Cover Fermented tofu features in Samsen's menu (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

The chef-owner of Samsen loves how Hong Kong diners embrace new flavours

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, Adam Cliff – chef-owner of much-loved Thai street food restaurant Samsen – tells us about the local ingredient you’ll find used throughout Samsen’s menu and why he loves Hong Kong’s dining scene.

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

I would say one of my favourite food moments in Hong Kong actually occurred before I started living here. Back in 2012, I spent a week exploring the city, mainly looking for local delicacies and stores that specialised in authentic Cantonese food. One food memory that still jumps out to me was at Tim’s Kitchen, a now-closed restaurant that was located around the corner from where Samsen Sheung Wan would eventually open.

It was a marinated king prawn stuffed with Chinese liver sausage along with spring onion, wrapped in pork caul fat, then fried to crispy perfection. Whilst the dish itself had only a handful of ingredients, they complimented one another perfectly and worked together in harmony. The cooking of the dish was executed perfectly – it was the first time I ever asked to speak with the chef as I wanted to thank him. I did go back to Tim’s Kitchen many years later after I had actually moved to Hong Kong, but unfortunately that dish was no longer available.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

I love using fermented foods and ingredients in both Thai and Chinese cooking. They are vast, versatile and offer up such interesting flavours that can be used to add levels of complexity to many dishes that may otherwise fall a little flat. Fermented bean curd is definitely one local ingredient that I cannot overlook when looking to add richness and depth to my cooking. We use various brands at Samsen, but the one most worth mentioning would be Liu Ma Kee.

Fermented tofu appears throughout our menus at Samsen. From soups to stir-fries, its unique flavour can be used to add depth and richness to a dish without being overwhelming – or it can become the main attraction in a flavour profile depending on what is being cooked.

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?

Definitely Samsen. Obviously, Samsen is very dear to me for various reasons, but aside from the food, what I love about Samsen is its accessibility to all. One of the fundamental ideas behind its concept was to deliver Thai street food flavours at a higher and refined quality, while at the same time having an accessible price point.

What I love about Hong Kong’s food scene is that people in general love to eat out and try new things. Many of Samsen’s dishes were new to the market [at the time], such as boat noodles, and many [customers] had never tried the dish before; however, people here are very receptive to new flavours and dishes. This openness by Hong Kongers encourages chefs and business owners to be potentially more bold than they may be otherwise.

Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2234 0001; 23 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 2234 0080