Confession. I’ve been putting off the idea to write about Hong Kong for the longest time now. I first made a visit to this global Chinatown just about this time last year. I can vividly recall how the city folks were slowly gearing back into their routine after a long break over the Chinese New Year holidays. The fog over Victoria Harbour was perhaps at its thickest, ruining any hopes of ever getting a clear panoramic shot of its famed skyline. The days were damped and the nights were cold. All of which, unfortunately, provided a blurry grey background to my then deteriorating relationship. So you can understand why I wasn’t exactly thrilled writing about the trip in the first place.
However, all that discomfort is now water under the bridge as we welcome in the new Dragon year. With a clean state of mind (and heart), I can finally put my HK experience to words without feeling any hint of remorse.
To the fragrant harbour’s defense, the city is indeed a great place for a short stopover. From bars and cafés in Central, waterfront skyscrapers, to the views from the Peak, smoky temples and shopping on Nathan Road, Hong Kong keeps you entertained day and night. I realized that the first time around and was once again amazed during my visit here last summer. Whether you’re there for business or pleasure, both virgins and frequent visitors alike will agree that Hong Kong is an exciting and vivacious destination to visit, especially if you’re a foodie.
It is without any hesitation or exaggeration when they claim to be home to some of the best dishes in the world. So it’s no surprise that the people of Hong Kong take their food very, very seriously. Every corner on the island and in the Kowloon peninsular is dotted with eating spots, each promises to be better than the last. And with the introduction of the highly regarded Michelin red guide four years ago, the city and its star-studded restaurants has never been a more appetizing playground for food tourists. Pierre with its expansive view at the Mandarin Oriental is one of such places to head to when you’re in town.
Star-grazing or not, the following is just a few eateries which I’ve enjoyed very much during my previous visits and is by no means a list of the Hong Kong’s finest (we’ll leave it to the Michelin experts for that – you can get a copy of the newly released 2012 guide for that). For me these are just a few places, which have left a tasty memory and what I think best portrays the culinary scene of the city.
AUSTRALIAN DIARY CO.
The humble coffee shop, or cha chan teng, as the locals call them is perhaps the single most go-to stop for an easy and value-for-your-bucks bite or drink. In Malaysia we have the kopitiam and this is where the locals come to have breakfast, fast lunch, mid-day snacks or even a late night grub.
While many establishments have sold out and gone commercial, the Australian Diary Co. stays true to its core values for the past 30-years. Fast and good quality food at affordable prices is their mantra here. It is really easy to see why the place is ever busy regardless of the time of the day. Menus are offered in Chinese here, and thankfully the couple I shared a table with helped us out with our orders. Men in white moves quickly and serving typical choices, a la carte or in a value set, like Macaroni in Campbell Soup with Ham slices and what is possibly the most understated Scrambled Eggs Sandwich in the world – buttery, fluffy and inserted between two pillowy slices of white bread. And then, there’s the silky Iced Milk Tea and wobbly Steamed Milk and Egg White Pudding. So gentle, soft and wobbly, it’s almost like spooning clouds out from the bowl. Swoons.
SUN TUNG LOK CHINESE CUISINE
Here’s a juicy piece of culinary gossip for you. The Michelin food and restaurant guide awarded Sun Tung Lok with a prestigious 3-stars in their 2011 edition for Hong Kong & Macau. The three stars status is an exceptionally rare honour and this puts Sun Tung Lok on the same playing field with Lung King Heen, which is often described as the French Laundry of the east. Needless to say, controversy erupted right after the guide was published, with many questioning the decision. Curiously, they’ve been demoted to a 2-star outlet in the recently announced 2012 guide. But I guess its best to leave the politics to the locals and just enjoy the food.
Which ever side of the fence you’re on, it’s undeniable that Sun Tung Lok has been a long-standing name in fine Cantonese cuisine. They’ve been around since 1969 and has moved from one location to the next before making Tsim Tsa Tsui their latest homebase.
Our meal started with a whimsical Suckling Pig Pork Skin over Prawn concoction that was well-seasoned and the combination provided a great “mouth-feel”. Some generously sized dim sum dumplings, followed by a superbly tender Braised Prime Beef Ribs with a sweetish house gravy. Their version of char leong, or steamed rice flour roll over Chinese crullers, is well executed with fillings of shredded turnip, enoki mushroom and slices of Yunnan Ham stuffed inside. We also managed to try the steamed mui choy and pork bun and some light desserts.
In summary, the delicate dishes and dainty presentation paired with excellent service, made the whole experience worthwhile. However be warned, a pilgrimage to the restaurant may just burn a hole in your wallet.
NATHAN CONGEE & NOODLES
I found this little gem thanks to a fellow foodie’s guide to HK. Located right across the street from Novotel in Jordan, this is where one can come to savour on a typical local breakfast of porridge and you char kway. One should not judge the place by their modest choice of furnishing and wall décor. Instead, focus on what you’ll like to go with your porridge – chicken with abalone is a popular bet, or you can have the ginger and beef slices, mixed pork offal or fish slice for a comforting start to a foggy day.
Wanton, sui kow and egg noodles are also offered here.
I’m most intrigued by this “restaurant”, an unlikely gourmet stall in a humble cooked-food center, run by two chefs who once toiled at the M at the Fringe have set up shop dishing out Mediterranean dishes. And don’t be put off by the location. Efforts to help you tune out the high decibel environs like the red-white checqured table cloths and centerpieces hiding plastic tables underneath, all in hopes you’ll focus on their creations instead.
Don’t leave without trying the sumptuous Crab Souffle with Lobster Bisque, the melt-in-your-mouth Roast Suckling Pig, hearty Seafood Paella and the dessert platter with everything on it (just because you can afford it!). They have also gone into producing their own wine labels, sourcing their wines from South Australia. It may not entirely blow your mind but you can’t really complain with the prices you pay here. Booking is essential.
TIM HO WAN
It’s a sleepy weekday morning and we’ve managed to make it to Mongkok, a neighbourhood that’s surrounded by shuttered fashion outlets and the occasional rusty scrap shops. The area is now deserted except for the garbage collector pushing his stinking load on a cart along the street where a spaghetti-line of eager dim sum hunters was quickly getting longer by the minute. This is the legendary queue for the planet’s most affordable Michelin-star-restaurant. Which, by the way, can last more than a couple of hours.
This 20+ seat, hole-in-the-wall restaurant is as popular as it is basic. Chef Pui Mak-Kwai, previously a chef at Lung King Heen, the three-Michelin-star Chinese restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, ventured out on his own. He garnered his own star when the French guide first came to town in 2009 for his expertly crafted dim sum. We ooh-and-ahhhed over silken cheung fun, the rice-flour rolls plump with savoury-sweet barbecued pork and a speck of fresh coriander; delicate har gao morsels that burst with shrimpy goodness and flirt with a hint of sesame; succulent pork-and-shrimp siu mai, and the restaurant’s signature take on the favourite charsiu bao, the pork filling sugary, but not too sweet, sealed within a crispy golden bun. Do yourself a favour and place a double order on these buns. Their ham sui kok, beautifully filled with chives, peanuts and radish – is also worth stuffing yourself for.
I’m sure many would be thrilled to find out that Tim Ho Wan has now opened up a branch in Sham Shui Po with over two floors of space catering to reasonably shorter lines.
WHERE TO EAT IN HONG KONGAUSTRALIAN DIARY CO. # 47-49, Parkes Street, Jordan, Kowloon; Tel: +852-2730-1356 Opens from 7.30am to 11pm daily. (To get here, take the Jordan MTR to reach Parkes Street.) SUN TUNG LOK CHINESE CUISINE Shop 4D, Fourth Floor Miramar Shopping Centre, 1 Kimberly Rd., Tsimshatsui, Kowloon; Tel: +852-21521417 Opens from 11:30am NATHAN CONGEE & NOODLES # 11, Saigon Street, Jordan; Tel: +852-2384 7355 Open: 7.30am-12pm (Located in front of Novotel Hotel Nathan Rd.) ABC KITCHEN Shop CF7, Food Market, 1 Queen St., Sheung Wan; Tel: +852-9278-822 Open for dinner daily. (A 15-minute walk from Sheung Wan MTR station) TIM HO WAN A. 8, Kwong Wa St., Mongkok; Tel: +852-9332-2896 (A 15-minute walk from Yau Ma Tei MTR station) B. 9-11 Fuk Wing St., Sham Shui Po; Tel: +852-2332-2896 Both open from 10am-10pm. Go early!
Note: Special thanks to Kelvin of HK Epicurus for being a great host and it was certainly fun exploring HK’s food scene with you around. And GodMa too for sharing your fabulous gluttons trail with me.