News / Asia

In Hong Kong, Beef Over Sammy Kitchen's 3D Cow

Sammy's Kitchen restaurant in Hong Kong (Photo: Steve Herman / VOA)
Sammy's Kitchen restaurant in Hong Kong (Photo: Steve Herman / VOA)
There are no chopsticks on the table at Sammy's Kitchen in Hong Kong. And that is not the only way this restaurant stands out in a neighborhood clustered with Cantonese fare.
 
Sammy's trademark is a large three-dimensional billboard of a cow. It juts out over Queen's Road West in the Sheung Wan district, a neighborhood where the odor of dried squid mingles with the aroma of herbs from nearby traditional medicine shops.
 
An elderly, heavily inebriated Caucasian man, sitting across the street on the stoop of the Chun Sing stationery store, gazes incredulously at the imposing bovine while taking swigs from his large bottle of Skol beer.
 
More sober passersby also do a double-take, and curiosity compels some - me included - to explore what the billboard represents.
 
It was then I learned the unusual sign actually is an endangered species.
 
‘Primordial fusion’ cuisine
 
Sammy's Kitchen restaurant in Hong Kong (Photo: Steve Herman / VOA)Sammy's Kitchen restaurant in Hong Kong (Photo: Steve Herman / VOA)
x
Sammy's Kitchen restaurant in Hong Kong (Photo: Steve Herman / VOA)
Sammy's Kitchen restaurant in Hong Kong (Photo: Steve Herman / VOA)
Sammy's epitomizes Hong Kong's unpretentious side, a throwback to the era before the city became known for extravagant bistros with Michelin-starred chefs and pricey fusion cuisine.
 
Sammy's Kitchen is primordial fusion both in decor and menu, which may give some diners pause.
 
A reviewer rates Sammy's reasonably priced meals as “rather mediocre,” but praises the establishment for friendly and welcoming service. Frommer's Guidebook adds, "It's comforting to see a place that remains virtually unchanged over the decades in such a fast-changing environment.”
 
The restaurant's namesake, owner Sammy Yip, began cooking at the age of 12 and worked as a chef for the five-star Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental hotels.
 
He has adorned most of his tables with orange or violet-colored checkered tablecloths. That was an upscale touch when he opened the restaurant in 1970.
 
The corner booths are laminated tables, bare except for bottles of Del Monte ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar and recycled plastic containers of toothpicks.
 
Food for carnivores
 
One side of the establishment is decorated with faux brick. Tiny white lights have been strung across the top of the walls.
 
The voluminous bilingual menu runs the gamut - from beefsteak through pastas to fried rice - but mostly favors dishes that appeal to carnivores.
Many are smothered in Sammy's secret sauce, which has won a loyal following over the decades. Fans include high-ranking government officials.
 
This may be the only place in the former British colony where one can still find on a menu such hybrid trans-Atlantic fare as Roast American York Ham and Bacon.
 
I settle on the ox tongue curry rice and a cup of tea.
 
To my initial bemusement, the tea arrives piping hot in a small cola glass - so hot that I must grasp it with a paper napkin.
 
Sammy offers a refill poured from a small ceramic pot. His hands are steady but a small puddle of tea leaks on to the purple-stained tabletop.
 
Excellent ox tongue
 
Ten minutes later my meal arrives: ample slices of tongue, steaming rice and a mild sauce inspired by green Thai curry - masterfully made, not overwhelmed by coconut, turmeric or chilies.
 
When I finish, Sammy returns to my table and asks how I liked the dish, which I had primarily ordered as a novelty.
 
“Excellent,” I honestly reply.
 
“Thank you,” he responds enthusiastically, elongating the last word.
 
For a man who has been cooking for 70 years, Sammy Yip appears to have retained his enthusiasm for the culinary arts and what should accompany every restaurant meal – sincere hospitality.
 
Hong Kong authorities, however, have recently turned an inhospitable eye toward Sammy's landmark sign. The giant cow looming over Queen's Road West not only serves as a beacon for diners but also for residents, visitors and taxi drivers.
 
"帶我到母牛"
 
Anyone heading for the restaurant or anywhere close to it can simply tell a taxi driver: "帶我到母牛" - Take me to the cow!
 
Thirty-four years after the illuminated animal first moved into position, the Hong Kong Buildings Department ruled the signboard was an illegal structure protruding into public space and ordered the Yip family to remove it.
 
The Yips' appeals have been unsuccessful, as have customers' hopes the sign can be declared a vintage Hong Kong landmark.
 
“The cow will be removed. ... We must remove it,” says catering manager Iry Yip Fung-yee, Sammy's daughter. “We're just a small business,” she laments, explaining why the Yips are are not going to launch a potentially costly legal fight to save Hong Kong's most famous cow.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid