Where It’s Always A ‘Nice Day’Cover Story
December 31, 2017
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
If you want to get to know a community’s culinary habits, visit its busiest restaurants on a weekday morning.
On a trip to Nice Day Chinese Seafood Restaurant one recent Thursday just before Christmas, it’s delightfully obvious that the neighborhood around Liliha Square loves dim sum for brunch. A queue of women in business attire lines up at the takeout window to buy half moons and shrimp dumplings for their office parties. A half-dozen older gentlemen sit at an outdoor table, eating shu mai and speaking Cantonese.
Inside, the dining room is bright and welcoming. A young man with headphones sits in happy solitude at a table near the door, pouring tea, while a young couple with a baby, a grandmother and a tiny bespectacled toddler girl sit at an adjacent table. The girl daintily plucks shrimp from a plate and eats them with gusto.
When asked how much dim sum the eatery offers on a regular basis, general manager Shirley Cheng estimates, “Maybe over 1,000 baskets a day? We sell a lot! And we make it all right here.”
As quickly as the bamboo steamer baskets disappear from the long counter under the takeout window, servers emerge from the kitchen to replenish them. Owner Sang Chan sits at his customary table nearby, smiling at all who enter. Occasionally, old friends join him for a few minutes of conversation. “I bring him here in the morning and after lunch I take him home, every day,” shares Cheng, who has been at Nice Day since it opened almost a decade ago. “Lunch hour is very busy. We have a lot of regulars. Our customers come back and come back.”
This month, the regulars are coming in droves for Law Hon Jai ($11.95). Though Jai is always on Nice Day’s menu — it’s No. 98 on a list of 159 tempting dishes — this recipe is tailored for the season. “It’s a New Year’s special jai,” says Cheng. “It has a lot of vegetables: black fungus, snow peas, long rice, mushrooms, tofu, bean curd, carrots. It brings good luck!”
A server delivers a steaming platter to a table as a young couple enters the restaurant and walks past. “Ooh, pork belly!” says the man, eyeing the Kao Yuk with Taro ($11.95). “I just figured out what I’m having for lunch.”
Other tempting dishes arrive. There’s delicious Minute Chicken ($11.95), pan-fried, nestled on a bed of cabbage, and served with garlic and green onions. Beef with Bitter Melon ($11.95) is loaded with beef and diced garlic, all glistening in black bean sauce. And the last dish, Tofu with Mixed Vegetables ($10.95), is a vegetarian’s dream, with broccoli, choy sum, carrots, won bok and tofu.
With scrumptious dim sum and other Chinese cuisine, served with smiles and aloha by Shirley Cheng and other friendly ladies, Nice Day is truly one of Liliha’s neighborhood gems.
Although all of Nice Day’s highlighted dishes in this story feature vegetables, meat or both, the restaurant is known for its excellent preparation of the ocean’s edible delights. Here are some of the neighborhood’s favorite Nice Day fish and seafood dishes, with their corresponding menu numbers for your convenience:
• No. 18, Dungeness Crab with Ginger & Onion
• No. 23, Lobster with Ginger & Onion
• No. 33, Scallops with Mushrooms & Vegetables
• No. 36, Steamed Fish Fillet
• No. 40, Shrimp with Walnuts
Each new year, Nice Day sells hundreds of good-luck helpings of Law Hon Jai ($11.95). Also known as Buddha’s Delight, the stew is thought to have originated with vegetarian monks. Many people believe it helps purify body and soul. As eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, jai usually contains at least eight ingredients, some of which are:
• Tree ear fungus (longevity)
• Snow peas (unity)
• Long rice (long life)
• Mushrooms (opportunity)
• Bean curds & tofu (blessings)
• Carrots (wealth)