When it’s hot outside, our bodies and palates naturally crave sweet, light and succulent ingredients that will cool us down. Summer fruits fit the bill, and in sub-tropical Hong Kong, we’re lucky to get the best of durians, mangoes, lychees and papayas.
Lately, though, another fruit is proving popular: coconut (yes, it is botanically a fruit). It’s partly for health reasons: nutritionists have done a 180-degree turn, and instead of condemning it as a “bad” fat that’s high in cholesterol, it’s considered by many to be a superfood, believed to have antioxidant, antiviral and immunity-boosting properties.
And Hong Kong restaurants are quick to jump on the bandwagon, incorporating coconut into numerous dishes, including using it as a base for hotpots.
At Coco Kitchen in Mong Kok, which opened in June, chefs from Hainan, where coconut is harvested throughout the year, designed a menu revolving around the fruit.
People in Hainan traditionally use coconut in many dishes, including steamed rice, stewed chicken, steamed egg and soup.
Coco Kitchen, which imports the coconut, chicken and other ingredients such as water chestnuts from the tropical Chinese island, makes a trademark dish of coconut chicken hotpot. The broth is limpid, with slices of coconut flesh in the pot. The soup is light and drinkable on its own, although it gains flavour as other ingredients are simmered in it.
Samuel Yeung Ho-wang, brand development manager with Fulum Group, says a timer is placed on the table when the pot and the dish of chicken are served, so the poultry doesn’t get overcooked.
“Diners can scoop out the chicken from the pot after exactly seven minutes to better enjoy its tender flesh,” he says.
The chicken has a subtle flavour after being cooked in the coconut broth, but diners who want a stronger flavour can use a dipping sauce of soy sauce mixed with Hainan sand ginger, green citrus fruit and chilli. Diners can also order other ingredients for the hot pot including beef, pork and assorted vegetables from Japan.
The restaurant serves other coconut-based dishes. For the coconut rice, coconut juice, glutinous rice and red dates are put into a young coconut shell and steamed for four hours. When served, the coconut is cut into eight slices. The rice tastes quite bland, and is best enjoyed with other dishes.
For desserts, Coco Kitchen serves coconut sorbet,coconut milk pudding, coconut jelly, coconut red date cake and coconut mango glutinous rice, as well as a pina colada with coconut milk, pineapple juice, coconut liqueur and rum, served in a coconut shell.
Like Coco Kitchen, Coconut Grove Spring’s trademark dish is also coconut and chicken broth hotpot. With two outlets in Shenzhen, Coconut Grove Spring opened its first shop in Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui in May. The broth is made of the juice from four Thai coconuts boiled with coconut flesh, without adding any water.
The chain has its own chicken farm in Hainan where the birds are fed coconut flesh and cereal. Three-month-old chickens are slaughtered and sent to Hong Kong directly without being frozen, which explains their tender flesh.
Other coconut-based dishes include pan-fried coconut flesh buns, coconut milk tea and coconut cassava cake.
At Hainan Season in Causeway Bay,in addition to the coconut and chicken broth other places serve, diners can choose from more than 10 types of other coconut-based broths for hotpot including coconut ginseng, coconut fish maw or a medicinal Chinese coconut broth with cordycep flower.
Noodle shops have also embraced coconut as an ingredient for their broths. Lau Kwong-wai, director of Nmcnoodles which opened recently in Mong Kok, says their most popular dish is coconut chicken broth rice noodles. The stock is made from boiling black fungus, water chestnuts, bean curd, red dates and Lung Guang chicken with carrots and other vegetables. Fresh coconut juice and coconut flesh are added at the end, giving the soup a strong, sweet, coconut aroma.
“To stand apart from the ubiquitous noodle shops in Hong Kong, we came up with a list of noodles that have a health focus. Drinking coconut-based broth is soothing and especially popular with women for its skin-nourishing properties.”
For Vietnamese chef Do Thi Thuy Linh at Le Soleil in Tsim Sha Tsui, coconut is an ideal ingredient in the summer for its heat-easing properties.
“Vietnamese drink it to help them get through the hot summer,” she says.
Le Soleil has recently introduced a line of coconut-based dishes with fresh coconut imported from Vietnam. They include deep-fried young coconut seafood spring rolls with prawns, crabmeat, young coconut meat and house-made mayonnaise.
Other new dishes include clams and Vietnamese herbs poached in fresh young coconut water; steamed crab with fresh young coconut; and braised chicken with galangal and coconut sauce.
Do says that coconut-based sauces means their seafood is lighter than some of the dishes served at local seafood restaurants.
“The coconut sauce served with the seafood and chicken doesn’t have water in it, so the sauce is a soup in itself that is clear and fresh.”
To continue the coconut theme, diners at Le Soleil can enjoy coconut-based desserts including the fresh coconut jelly, which has a layer of young coconut water jelly on top offresh coconut juice jelly. The dessert is served with mango cubes and mango juice.
Where to try coconut dishes
Coco Kitchen Cite 33, 33 Lai Chi Kok Road, Mong Kok, tel: 2499 2700
Coconut Grove Spring 3/F, 8 Observatory Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2866 0122
Hainan Season 14/F, Windsor House, 311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 3523 1368
Nmc Noodles 68 Soy Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2320 5890
Le Soleil 3/F, The Royal Garden, 69 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2733 2033