Fake 'food' for thought

Fake 'food' for thought

What the menu says it serves, and what's on your plate, are not always the same, so this Chinese New Year make sure restaurants do not cheat you

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Alain Hui recommend that diners demand to see proof of the origins of costly foods they order.
Alain Hui recommend that diners demand to see proof of the origins of costly foods they order.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Chinese New Year is just around the corner and one thing everyone loves during this holiday season is to enjoy great food with the family.

Traditional Chinese dishes, such as abalone, sea cucumber and fish maw, are must-haves at a Chinese banquet menu. Hongkongers also enjoy food from other countries, such as Japanese or Wagyu beef, and seafood.

These pricey ingredients are commonly found in markets and served in restaurants, but do consumers know that what they are eating is really what they ordered? Young Post sought advice from two hotel executive chefs about ways consumers can protect themselves from dishonest sales people or restaurateurs.

Leung Fai-hung, executive Chinese chef, at the InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, says many Chinese restaurants serve sliced "abalone" as a dish in banquets, but it is often not actually abalone.

"It is a kind of shellfish that looks like abalone and the chef will serve it in abalone sauce to try to make it look and taste like abalone," he says.

"Abalone is extremely expensive; a more economical choice and one that can stop you being ripped off, is steamed fresh abalone served in its shell."

People who visit a wet market will find sea cucumbers as big as a child's forearm soaking in iced water. Chef Leung says these were cheap imports from Africa, Australia and America. He says: "Their nutrient value is the same as expensive sea cucumbers found in Asian waters, but because people in those places might not know how to handle sea cucumbers, their quality might be in doubt."

Fish maw is a common ingredient in Chinese soups. Leung says only swim bladders from big deep sea fish can be called fish maw. But to save costs many restaurants use the swim bladder from very small fish, or eels, to replace the expensive ingredient.

Alain Hui, executive sous-chef-Western at The Langham Hong Kong, advises restaurant guests to request a certificate whenever they order Japanese beef. "There are two types of Wagyu or Japanese beef," he explains.

"The Japanese one is ranked from A1 to A5, and that from Australia is ranked from M4 to M12.

"There should be a certificate for every rank. It is very rare for restaurants in Hong Kong to serve A5 Japanese beef, so do check with staff where they get their meat from, if they claim to serve A5."

Following the green trend, sustainable seafood has become popular among diners. But Hui says diners must ask restaurants to produce certificates if they claim to be serving sustainable seafood.

"Sustainable seafood will receive a certificate from [global conservation body] WWF saying where it comes from, and that there is a cap on the number of tonnes of the fish that can be caught," he says.

"Sustainable fish are caught by hooks, and not by trawling, so you should be able to see wounds near their mouths."

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