 沖繩香腸併盤
R2: 島唄, 胡麻醬青瓜豬耳, 螢光魷魚漬, 沖繩腐乳, 炸苦瓜片, 酸汁半生熟鯛
R3: 海乃邦10年, 蘿蔔煮豬肉,明太子芝士餅, 苦瓜煮豚肉, 苦瓜豬肉餅
R4: 久米仙5年, 沖繩風昆布豬肉炒飯, 飯糰 & 茶泡飯
R5: くら, 燻豬手, 椒鹽炸豬手,沖繩風炸冬甩, 沖繩盬味雪糕, 抹茶雪糕
Final: 5 empty bottles, A room of drunken people!
All awamori, 蘿蔔煮豬肉, 明太子芝士餅, 沖繩風昆布豬肉炒飯, 炸苦瓜片,沖繩腐乳, 螢光魷魚漬, 海葡萄, 燻豬手, 沖繩盬味雪糕
Spending per head: Approximately HKD699(Dinner)Other Ratings:
Value for Money 3