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Tsui Hang Village, pillar of Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong, still adding new twists to traditional

Time: 2018-05-29 09:54cheongsam dress Click:

Jimmy Ho Kwong-yuen retired last year but he can’t resist checking in with his “children”: the three Tsui Hang Village restaurants he managed for Miramar during a career spanning more than four decades at the Hong Kong hospitality company.

The sprightly 80-year-old has fond memories of his time at the restaurants, which are known for their traditional Cantonese dishes.

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When Ho arrives at the Tsim Sha Tsui branch – the first of the chain, still in its original location on the corner of Nathan and Kimberley roads where it opened in 1974 – staff affectionately welcome him as “Yuen Goh”, or older brother Yuen.

Ho had been working at a Miramar club that put on a revue of Chinese songs three times a day when his boss, group co-founder Young Chi-wan, asked him to manage the newly opened Tsui Hang Village.

The restaurant chain – there is another in Central and one in Causeway Bay – has since gone on to become an institution in Hong Kong thanks to its innovative approach to traditional Chinese cuisine and hospitality.

Tsui Hang Village, pillar of Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong, still adding new twists to traditional

Tsui Hang Village, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year, is today best known for its roasted meats such as char siu, and its signature salt-baked chicken and delicate dim sum. The consistency and wide-ranging menu of Cantonese dishes have made it a favourite gathering place for families, while it also counts a number of celebrities among its regular patrons.

The late Young was not only a passionate foodie, but also a proud patriot who originated from Tsui Hang Village near Zhongshan, a city in China’s southern Guangdong province. Revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen was also born in the village, and a life-size portrait of him originally hung on a wall in the Tsim Sha Tsui restaurant.

Ho says the first restaurant had just 19 tables in its early days. At lunchtime, diners tucked into a la carte dishes such as stir-fried shredded beef with preserved vegetables, and sautéed vermicelli with shredded barbecue pork, shrimps and pickles. Dim sum – now hugely popular at Tsui Hang – was served only after 2.30pm.

Tsui Hang Village, pillar of Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong, still adding new twists to traditional

The clientele were predominantly factory bosses with offices in Tsim Sha Tsui, Ho recalls, who was then in his mid-30s. His own boss dined there almost daily to check on the business.

“You have to treat each table the same otherwise people will notice a difference,” he says. “I also had to make sure the food wasn’t too salty or too bland, and the portions were just right.”

Tsui Hang Village, pillar of Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong, still adding new twists to traditional

That kept the young manager on his toes, working seven days a week for the first six months before Young told him to take a break – hinting that if he didn’t, Ho’s wife might not be around much longer.

Ho was generously compensated for his hard work. “I made HK$5,000 a month at the time, with a HK$3,000 bonus each month,” he says with a smile. “My boss even gave two flats to me – one to live in and one to rent out.”

At the time I started [in 1977], the restaurant was known for its stir-fried vermicelli and we made our own smoked trotter jelly

Chef Mok Ming

Several initiatives earned Tsui Hang Village a reputation for being innovative. One saw Young lure Chinese chefs back from Japan in the 1970 and ’80s to work in the restaurants. They were chosen for their ability to make dishes look more appealing, such as with intricately carved garnishes. This helped Tsui Hang Village compete with Maxim’s, the restaurant group that had cornered the market for banquet-style food.

Another innovation stemmed from Young’s interest in regional Chinese cuisine. Unlike today, when overseas guest chefs are regularly invited to the city, Tsui Hang Village was one of the first restaurants to invite guest chefs to showcase different examples of Chinese cuisines. They came from regions as diverse as Shanghai, Sichuan, Hangzhou, Fujian and Zhejiang.

Hong Kong’s economy boomed in the 1980s, and popular dishes at Tsui Hang Village included a number that have proven so popular they remain on the menu to this day: braised superior shark’s fin soup with shredded chicken in casserole; double-boiled sweetened imperial bird’s nest; and deep-fried crispy chicken topped with spring onions and soy sauce.

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