Spicy Mama

My first brush with Kowloon, the cheaper and seedier of Hong Kong’s main islands, was fortunately a soft landing for tight-skirted me, since I had my friend Nathan Griffiths welcome and usher me past the leery grandfathers and middle-aged men.

I only got a passing view of Temple Street, which I plan to explore soon, and the road lined with curbside karaoke “bars” and fortune tellers. The junction of these streets is a popular meeting place for junkies.

We chose to dine at Spicy Mama, a traditional Sichuan restaurant, which means the dishes are spicy. It was just as well that we got the secluded area where the A/C was going full-blast, because we could at least sample both temperature extremes.

Sliced barbecued beef in chili
Cucumbers and mushrooms in chili
Minced pork and green beans in (surprise) chili. This was my choice and it was excellent.

The waiter informed us that each spicy dish had 7 levels of hotness, with one being the least spicy and seven being a trip to the hospital. We went for Spiciness Level 4, which was a smart choice because, at that rate, the food instantly cleared my sinus and compelled me to reach for successive tall glasses of ice-cold beer to wash it down.

There were a few ill-chosen dishes, such as the fish soup. My Belgian friend Joe, a big connoisseur who talks about food incessantly WHILE eating food, thought it would be something he’d tried in Sichuan province, sort of a Tom Yam-type thing with crispy fillets on top. But ours turned out to be this assortment of broiled whole fish parts, lemongrass, bean sprouts and a tiny nest of noodles buried under the sour stock. Did I mention it was sprinkled with fried chilis?

There was also the winner, a baked clam dish that wasn’t as spicy as the others. It’s been Spicy Mama’s crowning glory for decades until, as the waiter told us, some other restaurant copied the recipe and usurped them. No idea what those counterfeit clams taste like, but ours was pretty good — creamy (a rarity in lactose-intolerant China), slightly salty and herby.

As a testament to the spiciness of the food and the arctic blasts of the air-conditioning, an intertropical convergence zone fogged up Nathan’s glasses.

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