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A Taste of Hong Kong with Ian and Christian

By Kaye Estoista-Koo

Put together a young host-chef and an old geezer (as he calls himself) known for his many, many travel shows and you get organized chaos.

Hong Kong based-chef Christian Yang and the world’s most traveled man Ian Wright have combustible chemistry, as Christian puts it. He says, “We hit it off because we like poking fun at stuff and not taking each other too seriously, although I take thin gs more seriously than him…”

Local chef Christian Yang and travel host Ian Wright have undeniable charisma togther(Manila Bulletin)

Local chef Christian Yang and travel host Ian Wright have undeniable charisma togther(Manila Bulletin)

Their easy going banter and constant ribbing at one another provide for very interesting TV material in season three of A Taste of Hong Kong. A Taste of Hong Kong is a TLC and Hong Kong Tourism Board partnership and they are actively pushing it in the Philippines, with the 645,000 Filipinos visiting Hong Kong just in 2015. Pinoys are hungry for Hong Kong and Pinoy families choose it for a first international trip.

A Taste of Hong Kong is a three-part series airing on TLC where Ian and Christian eat and argue their way through Hong Kong in episodes called “Star Eats,” ”Style Eats,” and “Street Eats.”

The hosts choose the very best from the food they encounter then curate their selections by presenting these at pop-up events held in iconic locations. Their critics are local celebs and foodie journalists. To up the ante, Chef Christian comes up with his own takes for “Star Eats,” “Style Eats,” and “Street Eats” and presents it at the pop-up.

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  • The Drunken Scallops are Christian's take on Style Eats (Manila Bulletin)
  • The Bloody Mary stuffed fish ball with chili paste and curry is for Star Eats (Manila Bulletin)
  • Christian's take on Street Eats the Yin Yang or coffee and tea mixed together in this custard tart (Manila Bulletin)

For “Star Eats,” Chef Christian came up with a Bloody Mary stuffed fish ball with chili paste and curry. For “Style Eats,” he used beer, sourced from beer companies in Hong Kong and used it in scallops, naming the dish Drunken Scallops. For “Street Eats,” he came up with Yin Yang, an afternoon tea sweet pick-me-up which is a tea and coffee custard tart as his version of egg tart, a Hong Kong delicacy.

What is shooting A Taste of Hong Kong like for you?

IAN: It’s nice to be shown around. Christian is opening my eyes to different ways of eating and looking at different tastes. It’s edgy, something different from what I’ve done because it’s my first food show. When I was growing up, I was told that Hong Kong was Jackie Chan films, Bruce Lee films so I wanted something to do with stars—that’s why we have “Star Eats.” The only hard thing was eating from nine in the morning to 11 in the evening!

CHRISTIAN: He loves that down-to-earth stuff so I wanted to take him to the fanciest restaurants just to make him uncomfortable!

(As Ian and Christian curate a list of the best dishes, they show in the Street Eats portion that streetfood is not just meat on a stick. Christian likens the show to an old Hong Kong movie starring Stephen Chow, The God of Cookery, who showcases explosions of flavor with every bite.)

What have been your most memorable dishes?

IAN: I like the streetfood stuff, because when you eat high-end, it can be a bit disappointing. But the guy in The Chairman, he’s mental! He’s obsessed with food and he’s been cooking all his life and even has his own farm. He’s got this stew bubbling in there, adding sauce, it’s been there for days and it’s all marinating in a hundred different herbs. The food was just fantastic. There was a crab thing, vinegary sauce, crunchy ribs, little scallops, it was an explosion in the mouth. I also like Second Draft which upped the game on Western dishes.

CHRISTIAN: It’s amazing, how do you take Chinese food and make it better? It’s difficult! The Chairman serves traditional Chinese food and he has taken it to a whole new level. The ube that he uses, he needs to grow his own ube. Another one is Second Draft where the chef is the representation of the new school of Chinese cooking. It’s very difficult to make new school Chinese for Chinese people but he has successfully done it. Everything we featured was very true to the culture and the chefs now are quite proud of their culture and using new methods to cook their dishes.

What are some of the standout moments in the show?

IAN: That moment on the show when I got out of the water; it was my Daniel Craig moment directed by Christian. I heard they’re looking for Bond, James Bond. There was also a chef with a house on the beach with private dining and she had a special kiln where she hung up chicken and pork.

CHRISTIAN: That was arguably one of the best chickens and she’s taken two Italian terracotta pots and made it into an oven.

IAN: I’m getting shown around, it’s a whole new world, and my favorite is being able to get on the ferry to the middle of the harbor and looking at both sides. When someone is taking you around, they’re so overexcited it gives you a renewed energy about your own city. Trams are iconic too.

CHRISTIAN: For me, it was sort of memory lane and I would go, I did that there or I did this here… It was a way to fall in love with the city again. We took the tram from one end to the other, and watched Hong Kong go by! That was brilliant, I had never done that. It’s a sense of home, a familiarization of who and where I am and the friendships I’ve built, because I spent a lot of time where there was no good Chinese food, I didn’t realize that was what I was looking for until I found it.

I am not leaving anymore, it’s my city and I love it. I love everything about it, from how busy it is to the food you eat to how easy it is to get around, to the shopping. When you love something, you want other people to love it too. There is so much happening and there is a lot more to try. No one wants touristy food anymore.

What sets A Taste of Hong Kong apart?

CHRISTIAN: Whenever we discover young chefs who have used their culture to express themselves, it’s like a nice conversation the chefs have with the client. That’s a new phenomenon happening in Asia.

IAN: For me, it’s nice that you can be honest how you feel about the food, there is no point in saying you love everything all the time, it becomes boring. You need that contrast, this was nice, this was better, I didn’t like that. That’s what I did on the show so if I like it, I like it, if I don’t, I don’t.

CHRISTIAN: He would tell a chef he didn’t like the food and he got away with it!

If there’s one food you could eat all the time, it would be…

IAN: Char siu. That’s my staple food. I’ve always loved that sliced beef…

CHRISTIAN: Pork! Shows you he doesn’t know a thing. Charred shoe (teasing Ian on the way he says it).

IAN: I like going to the cheaper shops and getting rice and drink for HKD 3.50 but then next door, bloody capuccino cost me HKD 5! This is madness, I’ve just had a whole meal for HKD 3.50!

CHRISTIAN: I like char siu, too, because it’s comfort food. The other one is beef brisket noodle soup with a deep, deep beefy, brothy five spice flavor.

IAN: Can you make it?

CHRISTIAN: Because it takes forever, I can’t make it.

IAN: Are you really a chef?

CHRISTIAN: These places that cook the beef they use the same broth every day and they add to it, you can’t do that yourself, a resto has to do that for you: adding bark, anis, and dried mandarin peel, the best one, and it is expensive stuff that helps develop flavor and it’s there to take the gaminess out of the beef  and adds character to what you’re eating.

IAN: Yeah, what he said, taking the gaminess out of the game and brothiness out of the broth.

Tips for travelers and foodies?

IAN: I’ve learned not to have preset ideas because I travel a lot and it doesn’t matter what you think, even if you read a guide book for 10 pages, it’s drivel. You need it for maybe hotel and prices. But the only information you learn is from the people who live there. It’s brilliant to have a guide show you around. When I first started traveling I didn’t have a mobile, a cash card, just a passport. Today’s traveler will do something in the morning, photographing that, and the rest of the day on the Internet telling everyone about it. I’m an older generation, that’s nonsense. They aren’t happy with just the experience. It’s like, if they haven’t taken a record of it, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist.

CHRISTIAN: All other types of travelers Google the hell out of a place and plan their day saying I’m gonna eat this, do this. You could miss the whole experience. You don’t wanna miss it by stressing the importance of sharing it. It sounds weird but when you’re too busy to social media it all, just experience it, enjoy it for what it is.

IAN: I wouldn’t ever go into a guide book and look for Michelin stars, I would probably deliberately avoid it because everyone is there and it will be overpriced and crowded, there is so much other food to try.

CHRISTIAN: There are Michelin stars-collecting people, those checking off the list, that’s fine, there’s tons of that in Hong Kong. It’s up to them if that’s what they want to do.