Eating Our Way Through Hong Kong, Again (by Nathan)
Flying into Hong Kong is such a wonderful and exciting experience. We were both giddy in our seats to return to one of our favorite places on the planet. We were having a great time in China, but Hong Kong is a magic place that brings out the best of East and West. Let’s recap: we explored Yunnan and Southern China for a month then landed in Hong Kong to rejuvenate and refresh our visa. We then when back into China to explore Hunan, Chongqing and Sichuan provinces. Now, we have returned to Hong Kong as a final hoorah to our around-the-world trip. In Hong Kong, we could continue eating the phenomenal Asian food we love as well as sample restaurants that pull their inspiration from every corner of the world. The subway and transit in Hong Kong is one of the best we have ever experienced and it is especially nice to not have to push our way on as we did in China. Clean bathrooms, English signage and menus and the lack of honking scooters make Hong Kong accessible to everyone. I particularly love the density of Hong Kong; fifty story building tower in every direction. People are everywhere, but Honk Kong does not feel crowded; it feels efficient, welcoming to visitors and entertaining in every direction.
We rented a small, but well organized apartment for a few days. It was a studio with an efficient layout and plenty of room for two people. We especially liked that one of the panels of the closet could be pushed inward to reveal the bathroom. When the door was closed it was impossible to tell that there was another room beyond the wall of cabinets. The view from the 16th floor was beautiful. We had a great time watching the tiny ants of people scurry around the city streets. Or we watched the groups of teenagers playing basketball. It was a cozy apartment in the middle of Kowloon and a fifteen minute walk in any direction would unveil thousands of restaurants. Thus we had our work cut out for us.
We decided to start with some restaurants that we knew. This is our third visit to Hong Kong each time we leave we could not wait to come back. One of our favorite restaurants is Four Seasons Clay Pot. They have a decently sized menu, but the real challenge is what to get in the clay pot; we ordered one with some Chinese sausage and pork and another with duck. They bring the fired clay pot and practically slam it on the table. We opened the lid squirted some soy sauce and hot sauce inside and placed the lid back over the top. We learned that this is a good way to add some moisture to the pot and loosen the outer edges of rice that get crispy and sometimes burned. This is a remarkably simple dish but the thirty person deep line outside is evidence that it is worth the visit.
We could not visit Hong Kong without eating at this restaurant. Australia Dairy Company epitomizes the Hong Kong diner by perfecting comfort food. Unfortunately when we were here during spring festival the restaurant closed down from a week, but this time we were not going to miss out. The waiters are a group of hyper attention deficit and gruff men. Within seconds of sitting you down they are hovering over you waiting for your order. The environment is a little crazy at first, but I have learned to really enjoy how methodical and quick this place is. We like a set menu that comes with a macaroni and ham soup that is rich well beyond its looks. The set also comes with toast and scrambled eggs that are so light and fluffy that I have not successfully recreated them. I think they must fold in beaten whites and fluffed butter into the yolks. All this comes with a hot milk tea. We also ordered one of their specialties- a steamed egg custard made from just the whites of the eggs. We enjoyed our massive breakfast tucked into a tiny corner of the restaurant. Both the food and the clientele reflected the influence and mix of cultures that makes Hong Kong great.
We did not visit Beijing this trip, but Hong Kong has everything, including one of the top rated Peking ducks in the country. We walked right into this bowtie restaurant not knowing exactly what we were getting into. Supposedly reservations were essential, but since we were only two people we had high aspirations. To our great luck they had a table just for us. We ordered a whole duck and some steamed vegetables to accompany it. The ducks here are made to order so we had to wait a good 45 minutes for our duck to be injected with air, glazed and roasted. They seal the duck and fill it with air to separate the skin from the body and create a crispy skin. One chef is allowed to carve the ducks for the entire restaurant. He pushes a small cart from the kitchen and sets to work. He carves 1/4 inch slices starting from the neck and working down the body, each contains a crispy segment of skin. He flips the carcass and repeats. The waiters bring plates of cucumber, tender green garlic, hoisin sauce and Peking pancakes. The round floury pancakes have a very close resemblance to tortillas; we combined all the ingredients and consumed our Chinese “tacos.”
Our last trip to Hong Kong involved one of our favorite dim sum places: Lin Heung. Of course we returned and ordered a feast of dim sum. This was a weekday so it was just slightly calmer than the last time we visited. We ordered our usual array of sieu mai, ha gow, cha sieu bao and one additional pork and rice pot.
Just up the hill from Lin Heung is a beautiful temple. The temple has been here for a couple hundred years and is a nice reminder of the traditional Chinese village that existed on Hong Kong Island before it became a financial headquarters to the world.
It was the Portuguese that invented the egg custard tart. A convent in Lisbon had a habit using enormous amounts of egg whites to starch their habits. They searched for some use of their overabundance of egg yolks and egg custard tarts were born. When the Portuguese created colonies around the world, they brought custard tarts with them and slowly the dessert made its way into Cantonese cuisine. Now egg custard tarts are served throughout the world in dim sum restaurants and bakeries. The tarts we ate in Lisbon were heavenly, but Hong Kong can create a few that are truly decadent. There is actually an ongoing competition for the bakery that can make the best egg tart in Hong Kong. We decided to try out two of them: Honolulu bakery, known for the best flakey crust and Tai Cheong, known for the best short bread crust. Both tarts were phenomenal. I liked the run-down diner feel of Honolulu bakery, but in terms of flavor I am a sucker for the buttery crunch of shortbread. All in all, we ate quite a few egg tarts, but neither Carmen nor I could declare a true winner between these two.
After a few days in a rented apartment we decided to save some money and meet some new people. We moved down the street to couchsurf with a new friend of ours. He lived in a Korean neighborhood in Kowloon. There were at least fifty Korean restaurants within two blocks of each other. We ate kimchi pancakes, bimbibop, bulgogi and sweet potato noodles. I love how in Korean restaurants they serve the set of tiny dishes filled with pickles, kimchi, radishes and daikon.
The Honk Kong history museum is one of the best museums we have ever been too. It has this amazing layout that teaches the geological origins of the city through its present day modernization. There is a cultural aspect of the tribes that first settled it and the traditional festivals that still continue. Both Carmen and I love learning about a city, its origins and its development and learning about Hong Kong, one of our favorite cities, was just icing on the cake.
A challenge with Hong Kong, for us, is that there is just too much to do. There are fantastic museums, exciting harbor walks, island boat ferries, high-rise mazes and exorbitant amounts of food to eat and try. I love Hong Kong, it’s big and beautiful and everything I enjoy about the city. We conquered most of our favorite places, but now it was time to see some new things. Of course, that will have to wait until our next post.