The Famed Preserved Eggs and Roasted Goose at Yung Kee
I love when a place that I randomly chance in on turns out to be one of the most famed and cherished gems of a city. This happened recently with Yung Kee restaurant, located at 32 Wellington, just a few steps away from my office. I was brought here because it was the closest place to work that had century eggs, a delicacy I’ve been wanting to try ever since Zimmern shoved one into his fat head in his Hong Kong episode. By Western standards, well…. they look ridiculous, unappetizing and maybe even a bit like a metaphor for Evil itself. The blackened “whites” and greenish, slimy yolk seem to allude to a horrible attack on fertility, an abortion of life too gruesome to even look at, let alone eat. Of course I had to try one.
Yung Kee does it right. A plate of 6 century eggs neatly arranged around a mound of the freshest, thickest, moistest ginger I have ever seen in my life. The idea is that the clean, slightly soapy flavor of the ginger cleanses the mouth after each one, mixing the heavy and (literally) rotten with the young and the fresh. A bit intimidated by these things, which look a bit like the merciless eyes of some sort of mythical beast, I opted for just 1 egg and some ginger, a decision which was met by understanding and tolerance from the waiter instead of the response I expected (“No they come in 6s. One plate 60 HKD”). Frankly he could’ve easily said something like this, because I would’ve paid that anyway just to try one. But he didn’t. He was nice. He brought me just one, with a huge mound of ginger, and charged me 11 HKD (like $1.30 USD). Nice.
On to the description. Pidan, hundred-year old egg, thousand-year old egg, century egg – it’s a preserved egg. It’s made by taking a chicken egg and preserving it in a mixture of clay, ash, salt and lime for several months until the yolk becomes greenish grey and creamy (and stinky) while the whites become translucent and gelatinous in texture. While it looks poisonous and horrible, it’s actually pretty delicious. The yolk is moist, thick, and velvety smooth while the whites are jelly-like and jiggle comically. The flavor is pretty much the same as a normal egg, perhaps a bit stronger. The smell is a bit sulfurous, but that’s ok… Any “excess flavor” (which there really isn’t…) is cleared out by the ginger, which is like a nice floral mouthwash after each bite of the egg.
What I didn’t know, and seems a bit odd for me not to have known, before I got there was that their roasted goose is incredible. I just kind of ordered the first thing on the menu, assuming it’s the specialty and I lucked into picking the dish the place is famous for. This goose was truly rad. The skin, first of all, was flawless. Crispy and golden, not one square millimeter was rubbery or slimy (as tends to be the case with about half the order every time I get it elsewhere) but perfect throughout, an even layer of sinfully (and audibly!) crunchy derm. Under this layer was one even more mouthwatering, one of fat – silky-soft, incredibly rich in flavor, the essence of roast poultry packed into a creamy white, slippery moist blanket which covered the flesh and inundated IT with flavor and moisture before melting in the mouth completely. The flavor reminded me a bit of roast pork while the texture was a bit less chewy, a bit lighter, softer. The goose came chopped into bite-sized lines in a heap on a plate (some pieces contained bone but that just meant a bit of extra work chewing the flesh off of it), the base of which was then drenched in a wonderful gravy by a server table-side, in front of our very eyes. The gravy was there just in case the skin and fat didn’t give up enough flavor to satisfy (which it did…), it was substantial but not too thick and the perfect thing to drizzle over the white rice which came with the dish. Under the goose was a layer of tiny little red beans, slightly undercooked to provide a perfect little crunch, which also soaked up the gravy and mixed it with their own earthy flavor. The goose also came with a small dish of plum sauce which provided a nice sweet touch to the goose but was, otherwise, unnecessary.
Originally founded in ’42 and having moved around 3 times, the place has a long, rich history. It has been named by Fortune magazine one of the top 15 restaurants in the world. And it’s KNOWN for the goose, serving an average of 300 whole birds per day! Their goose is even served to first and business class passenger on Cathay Pacific flights, and the preserved eggs along with them!
What a lucky find!