Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dining in HK

So it's been almost two months and we've travelled through India and Myanmar, seeking out roadside cafes, hole-in-the-wall style cheap eats and risky street food.

And now we arrive in Hong Kong, Asia's world city, which felt a lot more like home. It was an opportunity for us to feel a bit of comfort through our big city surroundings. We shopped, drank, and even indulged in a Christmas night out (and completely wrote off the next day...) It was a well needed break.

However this slice of home, complete with its spotlessly clean streets and functioning, well... everything, also came with a host of western style restaurants. You couldn't go anywhere without finding a McDonald's restaurant, McCafe or (Mc) ice cream shop.

The city in that respect was overwhelming. It felt difficult to find traditional Hong Kong food, which was nestled somewhere between Gucci and Prada... But where?

Sure we'd eaten at few obligatory dim sum restaurants, our favourite being Din Tai Fung, with spicy chicken dumplings and filthy battered and deep fried chicken with chilli, gulped down with unlimited jasmine tea. This chain restaurant was raved about so much we ended up trying two, one in Kowloon, the other near Connaught Bay on Hong Kong Island. Our favourite being the latter, with a queue out the door that swiftly moved along through the aid of a ticketing system. This fast turnaround of customers gave the restaurant a great buzzing atmosphere, without the feeling that the staff were eagerly waiting for you to finish up and vacate your table.

But dim sum is available in vast quantities in London and we didn't really feel that we were being bold enough. So after one attempt of trying local food - and that attempt ending in mixed feelings and uncertainty having spent 64 HKD (just over £6 - ridiculously cheap for Hong Kong prices) on two plates of cold rice, cold pork belly and a yellow chicken (or 'oil chicken' as we later found out) whilst sat next to a whole dead pig dangling from a chain - we decided to invest in a highly rated Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour.

In desperate need to go beyond the dazzling lights of Hong Kong island and discover what culinary delights lay hidden, we opted for a foodie walking tour around the Sham Shui Po area of Kowloon. The area was lined with markets upon markets of what resembled jumble sales, nestled in amongst herbal tea shops and BBQ stands, where you can buy just about anything from clothes to a spare remote control from a stall which claims to have a one for every model of TV out there.

I could give you a recital on everything we learnt on this tour, although if I'm honest not everything was worth noting, and having me rant on about a Hong Kong biscuit shop for 100 words or so would make for a pretty dull read. After all, they were to me, just biscuits. I will however give you my highlights, partly to give you something to salivate over, and partly to help me remember for future reference (Hong Kong has not seen the last of me!)

So we haul our weary heads out of bed and arrive in Sham Shui Po, late for our 9am start, and in need of food to help stifle a now three day hangover. After brief introduction, our knowledgeable local guide Fiona took us to our first stop for milk tea (not great hangover fluid) and pineapple buns (much needed carbs).

If you've been keeping up with my posts you will know that Asia has so far made its best attempt to expand my waistband. Not just the shear amount of food that we have consumed, with the main staple being rice, but for their apparent love to have ridiculously sweet tea. This time through the aid of evaporated milk, which tastes a bit like when you mistake cream for milk and obliviously and over-generously pour it into your tea.

But the people of Hong Kong can hardly feel such guilt for consuming this when sat next to the tea is a huuuuge pineapple bun or bor lo bao.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that this bun would contain pineapple, even after taking the first bite and trying to convince yourself that those notes of pineapple exist. They don't.

These sumptuously soft buns of Kowloon restaurant, a Hong Kong style cafe, are freshly baked every day and come out warm with a shiny butter and sugar glaze. They are also the size of a small child's head.

Saving some room I reluctantly left half. James however ate it all, an error he would later discover at the final stop when he barely touched his shrimp roe noodles.

By far the most interesting and favourite foodie pit stop, was to try a Chinese style breakfast of rice rolls (ju cheung fun) which looked like giant anaemic noodles coated in hoisin sauce, peanut dressing and sesame seeds.

These not necessarily the most appealing looking noodles, are made from a rice flour batter, with this particular eatery, Hop Tick Tai, making around 10 thousand of these gluttonous rolls every weekend. Most punters opt to filling a bag of these rolls (sauce and all) and eating them in the alleyway next to the restaurant. Had I ventured here on my own, I would have probably joined them, as the locals method of 'table grabbing' by leering over anyone who looks like they may have eaten more than two bites, was all too much for me!

Two meals down and wishing I hadn't eaten as much of the pineapple bun as I had, we continued onto our next stop: A1 Tofu Company. Here the lady owner stands behind a large vat of tofu facing out onto the street. A gentleman, I assume husband, was in the back making more tofu to be consumed later that day.

The lady carefully slices off thin layers of the tofu, so as not to bring the liquid that lies beneath to the top, and placing them into plastic bowls.

My only experience of tofu is as a savoury item, usually in miso soup or a tasty banh mi from a little cafe off Piccadilly. But no, this was a tofu dessert (dau fu fa), which you can add Bird's custard powder disguised as sugar and ginger syrup.

Our guide Fiona loved this, me, not so much. It wasn't unpleasant, just lacked any sort of substance and only tasted of whatever you flavoured it with. The slippery texture nonetheless went don't incredibly easily and so as not to offend, I ate half and proclaimed that I wasn't having anymore so as to save myself for the next few stops. It seemed to work.

The day continued on with an array of local tips from where to get snake soup (if you dare) to traditional Chinese medicine - including a questionable dead, dried lizard on a stick. Nice.

Towards the end of the tour we were led to one of the big draws for me - to order, and know what to order, to get our greedy pores on those crispy, succulent braised goose (lo shui ngor) we'd seen hanging in many restaurant windows, something of a familiar sight in China town back home where windows are filled with flavoursome duck waiting to be devoured.

The downside for some however, was that the braised goose was served alongside slices of pork knuckle (fun tai). Whilst not unpleasant, the pork was cold and came with a lot of jelly, and came a clear last place sat next to the goose. The rich meaty texture of the goose, eaten of course with the fat still intact, delightfully slipped down well, even after the pineapple bun, biscuits, rice rolls and tofu...

For anyone visiting Hong Kong and are not sure where to start foodwise, I would definitely recommend this tour or any of the other tours they offer - but maybe in hindsight, it would have been more beneficial for us to do this at the start of our trip so that we could take what we'd learnt and try it out. Although trial and error isn't always a bad thing!

Yelly-fi-felly-food-belly x


Cathy and Jerry said...

Fascinating article. Not sure i fancy some of the offerings but I'd give most things a try!

Cathy and Jerry said...

Fascinating article. Not sure i fancy some of the offerings but I'd give most things a try!