I’ve become a pretty proficient cook after a year of marriage and 10 months of setting up house in Paris. I’m especially comfortable with Asian food, be it stir-fries, double boiled soups or curried stews. The one dish I’ve failed to master is steamed fish. You see, I can never get the timing – the crucial factor that determines whether the delicate flesh turns out silken or inedibly tough – right. And I get so anxious about overcooking the meat that the fish, even when decently cooked, is presented on the table full of chopstick marks from all the poking and prodding done when determining the fish’s doneness.
So it’s good I have a fail-safe method of eating well-cooked steamed fish, Cantonese style in Paris. Instead of sweating it out at home, I would go instead to Li Ka Fo, a venerable Chinese eating house in the 13th arrondissement for a properly done order of steamed turbot. I had dinner there on Friday with the husband and a bunch of Singaporeans friends, and we packed away a big, fleshy turbot, its firm and sweet meat dressed in spring onions, boiling hot oil and soya sauce.
We were a group of 7 with a decently large sized order, and after asking politely, we wrangled a big bowl of lotus and pork rib soup (listed price of 7E) on the house. Though we sighted lots of bones in the bowl, the broth was naturally not as deeply flavored as home-made double boiled soup. Still, I’m not going to quibble when 1) it’s rare to find Chinese soups in Paris, and 2) it’s free.
The beef stew was one of the crowd pleasers, as the beef brisket had been stewed to a very tender state in the umami-packed chu-hou based sauce. The sauce is particularly good with rice.
The plate of flash-fried greens was another flavorful dish though not very healthy at all given the amount of chili, garlic and pungent preserved bean paste in the sauce.
One of my personal favorites was the house tofu, providing a contrast to the other heavily-flavored dishes. The dish consists of fresh seafood, mushroom, mustard greens and soft tofu cubes steamed in a savory egg custard. Light and satisfying, this is a dish that I find very comforting and easy to replicate at home.
The salt-baked chicken is more akin to chicken poached in salted water. It was not too memorable aside from the very generous portions and the aromatic ginger oil that accompanied it, but it did remind me of Singapore’s beloved Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Every Chinese banquet should end with a starch, be it rice or noodles. The plate of fried rice noodles (hor fun) was served with plenty of seafood and a pleasing wok hei (parfum de wok), albeit on the greasy side.
For some reason, most of the more authentic Chinese restaurants in town tend to serve spicy Sichuan food, with Cantonese restaurants being the rare species. With a predominantly Cantonese menu interspersed with some Teochew dishes (oyster cakes come to mind), Li Ka Fo is one of the few eateries here that make me think of the simple Cantonese restaurants and zi-char stalls of home.
Li Ka Fo (利口福）
Address: 39, avenue de Choisy 75013 Paris, France