Feeling Free in Hong Kong (by Carmen)
Hong Kong was the first stop on our Asia trip in 2009 and we absolutely loved it. When people asked what our favorite city of the trip had been, the answer was obvious. From our first dim sum bite, the city enchanted us. With the sky high architecture, and we were awestruck. But just around the corner, amid all the modernity, we would find an old school market that would bring us back down to earth. I always said I could easily live in Hong Kong.
And yet, over time I began to feel a little jaded. Perhaps my memory of Hong Kong was colored by the fact that it was my first time outside the western world. Maybe as a more seasoned traveler, my second visit to Hong Kong would reveal that it was actually too congested or too westernized or too sanitized or just not to my liking anymore. That I had put it on a pedestal that it wasn’t really worthy of.
Hong Kong, how could I have ever doubted you? You are everything I remembered and more.
We needed some food fast when we got off the train and within our first block walking we were drawn to a dumpling restaurant. Backpacks and all, we squeezed our way in for some boiled kim chi dumplings. We also sampled some fried pork, leek and yellow curry varieties. They were simple, fast, great. Wow, HK. You had me at hello.
Our visit to HK was partially dictated by our need to reset our China visa. Because, really, this isn’t the best time to see the city. For one, the new year week is expensive as Chinese tourists flood the city. At the same time, all offices and many family owned shops and restaurants are closed. It’s a strange time. We decided to make use of our visit here to take full advantage of the fast, uncensored internet. Oh my god! It felt like I was re-entering the modern world. I didn’t realize how much I had missed posting on the blog, reading other blogs, reading BBC news, all my Google calendars, docs, etc. This excitement was compounded by what I saw on the street – Belgian beer bars, restaurants decorated with colors other than red and gold – it was exhilarating. Yes, some of these factors are simply the western influence on the city. Hong Kong is not considered “true” China. All I know is that the city made me feel free.
There was one benefit of visiting during the new year – fireworks. Nathan and I saw the best fireworks show of our lives! It was even better than Nathan’s previous best at Mariachi USA :) They were plentiful, beautiful and well timed. All of it, of course, with the backdrop of HK Island skyscrapers.
There is so much to see in HK but this trip was not for sightseeing. We had a lot of work to do – blogging, wedding planning, trip planning all takes time. The slow internet in China wasn’t cutting it for us so things had piled up again. After a long day at the hostel computer we asked the receptionist for a restaurant recommendation. He directed us to a place just a couple blocks away. Nathan was skeptical, thinking that the rec. was based more on proximity than good quality. But he need not have worried. Crystal Jade, on the third floor of a mall, was delicious. We were seated right away, our tea cups were kept full and the Shanghai cuisine was delightful. Of course we had to eat the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) which are steamed pork dumplings with warm broth sealed inside. We complimented these with more pork in a sweet dough wrap. Then the noodles, with a thick savory sauce that we could thin to our liking with broth.
Fortunately, we saved room for dessert. Also near our hostel, we had noticed this place because of the crowds. It was a tiny dessert cafe called Honeymoon Desserts. I opted for mango, pomelo, grass jelly and tapioca balls in a sweet soup topped with a scoop of green tea ice cream. Yum! Nathan had a warm walnut and black sesame soup. Inside hid a few glutinous rice balls filled with ground peanuts. Impressive stuff.
To start off another “work” day we went to one of our favorite places in Hong Kong. Lin Heung is the real deal. A little grungy, slightly grumpy service and excellent dim sum. On our first visit in 2009, it was a summer weekday. Old regulars were hanging out, reading the paper, as carts were pushed by. In that same trip we visited again on a weekend. The place was transformed into a madhouse of people pushing for dim sum. The carts barely made it out of the kitchen before being stripped bare. On this visit, things were pretty crazy again. The pushing was even more aggressive than I remember. Perhaps because there were more mainland Chinese holidaymakers? Not sure. The dim sum was predictably good but I am excited to visit again when it’s calm.
The dim sum held us over until dinner, when we were ready to feast again. Again near our hostel, we went to Under Bridge Spicy Crab Restaurant. As we waited for our table we looked longingly at the crab covered in crispy fried garlic. That is, until we saw the price. A crab for two for $60 (USD). Must have been inflated for the holidays. We instead switched our sights to garlic crusted shrimp which turned out to be an excellent substitute.
Another one of our fave HK eateries is Australia Dairy Company which is unfortunately closed for the time we are here. It is an institution serving amazing fried eggs, toast, coffee, macaroni soup. Yes, doesn’t sound too exciting but there is magic in the way they make it here. To get our fix, we went to Hokkaido Milk Restaurant instead. We didn’t have high expectations but were pleasantly surprised! The eggs were perfectly cooked, still slightly runny in the center, the toast was well buttered, and the macaroni soup deceivingly rich. Made me very happy.
I could have spent more time in HK, but instead that would have to wait until the end of the trip, after the holidays were over. Therefore, we prepared ourselves to re-enter the wilds of China. Watch out, Hunan, Chongqing and Sichuan here we come!