Monday, March 25, 2013

Hakka Cuisine

If you want to try Hakka cuisine, head to Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco, or read Linda Lau Anusasananan's book, The Hakka Cookbook. I received a review copy of the book in the Fall, and was lucky enough to dine with the author at Hakka Restaurant recently and fell in love with the hearty robust flavors and comforting rich dishes.

Even if you have other Chinese cookbooks, it's worth getting to know Hakka cuisine, because it's mostly home style cooking, ideal to try in your own kitchen. In the book Anusasananan traces her roots and shares stories from the people she meets on her journey into her past.

Since Hakka people moved all over the world, there are stories about the cuisine from places like Peru, Hawaii and certain cities in the US and Canada. There are classic recipes for Fried Pork Hash Wontons, Salt Baked Chicken (which Anusasananan thinks may have been the creation of a crafty salt salesman) and lots and lots of vegetable dishes including Braised Mountain Mushrooms, Pickled Carrots and Radishes and Stir Fried Iceberg Lettuce and Garlic. Anusasananan was previously a recipe editor at Sunset magazine, so needless to say you won't have trouble with her recipes.

According to Anusasananan, the Hakka are like the "Jews of China," nomads, who migrated from North-Central China to the South in the fourth century. They have their own language, and the name Hakka literally means "guest family." Their cuisine is the food of the working person, robust and sometimes fatty. They use a lot of salt-preserved ingredients such as preserved vegetables, cured meats and soy sauce. The food is related to Cantonese, but more rustic. Famous Hakka classic dishes include Steamed Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens, Stuffed Tofu, and Salt-baked Chicken.

Some highlights of the meal we enjoyed at Hakka Restaurant:

Chinese Bacon with Preserved Greens
This is a very rich dish of pork belly which are somewhat sweet, served with luscious preserved vegetables.

House Special Pan-Fried Tofu
This was one of everyone's favorite dishes. Lighter and with a delicate sauce. Inside the tofu was a mild ground pork filling.

Fried Pumpkin Strips with Salted Egg Yolk
If you've never had salted egg yolk before, I'd describe it as tasting a bit like cheese. It has a strong umami flavor.

Chicken Stuffed with Preserved Greens
The chicken was good, but the gingery preserved green stuffing was particularly delicious/

Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli with Rice Wine
Another unusual dish, this one had a sweet wine sauce.

Clams with Spicy Salt and Black Beans
I'd say the garlic and green onions were the predominant flavors in this dish.

Home-Style Steamed Sea Bass
Another knockout dish, this one had a thin sauce but was loaded with shredded pork, and sour, crunchy and juicy sliced preserved mustard greens.

Hakka Restaurant
4401 Cabrillo St @ 45th Ave
San Francisco
415-876-6898

More:

Linda's Hakka dinner post

Note: This dinner was organized by the San Francisco Professional Food Society and was open to members.