Every culture can lay claim to many edible innovations, and would like to believe themselves to be the original “foodies,” but that title should arguably be handed over to people of Hong Kong, China. No where else in the world do more inhabitants share this collective obsession with such a fervor. More than just a melting pot of outside influences, but a true stew of culinary concepts, the cuisine is a well-seasoned mixture of both Asian and Western flavors, each component blending harmoniously into the mix while still retaining its original integrity. In such a diverse cauldron of mouthwatering options, how does one begin to ladle out the goods? What are the best bits to search for when it all looks so delicious?
Luckily, opinionated as ever, there are many locals who have taken it upon themselves to counsel poor lost souls like myself, who don’t know a thing about the most fundamental eats to experience when in town. Though wildly varied in suggestions, one dish in particular seemed to pop up on every single list, whether it was on a brief overview, a top 40 account, or an exhaustive itinerary mapped out for maximum gustatory pleasure. Hong Kong Toast, a variation on what we know as French Toast, was the exceptional edible that had everyone raving. Much thicker and richer than our flabby, sandwich bread renditions, HK toast is much more like bread pudding all condensed into a single slice. Lavished with butter and drowned in sweetened condensed milk, it’s a breakfast fit for dessert, especially when stuffed with peanut butter as it often is found. Frequently referred to simply as “toast,” such a humble title conceals a heavy-hitter to remember. As per usual, those in the know got this pick right.
Paying homage to the cafe culture and another favorite beverage, bubble (or boba) tea, my miniature toast bites are topped with a snowy peak of whipped coconut creme and “milk” tea-infused caviar. By steeping the tapioca pearls in the tea itself, these tiny flavor bombs remove the need to guzzle down a full glass of liquid to achieve the same flavor sensation. That’s not to say that they’re suitable only as sprinkles, though- Leftover milky spheres can be popped effortlessly into a different type of drink for added effect! Imagine lightly green tea with delightfully toothsome black tea boba tumbling about the bottom. Why not give the same old drink an extra dose of delicious?
Finishing off my toast bites with colorful coffee stirrer straws rather than toothpicks, they’re easy to eat with your fingers, and the visual should remind eaters of the thick straws typically wedged into tall glasses of bubble tea. Though my rendition was straight-forward toast, each tiny cube could easily be injected with peanut butter using a piping bag, much like a hot doughnut would be filled with jelly. Insert the piping tip into the bottom to hide the hole, and dip carefully!
How many other top 10 dishes will the chefs hit when they visit Hong Kong? Tune in to Around the World in 80 Plates, this Wednesday 10/9c on Bravo to find out.
Hong Kong Toast Bites
“Milk” Tea Bubbles:
Adapted from What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway?
1/4 Cup Small Tapioca Pearls
1 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Tea
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Plain Soy or Coconut Creamer
Sweet Pan de Mie:
1 Cup Vanilla Soy or Coconut Creamer
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/4-Ounce Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
3 – 4 Cups Bread Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1 Cups Water
1/3 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
The tea bubbles should be prepared first, because they’ll need to sit at least overnight and ideally for an entire day for the fullest flavor.
First, soak the tapioca in warm water for at least 20 minutes, an set aside. Seperately, place the tea leaves in a strainer and add that to the water in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil, and then remove from the stove. Stir in the sugar to dissolve, and let steep for 15 minutes, covered. This is technically over-steeping the tea, but you want a more concentrated flavor than usual in this case.
Meanwhile, after the tapioca pearls have soaked, strain thoroughly and heat a medium pot of water on the stove. Keep the pearls in a strainer for easier maneuvering, and once the water boils, dip them into the water for 45 seconds. Remove the whole strainer-full and quickly run them under cold water. Repeat this process of blanching the bubbles as many as 6 – 8 more times, until the tapioca pearls are all translucent, and there are no more traces of white in the centers. This incremental method of cooking will prevent them from getting gummy and overdone on the outside.
Remove the tea strainer from the pot of water, and mix in the cooked tapioca, along with the “creamer.” Cover and let infuse for 16 – 24 hours.
To make the bread, see my original recipe posting for instructions, substituting the “creamer” for soy milk and sugar for agave. Let cool completely before cutting with a serrated bread knife into 1-inch thick slices. Remove the crusts, and slice each piece into 1-inch cubes.
The dip couldn’t be simpler- Just toss all of the ingredients into a high-speed blender and puree until smooth. Strain if needed, and transfer to a medium saucepan. Cook just until bubbles begin to break on the surface, and the liquid has slightly thickened. Let cool completely before using.
Finally, we’re ready to assemble the toast bites! Now is when you should fill the cubes with peanut butter if desired. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a silpat or piece of parchment paper. Toss each square of bread briefly into the dip, being sure to coat each side. Move the dipped cubes over to the prepared baking sheet, and repeat until all the pieces are assembled. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until golden brown all over. Depending on your oven, you may want to rotate the sheet halfway through baking (I didn’t and paid the price. Burnt toast is never a treat, even when it is soaked in a rich custard.) Brush each piece lightly with melted margarine for extra buttery richness. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before topping with a dollop of coconut creme and a thoroughly drained spoonful of “milk” tea caviar. Trim coffee stirrers by an inch or so if too long, and insert firmly into each piece of toast. Enjoy warm, or chill and eat cold later on!
Makes Approximately 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Toast Bites
For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.