Cook Ding Slicing a Cow Zhuangzi
Cook Ding was slicing up a cow for Lord Wenhui. With a touch of his hand, a lurch of his shoulder, a step of his feet, a bend of his knee, zip! zoop! he slithered the knife along with a zing, never missing one single beat. In perfect rhythmic thread, as though he were dancing to "Mulberry Grove," or keeping time as in "Jingshou Rite."
"O'mine, this is amazing!" exclaimed Lord Wenhui "Imagine skill reaching such heights!"
Cook Ding put down his knife and replied "What I care is the Tao which advances my skill. When I first butchered cows, I saw nothing but cows. After three years, I saw not a whole cow but one of parts. At present, I go at it by my spirit rather than looking with my eyes. My perception stops and my spirit will the performance. I rely on the natural patterning, striking at the big openings, leading into the main cavities. I depends on things as they are inherent in nature so I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, not to mention a bone!"
"A good cook changes his knife once a year because he cuts. An ordinary cook changes his knife once a month because he hacks. This knife of mine is nineteen years old and I have carved several thousand cows with it. Yet its blade is as good as it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces in the joints; and the blade has no thickness. So when something with no thickness enters something with space, it has plenty of room to move about. This is why after nineteen years the blade still seems fresh from the grindstone."
"Despite that, when I come to the end of what I am used to, I inspect it closely to prepare myself. I become alert and my gaze comes to rest. I slow down my performance and move my knife imperceptibly. Then with a stroke it all comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling. I stand there with the knife erect, look all around, deem it wonderfully fulfilling, strop my knife and put it away."
Lord Wenhui said, "Excellent! By listening to Cook Ding I learned how to nurture life."
Meet ah Bon, or "Master Bon" as all the plebs from the neighborhood respectfully called him. He owns a beef brisket shop in Taipo, a town in the rural area of Hong Kong that none of the travel guidebooks would ever mention to you, if they even care. Before ah Bon open his beef outlet in Taipo, he used to have a shop selling exactly the same in another district several years back. Back then, the business wasn't good at all because his beef was, as one food critic put it in the review, "errant and indelectable." In short, he hasn't found out the Tao of beef cooking quite yet. Business was so bad that ah Bon was forced to fold up.
But ah Bon didn't give up. You can call him a starry-eyed spunk but ah Bon was still enamored of his beef as much as before. So he spent time in his house to learn more about his subject, trying rigorously different ways to advance his skill. How to cook the beef flank better, how to stew this beef cheek tastier, and ah, the belly, the legs, the offal of it; and how to make the broth more delicious; timing how long it takes to cook the noodles just right. Two years spent in his pursuit of the Tao. He was, for those two years, the crunching tiger of a cook before he opened his brand new store in Taipo.
Two years well spent. He is enjoying his success now overwhelmingly. All the critics in town would tell you ah Bon's beef brisket and his beef broth are two of the best, if not the best in town. His shop is stampeded by raging beef devotees during weekends once the doors open at ten - all giving similar accolades when they leave. The crowd favorite is the noodles with the springy "tip" of beef brisket, a real tip-top selection among all brisket cuts, as any beef cognoscenti would tell you. Less than one kilogram of this delicacy is available from an ox that weighs over seven hundreds.
Noodles with the cheek of beef is yet another stellar item that has been stalked by pleasing beef lovers all over Hong Kong. Smiling clientele would tell how lovely it looks and how chubby it tastes; how the intensive meaty flavor lingers in their mouths long after and it is simply the best they've ever had in their life -- terms that you thought people would save to describe their lover's cheek instead of an ox's...
A bowl of the beef broth, selling at HK$4 only, is equally divine (totally free of MSG) here. Ah Bon start cooking this soup with more 30kg of beef bones and brisket in the wee hours of 2am everyday. Yes, 2am daily! It got to be the best beef broth in town. It's the kind of elixir that evokes beef lovers to say: "Long life the Tao!"
Kwan Kee Beef Brisket Specialist 群記清湯腩
Address: Shop 22-26, G/F, Dragon Court, 22 Tai Ming Lane,Tai Po
Opening hour: Tue-Sun 13:00-22:00
Fare: 22-40, cash only
Nearest railway: Taipo KCR Eastrail
Transportation: 10 minutes walk from the Taipo KCR Eastrail, heading to the Taipo Market direction
Michelin Hong Kong on the cheap rating: **