As much as I enjoyed my time in Singapore, I was particularly looking forward to going to Hong Kong. Then again, I always look forward to going back to Hong Kong and am constantly thinking of reasons to do so. It had been 6 years since I was last in Hong Kong and it was always going to be emotional – Not just because I was going back to my roots, but given we were mainly going back to do one last thing for The Mothership, it was also a chance for us to get a bit of closure in regards to The Mothership’s passing away.
I always get a thrill whenever I go back to Hong Kong – You can sense a real buzz of excitement about the place when you land. Of course, there’s also the fact that I completely understand the language and despite being born and raised in the UK, have always been proud of the fact that I can speak colloquially and sound like a local rather than speaking Cantonese with an English accent (it happens) and when you look at me, it’s very obvious that I’m not local to Hong Kong. In fact, there’s a smell that I automatically associate with Hong Kong – At best, I can only describe it as the smell of drains but with an exotic Far Eastern humidity but it’s a smell that’s unique to Hong Kong and despite the fact that I’m not really selling it very well here, it’s a smell that tells me that I’m very much in Hong Kong – And that brings me much comfort. Even if you didn’t recognise the smell, if you do what YKL and I did and got a taxi to our apartment from the airport (rather than the incredibly efficient Airport Express train from the Airport to Hong Kong Station in Central and onto Kowloon), I defy you to not be amazed by the sights on your taxi journey: From approaching and crossing the Tsing Ma Bridge to seeing the unmistakable HK Skyline in Central. Even if you’re tired, bitter and emotional after a long journey, you’ll get even a small thrill when you see a sight like the HK Skyline.
Speaking of the HK Skyline, I still love being able to go to the Peak Tower and see the view of HK and Kowloon from there – It’s incredibly touristy but especially if you manage to get the tram up to the Peak from Central, I guarantee you will never experience anything like it anywhere else in the world. Hopefully, you will get a (somewhat) clear day and be able to see far across the harbour into Kowloon. Similarly, I particularly love Star Ferry. From being Kowloon side and again, faced with the HK Central Skyline with so many buildings which you only previously saw on the TV or a picture of, the thrill of knowing that you’re *actually there* is something else. Then of course, when you’re crossing the harbour in such an old, antiquated mode of transport – in a bit of HK History, I couldn’t help but grin like a Cheshire Cat as we crossed the harbour into Wanchai.
This time round, the first meal I had in Hong Kong was at Maxim’s in the airport. Maxim’s is a chain with outlets all over HK and we messed up a little bit in that we actually wanted to go to the Crystal Jade a bit further down the terminal building for dumplings, but ended up at Maxim’s because we saw it first and I was suddenly overcome with a need (it was more than just a craving, it was a NEED) to eat wontons and noodles. Immediately, I felt at ease and at home from being able to converse easily with servers and asking for condiments (it’s the little things) and that first bite of noodles – the taste of the lye water used and cooked through yet retaining a bite so that they almost crunched when you bit into them. Just the first bite immediately let me know that I was in HK and that the quality of food was already better than what I’d get in the UK – It was like getting a big comforting hug saying “Welcome back”. Similarly, I didn’t get to eat that much dim sum this time round – Think I only went yum cha twice during my whole time in HK. Mainly because yum cha is more a morning thing in HK and although I knew the quality would be better and there would be more variety compared to what I currently get in the UK, I spent more of my time in HK exploring other breakfast options, mainly go to cha chaan teng which are the HK equivalent of a transport café really, where you can get some original fusion food craziness from when HK was still a British Territory like yinyeung which is both tea and coffee mixed together in one drink, or fried egg and luncheon meat on top of macaroni in light broth (or instant noodles), or something I discovered this time round: Peanut butter and condensed milk on bread which is lightly toasted – That was so good that we’ve brought it back to the UK with us and if you life peanut butter, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try. The food at cha chaan tengs were never going to set the world alight, but they all offered good simple food which we all wanted.
That’s not to say that we didn’t eat at some higher end restaurants, but neither YKL nor myself were particularly interested in going to somewhere Michelin-starred or trying modern HK cuisine this time round. I mean, we can eat that sort of thing here in the UK or when we go to travelling elsewhere. For me, I wanted food that was comforting and something I couldn’t get of such a high quality back in the UK. As a consequence, we went to my favourite wonton noodle place, Tsim Chai Kee at least a couple of times during our time in HK and even made it to their main rivals, Mak’s – And I don’t normally eat wonton noodles when in the UK! But knowing how good the wontons would be in HK, I felt compelled to eat them. However, that’s for another post…
We had a few meals at Shek Kee Kitchen in Tin Hau, mainly because it was local to where we were staying, but also because the food there was of a high standard (it was only afterwards that we discovered it had been awarded a Bib Gourmand). It specialises in what’s known as “small dishes” mainly of Cantonese fare, but all the food was good; from the claypot rice dishes with the crust on the bottom to the house specialities like the salt baked chicken (which is more poached in a broth here), or the sweet and sour renowned for adding soft fruit like strawberries to the sauce (sounds odd, but actually works), to a favourite dish of mine of minced pork with lotus root. It’s fantastic value there and they fill up quite quickly, but worth trying out.
I even managed to go to a place frequented by Anthony Bourdain on his travels to HK; after failing to eat at Sin Huat Eating House in Singapore to try their Crab Bee Hoon, I stumbled upon a place in the Mid-Levels when looking for somewhere to pick up a takeaway for M and AG doing a roaring trade for takeaway. They had their usual display of roast birds for all to admire and it was then I noticed a whole suckling pig hanging at the back of the restaurant, then I noticed the newspaper clippings stuck on the window featuring the man himself, Anthony Bourdain. I could see that he recommended this place (Lung Kee) for their.. suckling pig. Well, I just had to try it for myself and it was good, but at least on this trip I ate somewhere that Bourdain has too 🙂
Another favourite place we went to (perhaps a bit too often) was a Dessert House again, near to where we stayed in Tin Hau. I love the fact that there are places in HK which specialise in one particular dish or style of dishes – Can you imagine a café in the UK which only served puddings and desserts? I mean, you get places for tea and cake but they branch out and offer sandwiches or jacket potatoes for a light lunch, too. But Auntie Sweet in Tin Hau specialises only in (modern) Chinese style desserts; I loved how you could order a tofu dessert so fresh that it’s presented to you on the table with a timer and strict instructions not to move the lid until the timer goes off. Once the timer goes off, you lift the lid to reveal a tofu dessert only just about set – complete with a really tantalising wobble. But all their desserts showcased the high quality of fresh fruit and other ingredients in HK which just aren’t available in the UK; I’d never eaten nata de cocoa before this trip – And I quite like it. But what was a real revelation was how good the grass jelly was – Nothing like the tinned version we get imported over here which consequently tastes more metallic than of grass jelly, but a freshly made version which is both fragrant and tasty. And well, there are fewer things in life which are nicer to eat than a mango and sago pudding with coconut milk. YKL and I loved it there so much at Auntie Sweet that we pretty much went at every opportunity.
Then there was the fact that I met up with so many members of my family – Many of whom I haven’t seen in about 6 years. Of course, it was tinged with sadness because The Mothership wasn’t there, but we all knew that she would have loved us all meeting up and enjoying ourselves. I was fortunate enough that my trip also coincided with my Uncle’s Eightysomething Birthday, and he was keen that everyone got together for a slap up meal. Well, it wasn’t really about the food (for once), but it was about all the (extended) family getting together to celebrate Uncle’s Birthday – And it was lovely to see how much joy it brought him to see so many of us all together.
There’s so much I love about HK – I love the fact that from the sprawling metropolis that is HK Island, the more North you go through Kowloon and to the New Territories, the more rural the landscape becomes as you head towards mainland China. I love the buzz you get from being there and I’ve mentioned already how I still get a thrill when I see the HK Skyline so let me share my best tip for you if you ever go to HK; Rather than spend an exorbitant amount of money on a hotel room in Tsimshatsui with a view of the HK Skyline from the Kowloon side of the harbour at say, the Peninsula or the Sheraton. For a fraction of the cost, you can get a harbour view room at the YMCA Salisbury. And why would you do that? Well, there is a thing call the Symphony of Lights which is basically a laser display from the rooftops of the more significant buildings across the harbour set to music. Doesn’t sound like much? Nonsense! It helps you to identify buildings and well, I loved sitting in the hotel room, staring out the window watching the laser show set to music from the in-room radio
There was still so much of HK that I’ve not visited yet – The various outlying islands with their beaches and seafood, I’ve not been on the cable cars or been to any of the more famous temples or seen the Buddha but time was against us and by the end of my trip, I was absolutely knackered and ready to go back to the UK to my own bed. But that didn’t stop me shedding a few tears when we had to leave. I mean, I was sad to leave, but I always leave HK with the same feeling – That it won’t be too long before I return. Hopefully, it won’t be as long as six years before I go back – There’s still so to see and do (and eat) out there.