Opinion | Best food in 2023: my favourite dishes of the year, from sushi in Hong Kong to street food noodles in Thailand, and a very special cocktail in Japan

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On the menu: konbini-style egg salad sandwiches, store-bought onigiri, home-made smoked salmon, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables to begin January 1 in the most wholesome way possible.

A New Year’s Day breakfast on top of Cape Collinson. Photo: Charmaine Mok

And now we come to the end of 2023, with hundreds of restaurants visited and meals eaten, and a handful of holidays taken around Asia, with memorable plates from each destination.

While there were some unforgettable one-off dishes that were available for a limited time only, these are my dishes of the year that you’ll hopefully still be able to enjoy in 2024.

1. Smoked olives from Bar Leone

I’d estimate that I’ve had an average of two bowls of these incredibly moreish smoked olives on every visit to this Hong Kong bar. So good are these little green orbs – smoked in-house until they’re imbued with this insanely intense umami character that almost tastes like bonito – that they’ve turned olive haters into olive lovers.

House-smoked olives at Bar Leone in Hong Kong. Photo: Bar Leone

They have such a cult following that owner Lorenzo Antinori aims to start selling them in jars soon.

15 Bridges St, Central, Hong Kong

2. Iwashi sardine nigiri at Sushi Fujimoto

Kenichi Fujimoto’s discreet sushi bar is the source of one of my favourite bites of the year – a lusciously silky Iwashi sardine nigiri, right at the peak of its season.

Iwashi sardine nigiri at Sushi Fujimoto in Hong Kong. Photo: Charmaine Mok

High in omega-3 oils, it’s a fish that spoils quickly. But in Fujimoto’s hands, it was pitch perfect – not even requiring any ginger or scallion garnish, usually used to take away any residual fishiness – with only the lightest glaze of soy.

6/F, 48 Cochrane St, Central, Hong Kong

3. Fish maw ‘noodles’ from Wendy’s Wok World

Sam Lui, also known as Wendy’s Wok World, blew up the dining scene at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. A more recent visit during the cooler autumn months had Lui slinging some fantastic new-to-me dishes.

Fish maw “noodles” cooked in the style of pad see ew with chillies and Thai basil from Wendy’s Wok World. Photo: Charmaine Mok

The cleverly wok-fried strips of tender fish maw cooked in the style of pad see ew with chillies and Thai basil had us all fooled into thinking we were biting into chencun fen, a thin and translucent rice noodle.

Contact @wendyswokworld on Instagram for bookings

4. Lychee wood-roasted chicken from Taitongese Cuisine

A nicely roasted chicken in a fancy restaurant can set you back the best part of HK$1,000 (US$130) in Hong Kong, so it’s crazy how a perfect specimen like the ones at Taitongese Cuisine in Yuen Long can leave you with change from HK$300.

Taitongese Cuisine’s signature lychee wood-roasted chicken. Photo: Charmaine Mok

The venue is known for the giant clay urns in which chickens are roasted over lychee wood, imbuing the meat with a floral smokiness, golden, crisp skin, and juicy meat.

G/F, 198 Tai Tong Tsuen, Tai Tong Shan Road, Shap Pat Heung, Yuen Long

5. ‘The next Jay Fai’ in Bangkok, Thailand

In Bangkok, chef Gaggan Anand took us on a brilliant street-food noodle crawl that included kuay teow kua gai (wok-fired chicken noodles) from a woman he dubbed “the next Jay Fai”, in reference to the beloved local street vendor plucked from “obscurity” when Western media started noticing her.
Auntie Pien (right) with her daughter at their chicken noodle stall in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Charmaine Mok
The open-air noodle stall headed by 68-year-old Auntie Pien and her daughter features their signature dish cooked furiously over charcoal. Ask for it with the fried pork lard – it has the most glorious breath of the wok.

14 Fueang Nakhon Rd, Wat Ratchabophit, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200

6. Blue cheese martini at Bar Heritage, Tokyo

Tokyo’s bar scene has countless gems, although it’s best to try them without any preconceptions – I was massively disappointed by the legendary Mori Bar, and the takoyaki cocktail at The SG Club (ranked No. 14 on the 2023 Asia’s 50 Best Bars list) was probably the most unappealing drink I had all year.

Bar Heritage, however, part of the Mixology Heritage group that includes numerous artisanal cocktail bars, and which focuses on classic cocktails and vintage spirits, was a revelation.

Blue cheese martini at Tokyo’s Bar Heritage. Photo: Charmaine Mok

While my Bloody Caesar, with its garnish of plump caper berries, was flawless, it was the understated blue cheese martini that absolutely won cocktail of the year for me.

Featuring Roquefort-washed cognac, Sauternes wine and agave syrup, it was silky smooth and tasted like the most beautiful ripe blue cheese, with a dried apricot and a drizzle of floral honey.

Hibiya Okuroji G31, 1-7-1 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda, Tokyo

7. Shinramyun fried chicken by Susan Jung

As I was researching and interviewing the Post’s former food and drinks editor for a story about her debut cookbook, Kung Pao and Beyond: Fried Chicken Recipes from East and South-East Asia, Jung was kind enough to invite me to her studio, where she whipped up a fried chicken lunch.

Fried chicken dishes, including one using an instant noodle coating (right), by Susan Jung. Photo: Charmaine Mok

Thankfully, she made me the one dish from the cookbook that I had been craving madly, and that was the instant noodle fried chicken, using Korea’s spicy Nongshim Shinramyun – definitely in my top 3 instant noodles of all time.

8. Beef quartet in chilli sour broth at The Chairman

For the longest time, The Chairman chef-owner Danny Yip was struggling with putting a beef dish he was really happy with on the menu.

Since the fine-dining Chinese restaurant moved to its new Hong Kong location at the end of 2022, I think it’s safe to say that its bubbling cauldron of beef – honeycomb tripe, tendon, short ribs and fatty beef – in a sour and spicy broth, emboldened with pickled vegetables, chillies and sweet black garlic, is a must-have for me.

3/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington St, Central, Hong Kong

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