Spending time in Hong Kong during winter as a food lover is a luxury. Not only because of its relatively mild winter weather, but also the wide variety of winter warmers available in the city. There are, for example, hot pot for the social travellers and snake soup for the adventurous eaters. And for those who are looking for a carb fix, the warming clay pot rice is your answer. It is called 煲仔飯 bo zai fan in Cantonese.
In its simplest form, clay pot rice refers to rice with your choice of toppings, cooked in a clay pot, then drizzled with a flavourful sauce. There are many clay pot rice toppings, such as, pork ribs with black beans, Chinese sausages and preserved meat, minced beef and egg or salted fish, mushroom and chicken, and even frog. The rice absorbs all the extract from the flavours – and more importantly, grease – of your toppings. Authentic recipes also call for lard to give a warming, greasy texture to the dish. A good clay pot rice must have a layer of nicely crisped, slightly burned rice on the bottom of the pot. Cooking clay pot rice can be tricky as the chef must control the heat to ensure all the ingredients are cooked perfectly at the same time and to avoid overly burned rice or uncooked meat.
Clay pot rice is best enjoyed at a dai pai dong in Hong Kong. Dai pai dong is a no frills street restaurant with cheap eats. There’s something about sitting on a plastic stool and bracing the cold winter weather outside while bowing over a hot clay pot rice – it just completes the experience. Clay pot rice dishes prepared over charcoal flames have a distinctive smokiness and they are the most authentic ones. Nowadays you’ll find most eateries making clay pot rice on gas burners to cut down on the cooking time.
Tips for Eating Clay Pot Rice
- A clay pot rice is usually served with a small bowl of “clay pot rice sauce” on the side or a big bottle of the sauce on the table. A generous helping of the sauce is highly recommended. The sauce is less salty than the regular soy sauce, and it adds extra flavour and fragrance to the dish.
- The next step is crucial – now pick up the spoon and start mixing. Most eateries provide you with a ceramic Chinese spoon to do the job. But the really good ones will give you a metal Chinese spoon so you can really scrape the “burned” rice off the bottom of the pot. Be sure you mix all the ingredients together thoroughly so each grain of rice is stained with plenty of grease and sauce.
- Locals like to enjoy this dish with a beer (or two) at dai pai dong. But I prefer a cup of hot Chinese tea instead to wash down the grease.
Mike Chen at Strictly Dumpling tried out one of the popular clay pot rice eateries in Hong Kong.