HONG KONG’S CURRY FISH BALLS OVER RAMEN
Drifting over moving chaos, under the clouds of settling dusts, weeks… have passed. It’s been almost a month since my last post, the longest it has ever been.
This posting gap was considerable in blogging years, unplanned nor welcomed, and in many ways in fact, nerve-wrecking. But I wanted to do the first “official” post properly, to wait, to get all the shit that needs to be done in our apartment, one that we renovated ourselves 6 years ago before moving to Beijing, so I could include a proper introduction of our new life to your all in this post. Kind of… Friends, apartment. Apartment, friends. Now help yourself at the buffet.
But turned out, as it seems, that there is more work involved behind those House And Garden variety of apartment showoffs that I used to take completely granted for. After 4 weeks of grinding constructions, big and small, to touch up those little imperfections that, really, bothered nobody but myself… the apartment, is still not there yet. So I decided not to wait any longer. This post may not include apartment therapy – maybe in another week – but worry not, it’s still got food.
Now, for the first “official” post marking a new beginning in Hong Kong, I thought it was only fitting that we start with something iconic to this city.
Every city needs a hero. Best yet, an nourishing one, dependable, non-judgmental, and accessible to all under its shelter, big or small, rich or poor. One that doesn’t care if you were hustling sober through the high traffics or stumbling drunk on the stone-cold pavement, always and forever, as the city promises, the rescue that is steaming just around the corner. Dirty water hot dog in New York, jian-bing in Beijing. Here, this thing called curry fish balls is the food-hero that bonds between Hong Kong’s identity and its people who hold it dearly.
The fish balls, pre-fried, are boiled in a large tank of neon-yellow water which gets replenished as more fish balls are removed from the water, and served with a spoonful of curry sauce and hot sauce to standing customers huddling around the booth. This boil-and-sauce technique, I suspect, is catering more to a streamlined service with higher turn-overs than say, optimising flavours. The fish balls, without actually being cooked in the curry, are slightly bland and therefore have to draw all their flavours from the topical sauces instead of being a single, together, perfect entity. This makes sense for street vendors, of course, especially in this relentlessly expensive city where any means necessary to speed up services are justifiably, if not rudely, executed. But if we were to recreate this dish at home – and I would argue that it’s in the best interest to honor its complexity – we shall do things a little differently.
CURRY FISH BALL IS A BIG SHAMELESS ORGY OF SEVERAL DIFFERENT CUISINES… ALL MERRYMAKING FOR THAT ONE, PERFECT, BASTARD CHILD
We don’t want to fancy it up, oh fuck no. After all, this is a street food for God’s sake so let’s show it some respects. But I do, however, want to change slightly the way I cook it. Instead of boiling the fish balls then sauce them up later, I want to, as how all curries are intended under the laws of mother nature, cook them long and tenderly together as one well-infused pot of aromatic wonder. Hong Kong-style curry fish balls is actually a big shameless orgy of several different cuisines, drawing influences from India, southeast Asia and Fujian/hokkian, all merrymaking for that one perfect bastard child, so we shall also build ours based on such logic, layering flavours and clambering to its climax.
First, a few finely minced shallots will be browned and crisped up in coconut oil. Then two different types of Thai curry pastes, an bombardment of smashed up lemongrass, garlics, galangal, chilis, spices and fish paste, are added long with a good clash of Indian curry powder. Cooked until fragrant and almost browned, the already emasculating aroma is then released into a pool of coconut milk with the reinforcement of more lemongrass and lime leaves, pinches of spices and a touch of smooth peanut butter, oh yeah. Then, and only then, the main attraction, the fried fish balls (see notes after the recipe) or in this case, an assortment of that plus fokan-style beef meatballs, are introduced into this love-pool in a thick and rhythmic simmer. Some impatient 45 min or so later, as soon as the brightly red dapples of fat start to part from the thick sauce below, the wait is over (That is, if you couldn’t possibly wait for it to sit overnight and become even more magical the next day but who can? Uh? Who can?).
You can, of course, serve this with a squirt of srirracha in a paper cup and toothpicks as how it is intended for. But in the presence of a newly moved-in and barren kitchen, I decided to ladle it over a bowl of instant ramen noodles and thus, made it into a legit if not glorious week-night meal.
- 18.7 oz (530 grams) Asian fried fish balls, or assortment of small meatballs
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 4~5 small shallots, finely minced
- 1/4 cup (57 grams) Thai yellow curry paste
- 2 tbsp (42 grams) Thai red curry paste
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
- 1/2 can (200 ml) low sodium chicken stock + more to adjust
- 3 (60 grams) lemongrass, cut into segments
- 4 kaffir lime leaves
- 2 1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp smooth peanut butter
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 bricks of instant ramen
- srirracha sauce to serve
- Rinse the fish balls (or meatballs) clean then set aside. In a large pot over medium heat, add coconut oil and finely minced shallots, and fry until the shallots are golden browned. Add yellow and red curry paste and curry powder, then cook for another 2 min until fragrant. Add coconut milk, chicken stock (use the coconut milk can to measure), lemongrass, lime leaves, dark brown sugar, peanut butter, paprika, freshly ground black peppers, and all the fish balls.
- Keep on a simmer while stirring occasionally, and keep adding more chicken stock to bring the liquid back to its original level. It's ready when you see red fat starting to separate from the sauce (which is what we want), about 40~50 min. Can be made the day before (even better the next day actually).
- You can serve the curry fish balls with toothpicks as a street food-style snack, or ladle it over cooked instant ramen. Either way, douse it with some srirracha sauce.
This street snack typically calls for FRIED fish balls (the un-fried fish balls are white whereas the fried ones are yellow). You can get Asian fried fish balls, fresh or frozen, from Chinatown's grocery stores. But if that's not an option, you can also substitute with any other kinds of small Asian meatballs of your choice (you'll see a good variety of them in the freezer section). I'm actually using a mixture of fried fish balls and beef meatballs.