Once you’ve tried a fresh local chicken, it’s hard having anything less—and the city’s famed birds are now making the leap from home kitchens to Michelin-starred menus
In Hong Kong’s folk religion, to which most of the city’s temples are dedicated, whole chickens are presented as a gift to the gods, especially on special occasions such as the beginning and end of the lunar year. After they’re used in ceremonies, they’re eaten—it’s traditions like these that cement the chicken’s key role on dinner tables, especially festive ones.
Hong Kong diners prefer live birds, says David Lai, chef and owner of Neighborhood restaurant, known for using local chicken for their whole-bird sharing dishes such as salt-baked chicken. “The chicken we get are freshly slaughtered each morning and delivered to our restaurant in the afternoon,” he says.
Hongkongers’ preference for live chicken likely stems from the fact that poultry were often kept as domestic animals and easy to come by, as well as the Cantonese obsession with fresh produce in general.
SPOILT FOR CHOICE
Restaurants such as Lai’s Neighborhood, Zest by Konishi, Man Ho and Deng G use Ping Yuen, which takes its name from the river in the northern New Territories beside which the birds are raised. Ping Yuen chickens have “a bouncy resiliency,” says Lai. “It is not too tough and so is forgiving for most preparations”.
The company has developed birds with vastly different qualities to suit different cooking techniques and flavour profiles—their Empress chickens, for example, are a leaner breed similar to free-range chickens (although in Hong Kong they can’t be free-range due to hygiene requirements), and the Snow Phoenix is a type of silkie chicken, with white feathers, but black skin, bones, organs and meat, which is perceived in Traditional Chinese Medicine to be hugely restorative, says Ho.
Among their network is the farm that specialises in Tai On chicken, a cross between Shiqi and Huizhou breeds known for its meatiness and fine texture. Although the brand name is relatively new (it was registered as Tai On in 2003), it was, in fact, developed in Hong Kong the 1950s.