Where’s the goose?

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WHEN YOU think of Hong Kong, you think of its vistas opening out to the sea, or else the tall buildings that dot its metropolis. In the city’s arteries are its people, and the food that fuels them. Despite the strain of Anglophilia in the former British colony, Cantonese cuisine from Hong Kong’s neighboring Guangdong province keeps the citizens patting their bellies in satisfaction. Of the spread of roasted meats highly esteemed in Chinese cuisine, the roasted goose and the roasted duck are neck and neck as champions in this race.

At the head of the pecking order (pun intended) of the many, many roasted goose outlets in Hong Kong is Kam’s Roast Goose, at least according to the Michelin Guide, which awarded it one star.

The 30-seater was founded by Hardy Kam, a grandson of Kam Shui Fai, in turn the founder of Yung Kee. In 1968, that restaurant was one of Fortune magazine’s Top 15 Restaurants in the World. A lengthy court battle between the heirs of Yung Kee after Kam Shui Fai’s death led to the hatching of Kam’s Roast Goose, which, according to the Michelin guide, has under its wing (I’m keeping the bird puns) one of the family’s chefs holding the secret of the family’s birds.

In any case, Kam’s Roast Goose has spread its wings to Singapore, and just this week, has flown to the Philippines. Kam’s Roast Goose was brought here by Foodee Global Concepts, Inc., the same people who brought Tsuta and Tim Ho Wan (both earning Michelin stars in their home countries) to the Philippines. This was after the principals fended off 10 other companies willing to bring the Kam’s Roast Goose franchise to the Philippines. Eric Dee, president of Foodee Global Concepts, credits their win to hard work and a proven track record. “Experience in Hong Kong brands like Tim Ho Wan gave us a little bit of strength.”

Kam’s Roast Goose in the Philippines shares its name with its Singapore sister, which is simply called Kam’s Roast, because — surprise — the roasted geese are not present in either country, because the geese would have to be imported from China.

“Fun fact. Anything imported from China that’s poultry (or fowl) is illegal, because of bird flu,” said Mr. Dee.

According to him, other restaurants in the country bypass this regulation by smuggling in their birds, though he refuses to name these restaurants. “We decided that it’s not a risk we wanted to take.”

A more than worthy substitute is their roasted duck. Mr. Dee said that blindfolded, only one person in 10 could taste the difference between the two birds. To close the gap even further, Kam’s Roast ducks are specifically bred to be larger and plumper, and are delivered via plane, freshly slaughtered, straight from Davao. “Never frozen; never touched a fridge,” said Mr. Dee.

And the verdict? The duck is a bone-sucking experience. Every part of the duck, from the firm flesh, all the way to the skin and bone, is saturated with flavor. If manners were no matter, you, the diner, would pick up the darn duck with your hands and lick, savor, and chew every morsel.

Other option include a marinated suckling pig, with a crispy, noisy skin with young tender flesh with a hint of nuttiness. The toro cha siu (pork barbecue) had a dignified red blush to it, a caramelized crust, and really was that soft, and had a smokiness fresh from its broiling. As for a roasted pork belly, it had a clean pork flavor free from fuss and frills, accentuated with a strong mustard dip.

But then, if you look past the long lines, the Hong Kong-hype, and the Michelin star that Kam’s Roast Goose has in its nest, why would one choose to line up at Kam’s Roast, when there are perfectly good substitutes dotted around the city? “I think it’s one of the first real, authentic specialized roastery places in the country. There are a few that popped up here and there, but I think the product that we have is far superior,” said Mr. Dee. “Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve tried everyone,” he said, adding that he eats a lot of Chinese-style roast, consuming it maybe twice or thrice a week.

A problem with importing a concept as well-known as Kam’s Roast is the inevitable comparison between the original and the franchise. Mr. Dee said: “Nowadays, it’s so hard because everyone’s like, ‘Iba (It’s different)!’ Natikman naman nila, three years ago (But then, the last time they had a taste was three years ago).” He says that a few weeks ago, flying home from Singapore after a training with the principals, he had to eat the meat onboard the plane, just so the taste would still be fresh on his tongue when he landed. “It’s just learning not to take everything by heart, or else, I couldn’t sleep for days knowing that we couldn’t [replicate it].”

Now, as mentioned above, Mr. Dee’s family has brought the franchises of Michelin-starred restaurants to the Philippines. He doesn’t have to: he can just build a passable knock-off and call it a day. But Mr. Dee said: “I love the industry. More than just opening restaurants, it’s the contribution that we give towards the industry of food in the Philippines.”

Kam’s Roast is open in SM Mega Fashion Hall, at the third floor. — Joseph L. Garcia