Cover Max Levy loves phoenix eye nuts and has used them in Okra's dishes. (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

Okra’s chef-owner shares the local delicacies he loves eating and cooking in Hong Kong

As part of our series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Max Levy – chef-owner of Japanese-inspired neighbourhood izakaya, omakase restaurant and sake bar Okra, which will be closing its doors for good at the end of July – tells us about the Hong Kong seafood that reminds him of growing up in New Orleans and the delicious Cantonese dishes that he just can’t get enough of.

Tell us about some of your favourite Hong Kong food memories.

The first time that I had simmered pomelo skin at Kin’s Kitchen was a sublime experience; the skin is dried, rehydrated and burned before being simmered. I’d had it before [elsewhere] and it was usually too soft or soupy, but their balance of local shrimp paste and chicken stock will always have me going back for more.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

I have a few… Firstly, phoenix eye nuts, which are only available for a short period of time each year; you can find them growing in Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin. Their evocative name comes from the fact that each of their pods contains two fruits; they have a flavour close to sweet potato, and a texture much like chestnut. I like to cook them with our mala spices, frying them in the extra oil from Okra’s XO sauce as a garnish for our smoked Yu An Yaki Duck dish.

I also fell in love with the texture of wild rice shoots the first time that I had them simmered in pheasant soup. Now, I like to cut them into thin hair-like slices and simmer them in aged pork fat. I usually buy both these ingredients from Sai Ying Pun wet market.

Finally, dried oysters from Lau Fau Shan; they’re dried in the sun after being poached. Fat and creamy, they’re a similar species to the ones that I grew up eating in New Orleans – I like them broiled on top of rice.

If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be – and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?

It would have to be Sing Kee – their pork offal noodle soup defines nose-to-tail eating. The creaminess of the small intestines, the crunchiness of the pig’s ears, the flakiness of the lung meat… I could eat this every morning!

MAX'S PICKS:

  • Kin’s Kitchen, 5/F, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2571 0913

  • Sai Ying Pun Market, 45 Centre Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, +852 2559 6446

  • Sing Kee, 82 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2541 567