Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Won Ton Mein at Mak An Kee in Hong Kong

This is part of a series of reports on my recent gastronomical vacation in Hong Kong. Return every Monday and Tuesday to see some of the things I ate at this major Asian city on the other side of the Pacific.

Can something so simple be so beautiful? Sometimes something so ordinary and everyday can be so extraordinary and special.

Have I hyped up this post enough yet?

One of the most iconic dishes from Hong Kong has got to be the won ton mein – springy thin egg noodles in broth along with dumplings made of shrimp and pork. If Japan has its ramen, Hong Kong has its won ton mein.

And yes, in Hong Kong there’s a won ton mein shop on every block. It’s one of the favorite bowls of noodles for lunch, an afternoon filler or late night snack. I went hunting for a bowl of won ton mein one afternoon, probably just two hours after I had just finished lunch. (That’s just how busy my eating schedule was on this trip.)

After doing research, I decided to visit Mak An Kee, which my cousin who lives in Hong Kong says is one of the most traditional of won ton mein restaurants. You might read a lot about Mak’s Noodles, which has become so popular that it has several locations. The story is that Mak’s Noodles is a spin off of Mak An Kee after an alleged family dispute. Or maybe it’s the other way around? (In fact, when doing a Google search, sometimes people will mix up Mak An Kee for Mak’s Noodles.)

But Mak’s Noodles has gotten some mixed reviews, so that’s why I focused on Mak An Kee.

Mak An Kee is an old, divey, tiny noodle shop hidden in an alley in the Central district of Hong Kong. Mixed in with the downtown skyscrapers are winding alleys filled with stalls of vendors hawking cheap goods. But those alleys also have actual stores, and Mak An Kee is at the end of Wing Kut Street off the main thoroughfare Des Voeux Road Central.

When I arrived at Mak An Kee, the waitress greeted me with that typical gruffy love of a woman who has seen it all. She pointed to an empty table and started off by warning me that they had nothing to drink. “We don’t even have a cup of tea,” she said. I didn’t know if that was just a one-time thing or a part of the routine of Mak An Kee.

Side note: Despite the grungy environment, they had air-conditioning, which is vital in hot and humid Hong Kong. Who can eat a hot bowl of noodles in the heat?

The menu is only in Chinese, but I knew what I wanted. So I just ordered a bowl of won ton mein. My waitress asked if I wanted a small, and I said yes since I had just come from lunch. And that was the extent of our relationship.

A few minutes later, my bowl arrived, with a pile of noodles covering up the won ton dumplings (the above photo shows the bowl when it first arrived at my table). The aroma of the hot broth came through, with the toasty shrimp roe that’s distinctive in this area (I wish more won ton noodle shops in the United States go through the extra effort to add the roasted dried shrimp roe). A few finely sliced slivers of leeks added to the overall fragrance.

I pushed back the noodles to unveil the won ton, some of the largest dumplings I’ve seen made of thin pasta sheets and filled with a whole shrimp in each perfectly cooked dumpling. But while the bowl is named for the won ton dumplings, it was the noodles that stole the show for me.

Springy and hair thin, these were noodles to eat with an endless stomach because you’d never get full from these light, tasty mein. My relatives in Hong Kong describe the perfect won ton noodles as “crunchy,” but it’s not exactly that. Sure, they’re firm with some pull, but you can bite into them without breaking your teeth. You’ll just break into a smile.

The small order of won ton mein at Mak An Kee is HK$26, or just $3.50. I had the goal to try another won ton shack in Hong Kong to compare, but I just couldn’t squeeze another one in. Looking back, I don’t know why I felt I needed to. Mak An Kee’s won ton mein is made with fragrant broth, fresh dumplings, and springy flavorful noodles. Simply the best won ton mein I’ve eaten in my life.

Mak An Kee, 37 Wing Kut St., Central, Hong Kong (closest MTR: Sheung Wan). Cash only.


janet said...

Bringing back memories! When I was a child growing up in Hong Kong; I had a bowl of wonton mein everyday; my mouth is watering just thining about it.

Thanks for the pretty pictures.

Mrs. L said...

Are there places around here for won ton mein?

Single Guy Ben said...

Janet, I could eat a bowl of Mak An Kee's won ton mein everyday if I could!

Mrs. L, there are several places to get won ton mein in the United States. I grew up eating them every weekend in Honolulu, and they were pretty close to Hong Kong. But now I feel like it's not the same after eating this bowl. Just the small touches like the shrimp roe and slivers of leeks make the bowl seem more special. But if you want to try won ton mein for the first time, here's my taste off I did.

This is San Francisco and this is Oakland

Foodhoe said...

Ooh you're really making me crave springy hair thin noodles!