I don’t really want my second foodie post to be about Chinese restaurants. Why? Because Chinese restaurants, wherever you go, tend to be so generic. Here’s some of their recognizable aspects.
- has glass door with chimes on it. A statuette of a dragon, a frog biting on a coin and/or a waving golden cat is the first thing you’ll see.
- the walls of the restaurant are either panelled with mirrors or are decorated with Chinese artifacts or Thai wood carvings. There’s always a sparkling faux-crystal chandelier at the middle of the ceiling, like it’s some sort of a homage to Phantom of the Opera.
- The service crew (attendants) wear bow-tied long-sleeves and pants for the male and embroidered cheongsams for the female.
- The tables are round, huge, have red table cloths and have lazy susans on top of it.
- The ceramic wear are generic white consisting of tall single-serve bowls, heavy plates, saucers, and a flat-bottomed Oriental soup spoon.
- Occasionally, there’s table napkin decoratively folded like an open fan and a packet of wet wipes but there’s always a pair of disposable palitos chinos and mint-tipped toothpicks on your table setting.
- Chances are you’ll be given peanuts or chicharon bulaklak as you place your order.
- Finally, if you happen to choose a usual comida china, it will consist of a thick soup, a choice of dumplings, a couple of seafood dishes, fried chicken, pancit, fried rice and for dessert, a choice buchi and almond jelly.
Not that I hated Chinese cuisine. I love it and I must say, every restaurant I’ve been to really really delivers, except probably for Chowking, Maxim’s and David’s Teahouse, whose take on Chinese food is so… fastfood. I’m merely lamenting the fact that in a Chinese restaurant, everything has gone predictable, boring na tuloy… But last week, we went to this chinese restaurant in Wilson St, Greenhills and had a definitely new (but not necessarily better) dining experience. Something I must really write about.
A friend of the community, a middle-aged Chinese lady, brought us to Hai Kang Seafood Restaurant two weeks ago as a sort of despedida for our priests bound for a mission appeal in US. We learned from her that Hai Kang means “Ocean River,” which is a sort of a push-gone-to-shove in underlining the fact that we’re in a seafood restaurant. Or not. “Ocean River” might be a safe name if they in fact served a dish containing some fresh-water lifeforms. Or it could point to EAC, an underwater current where Nemo and Dory met Shell and the gang of hippie turtles. But anyhow… We entered the establishment. Yep, there’s the chime on the glass door. Waiters on bowties, waitresses on cheongsams? Check. Mirrored walls? Check. operatic chandeliers? Check. Red round tables with lazy susans and a setting of generic white ceramic wears? Check. Disposable chopsticks, fan-like table napkins and a packet of wet wipes? Check, check and check. Every inch screams “Chinese restaurant!” But since this is just libre I kept mum about it. We were seated and the lady who was paying the bill placed the orders. Saucers of peanuts were served (check!) and so, the saga of a confused Chinese course meal began.
I was expecting an (imitation) bird’s nest soup be served first but we got, to my surprise, pancit canton guisado instead, a bit too savory and heavy to be an appetizer. But as every Chinese restaurant’s staple, the pancit is steaming, loaded with seafood and veggies, shimmering in sauce and is perfectly tasty. The noodles slides off your chopsticks if not properly pinned between the sticks. Then, we were served some shrimp dumplings in a platter. In some other chinese restaurants, dumplings like these are served in plate-sized bamboo steamer, ensuring that your (kunya-kunyariang sharks-fin) siomai is hot and freshly steamed. These dumplings, though cold, still tasted great.
Then arrived, still not the soup, but same sort of a fish generously covered with crunchy roasted garlic and ginger. It’s pearl fish, our benefactress declared. Why pearl, she has no idea. Whatever it is, it definitely rocked on our palate, as the tenderness of the fish melds on the tangy taste of garlic. At last, the soup was served. it was oriental seaweeds soup which tasted like… (imitation) bird’s nest soup. But it’s good to the last drop, having us tilting our soupbowls away from us sooner than we think.
Instead of fried chicken, we were served with fried pigeon on a bed of (very Indonesian) krupuk. I don’t have the heart to taste this dish as the sight of the heads of the pigeons (may expressions pa kasi talaga!) reminded me of that forwarded pictures of deep-fried human fetus engagingly eaten by a huge Asian man. Sick.
Buti na lang, the next dish is my all-time favorite basta nasa mga tsinong kainan, the beautiful “Pork in salt and pepper.” My kidneys may be swollen from their ordeal with stones but that didn’t stop me from taking loads of it. What’s good with this dish is the way they aged the pork, a bit pungent and ripe, the smell of culinary perfection for me.
Two more dishes were served but didn’t catch my attention (I was busy sinking my teeth on slices of pork in salt and pepper) as they probably do not merit my attention. Then, someone commented, “Wala bang kanin?” Like a stale afterthought, shanghai fried rice was belatedly served and was hardly touched.
For desserts, we were given the de rigueur mongo buchi, mango tapioca pudding, and that gluten balls with ube jam center and covered with ground peanuts whose name eludes me right now. I washed my lunch with 500-ml size Lipa Fresh Buko Juice with a token strand of buko meat in it. Solb!
Now, I have to say something about other aspects of Hai Kang. The waiters are courteous, especially the one assigned in our room. The toilets are clean and spacious. There’s ample parking space for those who do power lunches. I cannot comment on the bill because really, I didn’t even had the slightest idea how our lil lunch costed our benefactor. The service is fast though really, they botched the proper line-up of our lunch fare. Unlike Gloria Maris and a few other restaurants I know, there’s none of that dreadful ipis smell.
Do I recommend Hai Kang Seafood Restaurant? Yep, syempre. But in way how I would also recommend any other chinese restaurants of the same mould. Their food is already great, almost great enough to be on the leagues of Li-li, Causeway, North Park and the classic Ma Mon Luk and Panciteria Lido. A little more creativity on their ambiance won’t hurt. Why not add a live performance from a Wonders acrobat? Or choose a more modern Oriental furnishing? Or do fusion dishes? I don’t know. Just give me something new. As I would always say when asked what would I like to order, “Surprise me.”