Updated: Dec 20, 2020
What’s not to love about Mallorca? Don’t know. Me, I have no complaints, except....
Well, there is one thing I really miss about Hong Kong and southern China where I lived for 30 years before swapping islands, and it is going to yam cha.
Yam cha (飲茶) actually means Drink Tea, and drinking tea from various parts of China certainly plays a role in the activity. But the real purpose is to eat scrumptious little delicacies known as dim sam (點心) (or “dim sum” as some people spell it) – Chinese tapas.
In Hong Kong and southern China, huge banquet halls with round tables accommodating up to 16 people are dedicated to this civilised purpose, that of sitting there with friends or with a newspaper while the waiters fill your teapot with more and more hot water until the leaves are so water logged and swollen they start coming out of the spout.
Hong Kong people are normally in a hurry, and most lunch places take pride in their crockery being chipped – it means the place is so busy the waiters have to throw the pots and bowls down on the table. In/out in less than 20 minutes is the norm.
But with yam cha people take their time, often staying two hours or more at the table, with office workers standing all around willing them to leave.
When I left Hong Kong I knew leaving yam cha behind would be among the most difficult, and I was right.
So you can imagine my joy when I discovered a Chinese restaurant that actually does yam cha, that is to say, serving a small, nay, minute, collection of dim sam, right in the middle of Palma’s Avenue d’Argentina.
I was also ecstatic to discover that the proprietor, Mr. Lei, speaks Cantonese, my favourite language.
To be able to try out more items on the menu I had invited two real Chinese girls, ah-Man (亞雯，Coloured Cloud) from Guangzhou and ah-Lan (亞蘭, Orchid) from Hong Kong. I was early and thought I’d try out a Bo Lei, the most popular tea in Hong Kong. It was not good, which Mister Lei had also said, urging me to drink Heung Pin, jasmine tea, instead. I hate jasmin, but needs must.
We chatted away about China in the empty restaurant, for it's lunchtime Hong Kong style (12.30), way too early for any self-respecting local. After a while he started bringing me the usual plate, knife and fork, but stopped in mid-bring.
“You probably want a bowl and chopsticks?” he correctly presumed, turning around without waiting for the answer.
Your damned right I do! For “we” Chinese don’t eat food off a difficult and fiddly plate, and certainly not with a knife and fork. What for? The food is already in bite-sized pieces! You lift the bowl to your mouth and pick up each morsel with practical and elegant chopsticks. It just looks better.
Another great thing about chopsticks is that you can eat with one hand and smoke (or play video games, write, or build a model of the Great Wall out of toothpicks) with the other. Why waste time?
A bone of contention between me and most of the Chinese restaurants in Palma is: The menus are only in Spanish with no Chinese characters, and CKF is no exception. Fortunately they had a separate dim sam menu with some Chinese characters, so I could order with confidence. For really, how am I supposed to know that “pan chino al vapor y relleno de lomo” is actually the famous 叉燒飽 Cha siu bau, fork-fried (barbecued) bun? (What a predicament to be in! Ed)
We kick off with the equally famous 蝦餃Ha gau – prawn dumplings. In the menu ha gau has inexplicably become “shia chiao”. The dumpling skin should be as thin as possible, almost translucent, so you can clearly see the outlines of the big prawn within.
The ha gau in China Kung Fu was… well, it did contain prawn. But all three of us agreed that it was very far from what they do “at home” but dried prawns that had been soaked in something and mashed into a pulp. The skin was also very thick and chewy, not at all like a shimmering, luscious pearl.
Ah, well. Perhaps the third most famous dim sum is 燒賣siu mai, which means Fried Sell, a strange name seeing it is steamed, as are the other items which Mister Lei brought out together in a big, bamboo basket.
But then the Chineseness of ah-Man kicked in.
“You can’t put them all together!” she protested. “That’s not how we do it! Also, it will look bad in photos.”
The siu mai (called “sau mai” in the menu) were excellent: Succulent, just the right amount of salty and with a nice balance of prawn and pork and a lovely yellow skin made of tofu.
The 少籠包siu long bau (little basket bun) was always my nemesis in Hong Kong. It’s a soup dumpling where the soup is inside the dumpling, and so hot it burns your head off. Every time I have tried, I have spurted piping hot soup all over my companions’ faces and clothes.
But I needn’t have worried: in China Kung Fu they have sensibly dropped the soup and made it just a delicious pork dumpling, which, when dipped lightly in the surprisingly good chilli sauce, is close to, well, real China!
鮮肉飽San Yuk Bau (fresh meat bun – again inexplicably written as “shen lo pao” – where do they get it from?) was another type of pork dumpling, delicious and filling – and huge! So huge that it sadly only came in twos. (In a yam cha restaurant there are always three or four dim sam per basket, although 4 is an unlucky number in Chinese). So we did actually need the stupid knife and fork after all.
According to Chinese custom the one who invites is the one that pays the bill – no “I only had a starter and no wine” nonsense in that world. So I paid, but unlike a normal Chinese, I just glanced at the sum on the bill, handed over the cash and left. A normal Chinese, like assertive ah-Man, would have scrutinised every item on the bill and argued about the sum. And won.
Because believe it or not, in China Kung Fu, it’s the tea that is expensive! I had forked out a whopping 6,30 euros for a few tea leaves of not very good quality, and some hot water. Grrrr.
Still, a good meal for three came to 16,80 minus the tea. That’s worth being forced to pay for jasmine tea! And as an added bonus, China Kung Fu played really excellent music which I recognised from my youth in China. It was Chinese pop songs that had been “classicalised “ up with flutes and string instruments. Think Britney Spears made to sound like Bach.
So the what's not to love about Mallorca has now been further reduced to ZERO.
China Kung Fu Ave. Argentina 23B 07013 Palma
Tel: 971 452060