Ah, Christmas. The season for goose, at least in theory. There's something very Victorian and impractical about the bird that makes me want to tackle preparing one. I've entertained the notion of cooking one for a few years but have never been inspired enough to see my antiquated fantasy through.
I had never even sampled the dark poultry until a few weeks ago in Hong Kong. I was remiss for skipping Yung Kee on my last visit deeming it too touristy. Now that I'm older and wiser I care less about bucking convention. I needed to try the roast goose no matter how popular it might be.
I hate to say that the most memorable part of my meal was the gratis starter. Our waiter, who was a dead ringer for George Takei in looks and strongly in voice, first asked, "Do you want the appetizer? It's a Chinese specialty." Sure. I knew what was coming and was well aware why he wouldn't bring it by default to non-Chinese customers. I wasn't scared of a preserved egg. I love fermented things. Or at least I thought I did.
I was expecting something firm and salty, but this was translucent and goopy and tasted sort of blue cheesey, kind of like a rindy soft cheese with ammonia urine undertones. The flavor by itself wouldn't have been so freakish if you thought it was cheese, but the flavor combined with the dark color and gelatinous texture was disturbing. You're trying to intellectualize how an egg could possibly age into this transparent, gooey state and still be edible.
Judging from the diners at the table next to us, you're supposed to put a strip of pickled ginger on top of the egg and chomp away. That worked, the sharp rhizome cuts through the funk though it was a little messy and gray gel stuck to my chopsticks and gave me the heebies.
As usual, we grossly over ordered. A half portion of roast goose was way too much for two, but we had been burned in Beijing by a miniscule half portion of Peking duck. Shows how little I know about birds; apparently geese are way larger than ducks. The skin was crispy and the meat was much richer and gamier than I had anticipated, not really like duck at all and definitely not like chicken. I kept thinking that the scary gray egg gel on my chopsticks was tainting the meat until I realized the poultry had a strong musky flavor of its own. Not a bad one, mind you. Plum sauce is served along with the goose, and oddly the sweet peach colored condiment is what we call duck sauce in the U.S. even though I've never ever eaten it with duck, just egg rolls. Maybe it should be renamed goose sauce.
We felt guilty for never ordering soup in Chinese restaurants so we had the mixed seafood soup, very Cantonese and delicate and likely thickened with a little cornstarch. Probably an extra course that we really didn't need, though.
Vegetables with crab meat turned out to be mushrooms and baby bok choy. Also another mild dish. That may sound like a strange comment, it's just that I tend to have mixed feelings about Cantonese food because it is simple and pure where I like bold and oily Chinese cuisine. Not that I can't appreciate a steamed vegetable.
I never eat fried rice (yet we did twice on vacation) but it seemed like a popular item at Yung Kee. It was very light and non-greasy and not soy sauced to death like here.
I felt totally fine, stuffed but fine, after our meal. We took goose and fried rice to go (I do love that doggie bags are not frowned upon in S.E. Asia) and grabbed a drink in Lan Kwai Fong afterwards. The story could've ended right there. I wish it did.
Then, in the middle of the night I was struck by the most painful, violent stomach cramps I've experienced in 36 years and spent hours alternating between vomiting and laying in bed trying not to move, even shifting a few inches would trigger another bout of barfing even though there was nothing left to barf.
While hanging out the hotel bathroom my mind kept wandering back to that black egg. Evil egg. I'm not saying that Yung Kee poisoned me, I had been flu-y and nauseous on and off all week, but something I ate that night set off a gut-wrenching experience that wouldn't end. I would eat Chinese roast goose again, certainly, maybe even a few bites of preserved egg because I don't hold food grudges, but the post-Yung Kee trauma only added to my feelings that this was quickly becoming the worst vacation ever.
Yung Kee * 32-40 Wellington St., Hong Kong