(1) Man Lee Yuen Poon Choi 萬里緣盆菜專門店

Rating: ★★★★☆

Address: G/F, 11 On Ning Road, Yuen Long元朗安寧路11號地下

Telelphone: 2477 5724

http://www.ylmly.com/article_cat.php?id=6

(2) Hang Heung 恆香老餅家

Rating: ★★★★★

Address: G/F, 64 Castle Peak Road, Yuen Long 元朗青山公路64號地下

Telelphone: 2479 2141

農曆年期間我去了我朋友鄧氏的村吃盆菜。我以前只在酒樓吃過盆菜,所以有機會到元朗吃正宗的盆菜十分興奮,但原來準備時間太長,現在很多鄉村都是買回來的。萬里緣盆菜專門店的盆菜材料非常豐富,有鮑魚,燒肉,雞,燒鴨,豬皮,蘿蔔,芋頭等,醬汁也很惹味,很有風味。唯一是肉有點乾,而且有味精。我們還吃了恆香老餅家的老婆餅,蓮蓉餡十分美味!

My friend S‘s parents come from the Tang clan who reside in villages in the New Territories. The Tangs (“鄧”) are one of the Great Five Clans of Hong Kong (新界五大氏族 – 鄧文廖侯彭), and have settled in the New Territories, espcially in Kam Tin, for over 900 years. Annual festivals are often celebrated by large meal gatherings of the entire village, and I was lucky enough to be invited by S to join his family’s Chinese New Year celebration this year at their village in Yuen Long.

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Poon Choi, otherwise known as Big Bowl Feast, is traditionally eaten on this occasion. Poon Choi is a traditional type of dish where layers of meats and seafoods are served in wooden, porcelain or metal basins. It is said to have originated in the late Song Dynasty when the young Emperor fled to Guangdong Province during the Mongol troops invasion. As there were not enough containers, locals served their best food available to the Emperor and his army in wooden basins. Nowadays, the rising popularity of Poon Choi means that it can also be found at Cantonese restaurants in town in autumn and winter, in addition to the villages.

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Even though the Tang village still practices many traditions, the villagers nowadays no longer go through the painstaking process of preparing their own Poon Choi and order from caterers instead. S‘s village ordered their Poon Choi from a long-standing caterer in Yuen Long, called Man Lee Yuen. The Poon Choi’s comes in 2 sizes: Small, at $620, or Large, at $920. The delivery cost ranges from $100 (Yuen Long) to $250 (Hong Kong island), or you could pick it up yourself.

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As we arrived early for our meal, S‘s uncle, a 54th generation Tang, proudly took us on a tour around the village, showing us their ancestral hall, village entrance and communal study/ martial arts room before our meal started.

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The villagers greeted us warmly and gave us some wife cakes from the renowned Yuen Long bakery, Hang Heung, as our snacks. A wife cake is a pastry originated from Hong Kong, which is traditionally made with a filling of winter melon and almond paste. The ones we bought from Hang Heung was a modernized version: encased in a flaky skin, each wife cake had a scrumptious lotus seed paste filling which was rich and smooth and slightly glutinous.

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As Poon Choi is supposed to be made with precious ingredients, meats and seafoods are the main ingredients and there should be relatively little vegetables. Our Poon Choi from Man Lee Yuen had to be reheated, and it was absolutely gigantic – it was almost enough to feed a whole village, literally!

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The meats formed the top layer of the Poon Choi. As there were so many types of meat, I only just managed to try one piece of each of them. The amount of abalone, squids, chicken, prawns, roasted pork, roasted duck and fish balls was very generous, and the meats were all cut into big, hearty chunks. The chicken, pork and duck were a tad dry and overcooked, but were very tasty as they soaked up the delicious flavours from the sauce. I also liked the fish ball, which was smooth and bouncy.

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As unhealthy as it seems, the braised pork skin was moreish, as it was light and spongy and soaked up a lot of sauce. There were some vegetables at the bottom of the basin: deep fried taro, Chinese mushrooms, beancurd sheets and Chinese radish. Out of these, the Chinese radish and the deep fried taro were the most popular at the table. We appreciated the lightness of the Chinese radish after eating a lot of meat, and the deep fried taro had a beautiful, powdery texture. While I normally enjoy eating Chinese mushrooms, they were a bit too filling for me at this meal.

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We battled for 2 hours but still only managed to finish two thirds of our Poon Choi. At that moment, S‘s mum brought us some fresh cabbage to be cooked in the metal basin, and even though we were all very full, the green, crisp vegetables were welcomed.

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Man Lee Yuen‘s offerings were very generous, and the variety of ingredients was great. Even though the MSG made us rather thirsty and there were tiny pieces of fractured chicken bone in the Poon Choi, it was overall an authentic and satisfying meal.