These little treats will change your life...seriously!  I first heard of these three years ago from a coworker.  Sara who used to make these when she worked in San Francisco.  Her rave about canelés sent me on a quest.  After doing some research I found a bakery in Seattle that made them and decided to give it a try.  Unfortunately, it wasn't very tasty; it tasted like a burnt, sugar soaked stargazer lily.  Fortunately, my philosophy is to always try things twice; because the first time might just be off.  Right?  I figured there was something not quite in place with the canelé that I tried so I decided to make my own (ok, ok,... I was going to make my own anyways, just wanted to try someone else's to see what they were like).

 Canele and tart from Dominique Ansel Bakery

Fast forward to August of 2013.   I was in New York to take a chocolate class by Valrhona.  While in the city, I visited Dominique Ansel's bakery (the Cronut Chef).  What are those things I see in the corner?  Canelé!  I bought one and O.M.G. they were amazing.  I've never been more proud of myself for trying things twice!  It had a crunchy and slightly chewy crust with the fragrance of honey and caramel and the inside was moist, rich and laced with vanilla.  I loved them so much that I made it a point to pick up $150 worth of canelés to bring back to Seattle.  Dominique's canelé inspired me to keep working at the recipe.  Determined, I swung by JB Prince to pick up 6 copper molds.  Now that I thing about it..., Dominique's canelé rekindled my quest, JB Prince was only a few blocks from where I was staying, their copper molds are about $19 a piece (which is the cheapest I've seen), and it all happen within the few days I was in New York...fate?


If you've ever tried to make canelé at home you'd know it's not an easy task.  The recipe itself is very simple but figuring which mold to buy and how to bake them so that the darn things don't have white asses (if you've attempted these you know what I'm talking about), and don't puff up and climb out of their molds is enough give you a few gray hairs. Canelés are traditionally baked in copper molds; EXPENSIVE copper molds.  Silicone molds are the cheapest.  There are also aluminum molds available at reasonable price.  From my experience, gained from trying all three, copper is the winner and they're worth every penny.  Besides the using proper molds, the baking process is also very important.

I've experimented with close to 20 recipes.  Mixing the batters differently, resting them for different periods of time, adjusting the ingredients, etc... thinking the problem was in the recipe.  Nope.  It's all about how you bake the canelés, not the recipe. Some recipes instruct to freeze the molds before filling and baking.  What do I think about that? ....well, canelés have been around for centuries and they didn't have freezers back then.  Baking with convection?  They didn't have that back then either.  BTW, I never bake with convection, I hate it!  So what is the secret?  Far too often we progress so far that we tend to brush away the past.  You can't know where you're going if you don't know where you came from.  The secret is to mimic the baking process of yonder years and using today's technology.

Vietnamese coffee is my twist on the traditional canelé.  If coffee isn't your cup of tea, my method for baking canelé will work for any recipe... I lied, I haven't tried all of the canelé recipes in the world so I can't guarantee it will work for all recipes but I'm positive it will work for most!

-The Batter-

Ingredients:
-400g milk
-50g butter
-230g sugar
-150g all purpose flour
-2 whole eggs
-2 egg yolks
-1 vanilla bean
-pinch of salt
-1/2 pinch of baking soda
-120g sweetened condensed milk
-30g ground coffee, brewed Vietnamese style to obtain 100g Vietnamese Coffee

Step 1: Brewing Vietnamese Coffee 

Put 120g of sweetened condensed milk in the bottom of a tall glass.

Put 30g of dark roast coffee into the bottom of a Vietnamese coffee pot/filter.  Pack down the coffee with the perforated cap (it's the part inside the coffee filter, can't be seen in the picture on the right, but you can see it in the first picture).

Pour 2tbs of boiling water into the filter.  Let it rest for at least 5 mins for the coffee to bloom before filling the filter with more boiling water.  The coffee will drip slowly into the glass.

Once all of the water has drained into the glass; give the mixture stir.  This mixture should equal 220g.  If it's more, subtract the difference from the 400g whole milk called for in the recipe.

That is, the total weight of coffee + condensed milk + whole milk should = 620g.  Adjust accordingly!

Step 2: Heat Milk + Butter

Split the vanilla bean in half using a paring knife.  Scrape out the seeds and throw the seeds and pod into a small pot along with the milk, butter and coffee.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat.  Meanwhile, work on step 3.

Step 3: Mixing the dry ingredients

In a bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and a tad of baking soda.  Wait a just a minute...baking soda?  Yup, baking soda.  Coffee is an acid, so we need to neutralize it with an alkaline = baking soda.  You'll need just a tiny bit, 1/2 a pinch at most.  Too much and it will result in leavening and we don't want that.  Once all of the dry ingredient are whisked together, add the whole eggs and egg yolks and whisk to make a thick batter, add some of the milk mixture if necessary to get the right consistency (if the mixture seems dry/stiff). 


Step 4: Tempering in the hot milk

When the milk comes to a boil, turn off the stove and slowly pour it into the bowl of flour + egg mixture from step 3.  Whisk gently while pouring, the batter should come together smoothly.

Step 5: Strain

Once the batter has been mixed, strain it into a container.

I prefer to use a plastic to-go qt. container.  It's handy for storage and makes pouring the batter into the molds easier by taking advantage of plastic's flexible nature.

When it's time to bake I just need to stir the batter and lightly squeeze the top of the container to create a spout for efficient pouring. 

Tap the container to get rid of any air bubbles.  Cover and rest for at least a few hours, up to 3 days in the refrigerator. 

-The Molds-



Copper conducts and retains heat very well which is essential when baking canelés.  If you're in the market for copper molds JB Price has the best prices.  If you're not ready to make such an investment then I suggest buying silicone molds.  Although they might seem hopeful, the aluminum molds just don't work very well.  Their problem is aluminum just isn't very good at conducting and retaining heat. That means uneven baking. 



Greasing the molds: oil, beeswax or butter?  It depends, how much of an overachiever are you?  To get the right texture, they all work.  However, to the sweet fragrance of honey and caramel with a shiny appearance, beeswax and butter is a must.  You can purchase beeswax from any craft store (they're used for candle making), just read the label to make sure it doesn't contain any funky stuff that you wouldn't want to eat. 



Beeswax is very 'solid', the best way to cut it is to use an old knife and a blow torch.  Use the torch to heat the knife blade and then carefully cut small pieces of wax off of the main block...it should cut like...well...a hot knife through butter.  Note waxes (not just beeswax) are a nightmare to clean up.  It would be wise line your work surface with parchment.  Any melted wax will collect on the parchment.  Since parchment does not absorb liquids, the melted wax will cool into a solid.  Peel the wax of the parchment and use it too.  Less mess and no waste.  Ha!  If your don't own a blow torch, which you should if you're a serious baker, you can get away with heating the knife blade over the stove. 

Now that we have the waxy situation handled it's time to coat the molds.  Heat the molds in the oven until they are nice and toasty.  You'll see why in just a moment.  While the molds are heating, put the beeswax in a microwaveable plastic container, again the to-go plastic container is very handy.   In this situation I highly recommend using anything that is disposable and microwaveable.  You really don't want to be washing/cleaning wax off of anything that is not disposable like a small pot.  If any melted wax goes down your drain while you are washing that pot...you're going to be spending the money that you could have spent on copper canele molds on a plumber instead.  Say no to (a) pot! 

We'll be using equal parts, by weight of butter and beeswax.  Beeswax melts at a higher temperature then butter.  Therefore, if you're considering melting down the wax and butter together, don't.  The butter will melt first and by the time the wax melts the butter will have become brown butter.  Instead, melt the wax by itself in the microwave in 2 minute intervals.  Once the wax has melted completely, add the butter.  Microwave at 1 minute intervals until the butter melts completely.






The molds should have been heated adequately by the time the wax mixture is ready. Now is the time to coat the molds!   Using tongs, carefully grab a mold from the oven.  Pour the wax mixture into the mold all the way to the top (using a plastic container also makes pouring a lot easier).



Next, carefully pour the wax mixture back into the plastic container and tap out any excess wax onto a paper towel.  Let the molds rest with their bottoms up until they have cooled completely.

A thin layer of wax is all that's needed.  Too much wax will result in a canelés with a crunchy yet crayon like textured crust.  Heating the molds ensures that any excess wax will melt off and soak into the paper towel.



Copper molds retain heat very well, which helps significantly in this process.  Aluminum molds cool way too fast which results in the wax setting up too fast into a thick layer. 

On the left is a mold that has been prepped properly; preheated in the oven, hot wax poured in, dumped out and tapped onto a paper towel. Once cooled, the wax coating should be barely visible if visible at all but, you can definitely feel it.  It should feel...waxy.  The mold in the middle is just a plain uncoated mold.  The mold on the right was not preheated.  As you can see there's an obvious thick layer of white wax, that's a no no. 

Since the wax was melted in a plastic container, if you have any excess just throw a lid the container and stick it in the pantry.  When it comes time to bake another batch of canelés, just pull it out and pop it into the microwave.  Since the beeswax and butter has been melted and mixed together, the next time you melt down the mix it will melt faster and more evenly.  The addition of butter which has a lower melting point to beeswax lowers the melting of the beeswax and vice versa.  As a result you've created a new 'wax' with a melting point that is between pure beeswax and pure butter. 

Note: if you're using silicone molds then you can skip this step of coating the molds.  There's just no way to heat the molds in the oven then pour wax in because they're stuck together and silicone also doesn't retain heat very well.  You can cut molds apart however, keep in mind that silicone is nonstick by nature.  Therefore, any wax that you pour into it will most likely just pour back out.  The only option you have is to brush or spray the molds with oil.  I suggest using canola oil.  You can try brushing the molds with the wax mixture but then you'll get wax all over your pastry brush and that won't be fun to clean up.

-The Baking Process-

This is it, swim or sink!  The type of oven that we have in our kitchens today weren't invented until the late 19th century.  Even so they weren't readily available to the public until the first quarter of the 20th century.  Brick ovens heated by coal or wood is more along the lines of what canelés were traditionally baked in.  If you're into artisan bread baking, chances are you have knowledge of baking stones and the difference they make in the outcome of product.  Baking stones are used in 'modern' ovens to in an attempt to create the 'traditional' oven environment that bread was baked in.   Get where I'm going with this?  

In a traditional oven, fuel (coal or wood) is placed under or inside the oven.  The oven walls and baking surface absorb the heat.  There are no oven racks.   Therefore, whatever it is you are baking will sit and bake directly on a heated surface which is considerably hotter than the surrounding air. 

With modern ovens, whatever you're baking sits on an oven rack and is surrounded by hot air, there is no direct contact with a super hot surface like with traditional ovens.  As a result, the caneles come out with white asses or rise and puff like a soufflé...or if you're lucky, both! 

Canelés are baked from a batter, meaning there is a lot of liquid in it.  As it bakes heat penetrates the batter, causing the eggs and flour to set holding the batter together into a canelé.  All things bake from the outside in.  In a perfect situation, heat from the oven heats up the copper mold, the mold heats the wax and begins to 'bake' the batter.  The outer part of the batter should bake (set) as the wax is melting.  As the wax melts it helps caramelize the crust and lubricate the canelé (think of frying an egg in a pan with oil). Gravity will push the melted wax down to the bottom of mold.  If everything is in line, by the time the wax settles to the bottom of the mold the batter will have cooked enough (thick enough) to hold the canelé's shape.  As the wax settles to the bottom of the mold it will create steam which will push the canelés up slightly. If the canelés are baked correctly they should rise up but not puff out too much.  Eventually the wax is absorbed back into the canelé and the canelé settles back down into the mold and continues to bake until it's done.  

This is why it is important to use the right molds and not too much wax.  Copper is best for heat retention which helps set the crust so that the caneles don't puff up too much.  Preheating the molds to get a thin coat of wax is essential as too much wax settling on the bottom of the mold as the caneles are baking will likely causing them to raise too high and falling over and/or contribute to the white assiness...lol is that even a word? Assiness...? 

Easier said than done eh?  Actually, it can be done pretty easily.

To create the hotter bottom surface for baking caneles I start the baking process off on the stove in a cast iron pan.  Why cast iron?  Like copper, it conducts and retains heat very effectively.  

Preheat the oven to 475'F with a baking sheet on the middle rack. Canelé molds don't sit very well by themselves on an oven rack.  The baking sheet is to create a stability surface to bake the caneles on.  It is important to preheat the oven with the baking sheet because, well, it defeats the purpose of preheating the oven if you're going to put the caneles on a cold baking sheet and then stick it in the oven...right?

While Mr. Oven is preheating, put a cast iron or heavy metal skillet on the stove over high heat. Meanwhile, pull the batter out from the refrigerator.  There will most likely be a layer of foam on the surface.  DO NOT skim it off.  Instead, stir it back into the batter.  



When the oven is ready, pour the batter into the wax lined molds.  Fill the molds almost to the top leaving 1/4".  


Place the filled molds into the preheated skillet and lower the heat down a notch to about medium-high. 






5 mins in, you will see the wax starting to melt and the outer part of the batter begin bubble/cook

At around 8-10 mins you will see the canele start to rise a tad above the rim of the mold.  They are now ready to graduate into the oven to continue to bake.  


All stoves are different.  The time guide above is just for reference, use your best judgment and trust your instinct if it looks ready then it's probably ready.  Warm batter (at room temp.) will only need about 5-8 mins on the stove.  Also, do not over crowd the pan, over crowding = not enough heat to do it's thing.  

Using tongs, carefully transfer the caneles into the oven placing them on the baking sheet.  Immediately lower the oven temperature to 375'F and bake for 30-45mins.  The caneles should have a dark brown complexion when they're ready.  

Pull the caneles from the oven and immediately invert them onto a wired rack to cool.  They should slip right out thanks to the beeswax.  

Now would be a good time to put a new coat of wax into molds for future baking; as the are still hot. 

Voila! Beautiful evenly bake canelé every time!  


Note: if you're baking in silicone molds skip the stove step.  Heat your oven to 475'F, fill the molds pop them in the oven and then lower the temperature to 375'F and bake until dark golden about 1h-1h 15mins.  From my experience, crusts of canelés baked in silicone molds tend to be chewy/gummy. 

The beeswax help release the canelés from the mold very easily leaving behind no residue.  Therefore, I almost always take advantage of the hot molds from the oven and do a wax coat right after baking a batch.  

If prefer to clean the molds and want them looking bright and shiny, use a mix of vinegar and salt.  Put salt in a bowl and mix in some vinegar to make a "paste".  Rub this mixture over the copper and rinse with water they will brighten and sparkle like new!


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This is a very simple cake from the Mekong Delta.  Not just popular in southern Vietnam but also in Cambodia.  They're named for their resemblance to a swallow's nest (a.k.a. tổ yến).   A traditional recipe would likely call for cơm rượu for leavening.   As with bánh bò, a well made bánh tai yến should have rễ tre (the "honeycomb" texture").  
   
Like all traditional Asian pastries, the ingredients are simple to track down.  And...guess what?  They're gluten free!

Ingredients:
-250g rice flour
-15g tapioca starch
-150g sugar
-175g water
-100g coconut milk      
-baking soda...just a tad
-enough oil for to deep fry with

Method:
Mix everything together to make a smooth batter.  What's that? You see lumps in the batter?  Pass the batter through a strainer.  

Fill a deep pot about 1/2 full with oil...or...fill the pot with oil until it's 1/2 empty. ;)  Either way, the pot needs to be able to hold twice as much oil as you're filling it with. lol  Heat the oil over medium high heat until it reaches 350'F.  

Using a small ladle, give the batter a quick stir, then pour a ladle's worth of batter (+/- depending your preference) straight into the oil.  By "straight into the oil" I mean, pour the batter in a steady stream, do not move the ladle/your arm while pouring.  In about 10-15 seconds the cake should float to the surface, continue frying until they are light golden.

Note:
Only a pinch of baking soda is needed, seriously! 

Baking soda reacts with heat (releases carbon dioxide), while the starches in the flour expands and coagulates to capture the gases; this gives the cake their trademark honeycomb texture.  Too much baking soda = too much "reaction".  In other words, too much gas is released too fast for the starches to hold them together.  The result?  The batter will break into tiny bits and pieces.


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Is it possible to travel to Asia without stopping by Vietnam? For many people, yes it is possible.  For me however, the answer would be no. It just won't be right to pass by the land where my parents came from, a land where my ancestors are still buried a home away from home.  Nothing much to do in Saigon except for the usual; eating, shopping and getting clothes tailored.  After a few days I headed south into the Mekong Delta. It was my uncle's death anniversary (đám giỗ) and we were treated to a feast!

Roasted pork with pandan bánh hỏi, duck curry, beef stir fried with fresh leek bulbs, and lotus rootlet salad with free ranged chicken.
 

After our lunch feast, it was a time for a stroll in the "back yard"....  look what I found!

They're called "trái dâu" in Vietnamese.  Does anyone know the English name?

 Fresh bamboo shoots...ummm...

 Fresh pandan leaves...they grow like weeds. Apparently, they are considered weeds, as no one plants or take cares of them...they just grow...

 Fresh durian, ready to be plucked from the tree and eaten....

And...yes they were plucked from the three and eaten.  Delicious!

 Lotus flowers, so beautiful and graceful!

Before heading back to Saigon we stopped for a bowl of Hủ Tiếu Mỹ Tho.  Rice noodles with pork, shrimp, and chives in a clear aromatic broth....


A few days later it was time to head to Laos.  My tour flew me from Saigon to Hue for breakfast.  Then from Hue we drove over to Laos.


Hum....what shall we have for breakfast in Hue?  Bún Bò Huế, of course!  Our tour guide took us to a local hole in the wall place on Lý Thường Kiệt street.  I have to say the Bún Bò Huế in Huế is very different from what I have had in Saigon or Seattle.  The broth is not as pungent of lemongrass and shrimp paste and the fresh veggie mix has different herbs in it.  Most noticeable is the addition for Rau Má.


After lunch we boarded the bus and headed for Lao Bảo, the Vietnamese/Laos border.  Before crossing we stopped for lunch.  
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 Next up is Macau.... the funny thing is, a visit to Macau was not in my original plans.  My Hong Kong tour was consolidated so I had a few extra days.  It was either spend it in Hong Kong or...find something else to do...like go to Macau.  The Macau tour was only $100 so why not?  We took the ferry from Hong Kong and in a little over an hour we arrived in Macau.  Our tour guide picked us up and off we went!

First stop: St. Paul's Cathedral ....or should I say ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.  It was breathtakingly beautiful!  Almost 200 years older then the United States.

Views of the city from the top of St. Paul's




 Sitting on the side of St. Paul's are a few shops selling goods tourist...more on that later.  But caught my eye was this cozy, humble little temple.  I looked like something you would see in one of those old Chinese kung fu movies... Charming!  I bet it is older then the United States too.



A few steps from the temple lies a small but well know pastry shop.  By well know, I mean their products are available in the U.S. ...or at least Seattle.  Besides their famous almond cookies, they had a wide assortment of other pastries.  Caught them in the act making these wafers; one of those sweet and savory snacks that asians are known to love.  A sweet crisp egg wafer with a strip of seaweed and salted peanut filling.

video


What's that I see in the pastry case?  A  Portuguese egg tart!  It was delicious!  Flaky pastry with creamy custard.  It was still warm, freshly baked. Yum!

Next stop Tin Hau temple.  Said to be built over 600 years ago, it still stands in glory.   The temple is dedicated to A-Mah (aka Tin Hau) and sits on the bay of A-Mah which in Chinese is "A-Mah Gau". According to legend, when the first Portuguese arrived the first thing they saw as the temple.  The locals told them they're at "A-Mah Gau"...and eventually "A-Mau Gau" became "Macau".



What else is Macau known for?  Casinos! ...of course!  Sorry, no cameras allowed inside....:(


And that concludes Macau, one of the most unique and charming places I've been.  A land where past and present complement one another.
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My month long trip to Asia actually started in mid-April.  I meant to post sooner but have just been busy...:D.  Better late then never right?  Here it is, first stop Hong Kong!

A few pictures of the cityscape highrises everywhere:





This picture was taken of from my hotel room.  We stayed at Harbor Plaza Resort City in Tin Shui Wai.  The hotel was nice but it was a bit out of the way....about 45 mins from anything.  So...we hopped on a Taxi to Ya Ma Tei for dim sum.... which was amazing!  Especially the Ma Lai Koh; so soft, and chewy with the right sweetness, and richness....


After Dim Sum we strolled around to explore the city (I was actually looking for Shanghai Street, which Florence mentioned to me, for buying kitchen stuff....Thanks Florence!).   We bumped into Tin Hau temple.  Of course, I had to stop by to pay my respects... 

Day 2:  of course more dim sum for breakfast; and then it was off to Aberdeen fishing village.

The famous Jumbo restaurant...Did not get a chance to eat there.   Although I would have liked to stop by for a meal; I assume most of their costumers are tourist....and well, tourist food isn't always the best food....


New building starting to pop up, right on the shores of the fishing village (what's left of it).  Apparently, the government is trying to reclaim the village (fill it with dirt to build more buildings).  Most of the villagers have moved on.  The 'traditional fishing village' is actually more like a bunch of small boat filled with tourist....sailing around witnessing the change that is happening.  I'm sad to say it's not much of a fishing village or any village...

Our tour dropped us off at a Jewelry Factory.   Yes...we went in knowing it's a tourist trap and yes, the prices are probably going to be much much higher then elsewhere...but we were already there.  The best you can do is not buy anything....right?  Right....just go in take a look and not buy anything.  So much for that!   The pendant you see above, modeled by yours truly originally cost $1600.   It's a luck Feng Shui pendent, it's a fan with a diamond in the middle. The blades of the fan represent good health, peace, happiness, and fortune.  The fan spins with movement (from walking) and makes a sound like a money counting machine. All of this is supposed to bring good luck to the wearer....  How cool is that!?!?  But for how much?  My mom got a smaller one, the price for that was supposed to be $250.  I told them $888 (luck number lol) for both..... and after about an hour of haggling they finally sold it for my asking price...more then half of their original price....  I'm positive the still made a profit...or else why would they sell it?  Although, I'm a pastry chef...I know I over paid....seriously, the diamond is in the middle is so small you can hardly see it, and there's not much gold/platinum in it...but hey! You only live once, and it's not like I go to Hong Kong everyday....at least that's what I telling myself.

Our tour continued into the City...a few pictures of the many high rise buildings in Hong Kong




Day 3:  Lantau Island/Po Lin Monastery


Our Vegetarian lunch....roasted pork, stir fried veggies with prawns, tofu, spicy mustard soup.  Delish!



We actually set out to the temple at around 11am.  I was warm and sunny at the base of the island but as soon as we got to the top/temple it was dark and raining....as you can see from the pictures above.  When I say rain I really mean RAIN!  Water was pouring down as if god was dumping buckets upon buckets of water down to earth.  The staircase leading to the giant Buddha statue became a waterfall.  I wanted to take a picture but it was raining so hard I was afraid to get my camera out.  Afterwards, due to the rain, everyone decided to leave.  Unfortunately, due to safety concerns the cable cars that take people to and from the temple does not run when the weather is bad.   So...a ton of people were waiting in line in the rain, for the storm to end and the cable cars to work again.  Our tour guide tried to call a taxi to bring us down but were all "booked"....he called again and told them we were willing to pay an extra $40 and what do you know!  The taxi came in 5 mins. 


A few pictures of the Buddha statue that I was able to snap during the brief moments that the rain stopped...  It was such a beautiful place, I only wish the rain came happened....  I guess it was just not meant to be.

What's for dinner?  Roast goose of course!  Hong Kong is know for Dim Sum and roast goose.  My mom always told me how she remembered my Grandpa/her dad brought a roast goose home from his visit to Hong Kong. She remembers it vividly how it was still warm (Hong Kong is just a 2 hour fight from Vietnam), and juicy, and meat being fragrant and the skin melting in her mouth; savoring every bite as they had the goose for dinner that day.   With so many places to eat how do you know who's the best.   Luckly, Jacky the executive chef of Wild Ginger (where I work) is a native of Hong Kong.  He suggested Yung Kee.  So Yung Kee it is.....



Their roast goose was amazing, the meat was juicy and marinated just right with a hint of sesame oil which I think they drizzled onto the duck just before serving.    Although the sesame was detectable it was in now way overpowering, only adding to the goose making it every so memorable.  Besides their roast goose, they also make their own century old eggs served with pickled ginger.   The egg was made very well!  Not a hint of ammonia, very mild creamy yolk with a transparent chewy 'white'.   Yum!

Hong Kong has so much to explore an taste.  I was only able to scratch the surface during my short visit and hope to one day stop by again.   Wherever you decide to eat the food is always delicious, seriously.....always delicious....


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