A waitress walked by our table. I asked her to send the har gau trolley our way. Her response that there was no trolley nearly sent me over the edge. Calm was only restored after she explained that har gau had to be ordered separately, as they can get a little tired sweating away in a trolley. Not for the first time, I realised just how much I take some old favourites for granted.
|Har gau 蝦餃 @ Lei Garden (Singapore)
It really goes without saying that the quality of har gau is a benchmark of how good a restaurant is for dim sum. However, there are restaurants that sell har gau but don't do a full dim sum service. I'd be wary of such places, as there's a high probability that the dumplings are from a packet out of the freezer. Some of these can be OK, but they're rarely as good as freshly-made har gau.
What makes good har gau?
In my opinion, these are the things to look out for:
1) The wrapper – this must be thin enough that it's translucent yet not so delicate that it will easily break. The number of pleats is also important, the more the better (around ten shows proper skill).
2) The filling – the prawns should be coarsely chopped rather than finely minced. The filling should also retain a good 'bite' and not be mushy.
3) Bamboo shoots - good har gau should include a few slivers of bamboo shoots for a contrast in texture and flavour. Sadly, all too many restaurants don't bother nowadays.
|Steamed wasabi prawn dumplings 日式芥辣蝦餃 @ Phoenix Palace (London)
In London, my favourite is Phoenix Palace, where they also serve har gau with a twist in the form of wasabi prawn dumplings (日式芥辣蝦餃). I don't often advocate dicking around with a classic, but I love the kick from the wasabi inside the dumpling.
Outside of London, I'm afraid my list isn't as comprehensive as it should be. Like I mentioned before, I've been taking har gau for granted for far too long. Having said that, I do remember the har gau at Lei Garden in Singapore being different class (see first photo).
Can I make har gau at home?
It is possible, but it takes a lot of effort. For starters, you need to get in the right kind of wheat flour and tapioca flour from a Chinese supermarket. My Mum made some over Christmas, and they were tasty but I didn't ask for a recipe (it's not as if I'm ever going to make them!). However, if you do want to try making har gau, check out Sunflower Food Galore's recipe.
And lastly, do shout if you know of a restaurant that serves good har gau. It doesn't have to be in London, it can be anywhere in the world. I don't care as long as it's good!
PS: I haven't forgotten! Kung Hei Fat Choi! Gong Xi Fa Cai! 恭喜發財! I'd like to wish my readers all the very best for the Year of the Dragon!