By Nat Wong
The creation of a clay pot rice is simple: white rice and your topping of choice cooked on a traditional charcoal fire in a clay pot. But what makes this dish extra special and ubiquitous to familiar roots of old school Hong Kong is the combination of flavours and textures within the pot: the distinctive smokiness produced, and the flavours of your toppings that are all trapped, and then emulsified into the rice, due to the cooking process, resulting in delicious homogeneity of flavours and a crispy layer of “burned” rice for an extra flavourful crunch.
So if you’re looking for just that, why not try out the famous Four Seasons Pot Rice located at 50-52 Arthur Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon on Temple Street. Don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s old structural aesthetics though, as you will have to queue for at least 45 minutes (on a busy day, especially) before you are ushered in. However, once seated, your food trickles in quite quickly as due to the speedy initiative of ordering whilst in line.
On the menu, there are 35 flavours of delicious clay pot rice toppings to choose from (split into two main categories: “Single Choice Pot Rice” – meaning single toppings, and “Double Choice Pot Rice” – meaning a choice of two different toppings which are divided according to the types of meat chosen), and about 30 other varieties of soup and seasonal vegetables to order also.
Amongst the selection, here are five more traditional choices to try:
Deep Fried Oyster Cake (Small- 2 pieces): HKD$30
Although this first dish is not a clay pot rice, Four Seasons Pot Rice is renowned for their famous deep fried oyster (pan)cakes and is a definite appetiser ‘must’! Made with duck eggs and filled with baby oysters, this restaurant delicacy delivers an exciting mouthful of interesting textures and flavours, from its thin and crispy exterior, to it’s chewy and juicy bite in the center; top it off with the sweet chilli sauce and you have an explosion of exciting flavours to dig into.
Chinese Sausage and Pork with Rice: HKD$42
As the mildest in terms of flavour intensity amongst the five, this particular clay pot rice is probably best suited for the person who would prefer a less potent pork / meat flavour in their dish as every element of meatiness is quite subtle. However, fear not, for the coveted smokey flavour the clay pot rice is famous for is still very much distinctive, and the thin layer of crispy “burnt” rice at the bottom of the pot still present.
Chinese Mushroom and Chicken with Rice: HKD$42
If discovering and exploring new texture combinations is your thing, then this clay pot rice is definitely for you. This particular dish embodies a plethora of different textures (and intense flavours): from the shredded ginger garnish, to the thinly sliced mushrooms, to the chicken bits, to the crispy bottom layer, and even to the rice – everything in this tiny little pot just melds together perfectly and creates a symphony of vibrant flavours (not to mention the amazing smokey aroma / taste present from the charcoal cooking process)! However, if you’re worried that it might be a little too intense and overwhelming, just make sure to remove most of the ginger shreds to ensure no sudden bursts of spicy explosions in your mouth.
Dried Duck Leg with Rice: HKD$56
Don’t let the minimal amount of toppings fool you for this particular clay pot rice, as one dried duck leg is more than enough to emulsify the rice with intense, deep, smokey (meat and charcoal) flavour. One small mouthful of just the rice alone is enough to fill your mouth with layers of vibrant richness. So if you’re a fan of strong flavours with a gradual progression into the other, this is definitely the one for you!
Dried Duck Leg and Chicken with Rice: HKD$64
If you’re stuck choosing between the chicken or dried duck leg, why not opt for both? With this particular clay pot rice, you’ve got a very unique flavour profile that will surely satisfy your craving for both! It’s combination of smoked meat, sharp ginger and smokiness juxtaposes perfectly with the chicken meat as its tame and subtle flavour counteracts the intense flavours and brings a balance to the dish as a whole.