Chef Marc Forgione made his name with a “new American” approach to food.
But on a recent trip to Hong Kong, the famous Iron Chef found a new passion: fish belly congee.
“I’m addicted to congee now. I had the fish belly and then I had the offal one … this was like heaven,” Forgione tells CNN.
The restaurateur discovered the traditional Chinese rice porridge dish while in Hong Kong to host a series of April pop-up meals at local restaurant Lily & Bloom.
Those lucky enough to nab a seat at one of his four meals were treated to a degustation menu, demonstrating his contemporary New York style of cooking.
From barbeque oysters – a favorite at his signature New York restaurant – to a melt-in-the mouth pastrami steak, Forgione delivered the piquancy of his New York favorites alongside matching cocktails.
Outside of the kitchen, Forgione did some exploring of his own, trying Cantonese classics like wonton noodle soup, roast goose and egg custard tarts.
“The food is above and beyond what I thought it was going to be,” the chef says of his Hong Kong culinary travels.
“I almost feel like I’d never really tasted Chinese food until I got here. It’s really opened my eyes.”
Forgione shares some of his favorite spots with CNN so you too can eat like an Iron Chef in Hong Kong.
Best congee: Law Fu Kee
“We were definitely the only Westerners at Law Fu Kee – it was not a tourist place by any means,” Forgione says of his favorite congee shop, which became a regular haunt during his stay.
“The little garnish that they give you, it’s almost like a scallion and ginger salad.
“I was shown that you put the salad in the bottom of the bowl, add a little chili oil, then the congee, and then the salad kind of breaks down a little bit. As you are eating, you kind of get a couple of pieces of that crunch. It’s like my new addiction. I hope I can find that in New York.”
Law Fu Kee, G/F, 50 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2850 6756
Best wonton noodle soup: Mak’s Noodles
“I’m Italian and I love making pasta – the dough is always a big part of it,” says Forgione.
“The wrapper on the dumpling [at Mak’s Noodles] was so light it was almost invisible. I ended up drinking the broth out of the bowl.”
Mak’s Noodles, 77 Wellington St, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2854 3810
Best egg tart: Tai Cheong Bakery
“My favorite dessert, hands down, is lemon meringue and when you look at the egg custard, it looks exactly like a lemon meringue,” says Forgione of the ubiquitous Hong Kong dessert.
“Your brain is saying, ‘This is going to be sweet’ and, instead, it was a nice savory egg custard.”
Tai Cheong Bakery, Shop C, G/F, 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong; +852 8300 8301
Best roast goose: Yat Lok
“We asked for napkins, they said no. We asked for a glass of water, they said no. I’m not making this up,” Forgione says of the no-frills Cantonese service he received at this one Michelin-starred Hong Kong favorite, said to serve some of the city’s best roast goose.
“They don’t care who I am and we just ate the roast goose for lunch – it was incredible.”
Yat Lok, Conwell House, G/F, 34-38 Stanley St, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2524 3882
Best Shanghainese: Hong Kong Lao Shang Hai Restaurant
“This was the most interesting meal,” says Forgione.
“We had a cold pigeon dish, jelly fish, there was a cold smoked chicken and fish lips – not really fish lips, it’s like cartilage – I loved it.
“I said put it in front of me – I love that texture, it almost tasted like the fat part of a pork belly.”
Hong Kong Lao Shang Hai Restaurant, UG1/F, Novotel Century Hong Kong, 238 Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong; +852 2827 9339
Best chicken: Yardbird
“This place was really cool and the food is great,” says Forgione.
“I think chicken’s an under-appreciated animal, because it gets butchered a lot – it becomes the forgotten protein. But we had 14 courses of chicken.
“Also, the sake sommelier – he’s been accepted by Japan as an official sake master. I’ve never had somebody describe sake to me with that passion and education.”
Yardbird, 33 Bridges St, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong; +852 2547 9273
Best Szechuan: Man Jiang Hong Xiao Tian Tian
“We ate at a Sichuan restaurant the first night – got off the plane, took a shower, had a drink downstairs and boom! Incredible,” recalls Forgione.
“We had frog legs, we had fish in red broth, we had a soft shell crab on top of a bed of probably a hundred chilies.
“I thought it was going to be punch-me-in-the-face spicy, but it was it was like a controlled heat with a big bottle of Tsing Tao [beer]. It was awesome.”
Man Jiang Hong Xiao Tian Tian, 393 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong; +852 2836 6971
Best xiao long bao: Din Tai Fung
“Soup dumplings – amazing. I had to a get a lesson on how to properly eat them, it was great,” says Forgione of the award-winning steamed pork dumplings at this world-famous chain of Taiwanese dumpling restaurants.
Din Tai Fung, Shop G3-G11, G/F, 68 Yee Woo St, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; +852 3160 8998
Best brisket noodles: Kau Kee
“So good! They serve three different types of noodles. We got the curry, beef and the regular beef,” recalls Forgione.
“It’s communal seating and the guy sitting next to me was slurping loudly, so I basically just kind of joined in and did my best.
“I’m going to try and bring that back to my Italian side of the family when we’re eating our spaghetti.”
Kau Kee, 21 Gough St, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2850 5967
Best cocktails: KWOON
“The canned rose, I think it’s genius. I don’t know if it tasted better because of the way it’s served, but it’s cool,” Forgione says of the “artisanal canned cocktails” at KWOON, a recent addition to the Hong Kong bar scene.
KWOON by The Woods, 64 Staunton St, Central Hong Kong; +852 2522 0281