East by Northeast (exne) is a locally-sourced Asian fusion joint that serves a select menu of Chinese tapas. It fits a snug 20, with 4 additional seats at the bar/cash register facing into the kitchen.
Dear reader, know that this post will not do its subject justice. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my first, though by no means my last, foodie encounter with something very special.
A few weeks ago, another ETA urged me to watch Anthony Bourdain’s travel show “No Reservations: Hong Kong.” As fate would have it, our institute is located within an easy bus ride away from not one, but two of the restaurants that the show features. Below is the clip from the show about both these places.
I discovered I had already been to the first one, a restaurant specializing in roast meats, and had left underwhelmed. Always one to give others a second chance, I did go back after watching the episode and ordered exactly what Bourdain did — roast goose and suckling pig — with better results.
The highlight of Bourdain’s trip to Hong Kong, however, is without a doubt the noodle shop that he visited directly after his roast meats experience, conveniently located only blocks away. This to me was the larger prize, in part because I have never been a “noodle person”. When given the choice, I almost always go with rice, largely because that’s just what I ate growing up. Up until the last couple years, my run-ins with noodles were primarily restricted to instant ramen, delicious but artery-clogging beef chow fun, and the occasional bowl of soup noodles. With Chinese food, I also generally view carbs as supplementing a meal rather than being the star of the show, and rice seems more open to taking a back seat, in that sense.
The show also makes clear that this noodle place is not just any old, run of the mill noodle establishment but the home of a dying art form: handmade bamboo noodles. The cloyingly sentimental tone of the feature aside, perhaps we all know something of the beauty that Bourdain describes, one rooted in the mortal quality of great things.
Eager to experience the hype of these noodles for myself, I had previously attempted to seek out this place, but failed miserably. It doesn’t help that the show makes little effort to put a name to a face. Luckily though, a friend of the hardy sort proudly announced that she had tracked down the name of the place. Armed with that, in addition to sky high expectations, a trio of us set out to finally give this place a whirl.
We stepped inside Tai Po Cooked Foods Centre with direction and purpose. The place was promptly found by said friend, and we grabbed the table closest to the kitchen to watch the maestro at work.
I couldn’t help but smile broadly upon noting his presence. Yes, he had no idea who I was, but I felt a strong affinity for him, especially after learning of his extreme dedication to his family and craft. The cheesy music and overly dramatic script of the show became afterthoughts. I instead latched on to his gentle mien, his sure, precise movements, and the quiet confidence he exuded. Even before our noodles came, I felt sure they would not disappoint.
We ordered and within five minutes, our noodles arrived.
And they were nothing short of unforgettable. The minute I slurped them in, all I could think of or feel was the incredible interplay between the ungodly springiness of the noodles, the creamy, pork lard coating bathing them, and the shrimp eggs that added nuttiness to every single bite. The noodles were cooked to absolute perfection: chewy and light, heaven’s gift of a vehicle and an excuse for transporting the savory pork oil into ma grande bouche. One mouthful was all it took to realize I had never tasted anything like this before, with the centuries dedicated to perfecting this dish infusing every dusty corner of my palate.
We got seconds.
And I could’ve kept going, restrained only by the thought of ‘next time’. Toward the end of our second plates, the man himself stopped by our table and suggested that the noodles would be enhanced by a spoonful of vinegar. We enthusiastically followed his suggestion, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, you bet they did. The slightly tart/tang kick from the vinegar opened my t-buds to new worlds, elevating the dish another dozen or so notches. I only wish he had stopped by sooner so I could’ve enjoyed both my heaps of noodles doused in vinegar.
Here he is preparing haw fun noodles:
Though sad to leave, there are few times I left a meal feeling so content, privileged, and excited at the prospect of coming back. His signature noodle dish is without a doubt ridiculously delicious, but it was the completeness of the experience that made it quite extraordinary. From before the start to after the finish, this was one foodie’s dream meal come true.