Owner of new Oaxacan–inspired cocktail bar COA, Jay Khan is well known in the local bar scene as a champion of Mexico’s vibrant drinking culture. He spends most of his waking hours immersed in sharing his knowledge and passion for agave spirits with his customers, and has been a key player in evolving the mini-Mexican movement that’s spread across our city with the flurry of new south-of-the-border establishments — think Kennedy taqueria 11 Westside, Californian-Mexican restaurants Big Sur and Commissary, and mezcal bars Los Sotano and Mezcalito.
Naturally, being the owner of one of the hottest new bars in town makes for a topsy-turvy schedule, translating to breakfast after noon and lots of 3am ramen runs. In his Hong Kong Food Diary, Khan takes us through a week in the life of a bartender, from mornings spent with his 3-year-old while washing down homemade milk tea, to the thrill of service hours hazy with tequila and mezcal-induced revelry, and late-night munchies usually involving some form of instant noodles or sausage fried rice, as the rest of the city sleeps soundly. Read all about it in Khan’s Hong Kong Food Diary below.
FRIDAY, 26 JAN
Woke up today to a crying toddler next to my ear! He is 3 years old and he doesn’t want to go to nursery school today because he is very sleepy. In our family tradition, we start our day with a cup of hot milk tea with cardamom, which my wife brews every morning for both of us. It’s 1pm and my habitual breakfast is always starting late and with heavy carbs; in this case, I mean toasted bread with melted butter and of course, milk tea.
It’s 8pm and since my breakfast, I have not had a lick of food. Feeling a little hungry, however I don’t want to leave the bar since it’s a Friday and we’re expecting more guests arriving soon. I rummage through the kitchen and find a few packets of instant noodles, which I scarf down to survive the night.
I head home after work and my wife has left a message that she’s prepared some food in the refrigerator. It turns out to be fried rice with sliced chicken sausages. No matter how much I try, I just can’t resist eating so late. I finish a plate of the fried rice paired with Vita low-sugar lemon tea while watching Chef’s Table.
SATURDAY, 27 JAN
It’s 11am. I wake up not knowing what lies ahead. Start off my day in a normal fashion with today’s breakfast of predictable toasted bread and butter with milk tea.
On my way in to work around 5pm, I stop at MANA! Fast Slow Food on Wellington Street. I order the chickpea and quinoa with a piece of falafel. While walking up to COA, I receive a message from a friend who says she will pay me a visit today with a special guest. I quickly prep all the mise en place for our cocktails.
At 10pm, my friend who texted me earlier arrives alone. She says the special guest is on the way. After awhile an Indian man walks in. At a closer glance, he’s the man behind the best restaurant in Asia, chef Gaggan [Anand]. What an honour to have him! After explaining the menu to the maestro, Gaggan decides to order our homemade Tepache, which is a fermented beverage with pineapple and cinnamon. Towards the end of the night, chef Gaggan insists on buying me a drink and I crack open a craft Mexican lager called Los Cuentos.
I head home around 3am after my shift and settle with a spicy Korean Samyang ramen from the convenience store for late-night snack.
SUNDAY, 28 JAN
In my dreams, I hear someone whispering in my ears and later realise it was my little boy crying out “Papa, papa wake up!”. It is 11am and a Sunday so we decide to go and grab some food opposite to where we live at the Gold Coast Piazza. We pop into YUÈ restaurant for some dim sum. I order a variety of dishes including vegetarian steamed dumplings and deep-fried spring rolls.
Arrive at the bar around 5pm and we have some industry friends pop in for a drink and chat. There’s Devender Sehgal from 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo; Miguel Fernandez, bar manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong; Holly Graham from Drink Magazine; and Tom Egerton, bar manager of Potato Head. The café next door is very kind and offers us an entire tiramisu cake which they had added too much liquor to by mistake and didn’t want to go to waste. We happily receive it — because we love everything with alcohol in it. It’s delicious.
Feeling hungry around 10pm and decide to cook a quesadilla in the kitchen at the bar, paired with a probiotic lacto-fermented grapefruit juice that we ferment ourselves.
Mark Hammons from Tasting Kitchen stops by with a premium bottle of rum from Columbia. We taste the rum straight and then try it in an Old Fashioned cocktail with unrefined cane sugar syrup and chocolate bitters. It is delicious. Later on, I make Mark a Fish House Punch with rum, which is a vintage punch-style drink dating back to the 1700s. It consists of both rum and cognac as a spirit base with peach brandy, lemon, tea and sugar. He loves it!
MONDAY, 29 JAN
On Mondays, we are closed for business at COA. My typical Mondays are spent waking up pretty late after a long week of work. I have my predictable breakfast of toasted bread with milk tea.
At 4pm, my wife and I pick up our little boy from his nursery school. Our usual lunch is around 4–5pm on my off days. Little boy starts yelling for McDonald’s. We decide not to bring him there, and end up in a new Japanese restaurant instead around our neighbourhood. There’s a value-for-money lunch deal but we order à la carte instead so we can have a variety of snacks to share. We start off with a miso soup due to the chilly weather, followed by edamame and the rest. It’s the little guy’s first edamame experience and he loves popping the beans out of the pods.
At 10pm, I go for a jog and come back to eat a bowl of fresh fruit dressed with live cultured yogurt. I boil some sweet potato for a late dinner with a plate of bok choy. Fall asleep around 3am after watching some Netflix.
TUESDAY, 30 JAN
It’s 12pm, and today’s breakfast is a little different. Since we’ve run out of bread, my wife prepares some pancakes with honey.
Today is our first Mezcal Appreciation Class at COA and it is fully booked. I start working on some unfinished notes that I have to distribute during the class while sipping on my wife’s delicious milk tea.
The class kicks off at 7pm. I start by giving out welcome drinks of our special Mezcal Paloma which consists of tequila, mezcal, grapefruit soda, lime and sal de gusano (worm salt). Next, we try four delicious mezcals tasting to highlight the different flavour profiles. The class ends at 9pm, we have more guests arriving and my dinner is forgotten.
The night goes well and we finish at 1am. Wife calls around that time and asks me to buy McDonald’s for supper as her chicken pulao was cooked unsuccessfully. Usually her chicken pulao is the best I’ve ever tasted in the world. Don’t know what went wrong?