A Taste Of Home: Restaurateur Mina Park On The Hong Kong Dishes and Dining Spots She Longs To Revisit
Mina Park is no stranger to the culinary world. She may have started her career as a corporate lawyer, but she also ran dining events through her private kitchen Sook on the side, and later, when she swapped the corporate world for the culinary one full time, she went on to found Hawkr, a Southeast Asian takeaway spot established in Quarry Bay, which later expanded to Pacific Place too.
Departing for America’s Golden State in 2018, Park settled with her husband, Korean chef Kwang Uh, in Los Angeles. Here the pair remained in the restaurant industry. “With my husband, we ran a successful pop-up for nine months and recently opened a fast casual Korean concept in historic Grand Central Market called Shiku, which means ‘the people you share food with’. The pandemic in the US was complicated in different ways to in Asia, and so opening Shiku in the middle of it seemed like quite an achievement.”
And the pair have plenty more up their sleeves. “We are still working on settling down our restaurant in Grand Central Market. LA is just starting to open up fully and we will have to see if things go back to some sort of normalcy or not. Then we want to reopen Baroo, my husband’s cult-favourite restaurant, which closed in 2018. And we have a few other concepts in mind that we are fleshing out now.”
Yet Hong Kong still holds a special place in Park’s heart. “Hopefully, we will be able to travel back to Hong Kong and Korea soon,” she says. For now, Park reminisces about the dining destinations she rates in Hong Kong.
What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Hong Kong or haven’t been back for a while?
There are so many places and foods that I miss from Hong Kong, I don’t know where to begin. I miss the quality and variety of Cantonese food that’s available everywhere you look––the fresh seafood, the cha chaan tengs, the dai pai dongs, delicious char siu in my old neighborhood of Chai Wan, yum cha, chiu chow cuisine, shopping at the wet markets. I miss the Shanghainese clubs where my friends would take me for lunch, Szechuan hot pot, truly innovative modern Cantonese and Taiwanese cuisine. I miss the atmosphere of all these places, the tiny spaces with the classic tiled floors, the history.
What would be the first dish you would eat on your return and where would you go for it?
Claypot rice from Kwan Kee in Sai Ying Pun. I haven’t had a proper claypot rice since I left Hong Kong and I’ve been craving that, and I would have one of my friends who is a regular take us because she always organises the most delicious and fun dinners there.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong? For fine dining/special occasions and for more casual experiences?
For special occasions, I like to go to Kin’s Kitchen or The Chairman. Kin always has wonderful stories to share and his personal twists on Cantonese classics are always a delight. I had my first birthday party in Hong Kong at The Chairman and one of my last meals before I moved there too. I have so many fond memories made over their famous flower crab with rice noodles.
If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?
One of my favourites is Kam Tung Tai in Shau Kei Wan for dinner, though we often went for dim sum as well. As it started as a place for fishermen, we order a lot of their braised seafood dishes, clams with pig liver, and round it out with their shredded chicken dish. There’s also a braised fish dish that my friends and I had once that was to die for, but we forgot the exact name and we were never able to order it again even though we tried. I dream about that fish.
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food and drinks?
For dinner and drinks, I love meeting friends at Happy Paradise by my dear friend, chef May Chow. Every night I’ve spent there has been so fun, a little raucous, but also the food ranges from delicious bar snacks like sourdough egg waffles to really refined modern Cantonese dishes such as the poached yellow wine chicken, which I wish I could eat every day.
Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Hong Kong?
My favourite bar for its inimitable combination of design, atmosphere and gin cocktails is Ping Pong 129. Their art and music programmes are also unique in Hong Kong. It really feels like home there. For cafes, I love Teakha and its sister site, Plantation. It makes me so happy to have some of their teas at home in LA so I can imagine the peace and beauty of both of those spaces.
Is there anywhere else that you would never miss visiting when you returned to Hong Kong?
I would have liked to try chef Jowett Yu’s new dishes at Ho Lee Fook. I stalk my favourite HK places that are on Instagram and all of his new creations look amazing. I also miss chef David Lai’s cooking at Neighborhood. Then there are so many places that have opened up since I moved that I really want to try like Bibi & Baba for Peranakan food.
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?
Sadly, US customs is so strict, otherwise I would bring back a suitcase filled with decent shrimp roe and lap cheung. So, I’m more likely to bring back goodies from Shanghai Street, like cleavers made in Hong Kong, as well as more hand-painted porcelain ware from Yuet Tung China Works in Kowloon Bay. I’m very sad that I didn’t buy a giant wooden chopping block from Shanghai Street when I moved. Not sure I can get one of those home in my carry-on now!
What do you like about LA’s dining scene and how does it compare to Hong Kong’s?
LA is really one of the best places to eat right now, in my opinion. Like Hong Kong, you can have the best cheap eats, but in LA it’s tacos, not fish balls. And like Hong Kong, at the same time, you can treat yourself to a beautiful fine dining experience at places like Kato which is modern Taiwanese. LA has a diverse array of cuisines to sample with so many different neighbourhoods to explore from Thai Town to the San Gabriel Valley to Little Armenia and so much more.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you currently live in LA?
Nothing compares to Hong Kong, of course, but my husband and I go to the San Gabriel Valley, which is filled with Chinese restaurants of all genres. I still have more discovering to do there, but we like Alice’s Kitchen for Hong Kong breakfast. It was the first place I went to that felt like home with the first bite of their cheung fun.