Thursday, April 21, 2011
Sometimes I get carried away, forget that I'm here for work and slip into vacation mode, at the land of dim sum, roasted meat and colonial Cantonese. It's so easy to subconsciously think about where to go or what to eat next, then automatically reach for the map to study the MTR network, plan detailed programs and contact friends on Twitter/Facebook for more information. With a new job that brings me to Hong Kong for the next couple of months, so far things are looking (and tasting) pretty good. Already on my second trip here, I've missed its cooler days but still see people going about in jackets, ponchos (yes), overcoats and boots while I'm happily minimal in my sleeveless tops and skirts - well, there could be something wrong with me, you'll never know.
I'm put up at Tung Chung, near the sea and away from the crowd of Hong Kong Island but this also means on weekdays I don't really have much time to venture out to livelier spots. And honestly there's really only so much of Maxim's dim sum and yeung chow fried rice one can have - chef Gregoire will be shaking his head at this, I know chef... I know - but it's tough when I'm practically grounded at the airport work days from nine to five. So on the first available weekend I made it to Hau Fook St at Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui with the intention to savor some HK-style Chinese desserts. Sadly, China Town Dessert (糖仁街) was closed on a Sunday, so I hopped into a random Vietnamese cha chaan teng for some beef noodles and fried spring rolls.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by the mall at Tsing Yi MTR to get half a dozen of the so highly coveted Tai Cheong Bakery egg tarts. The bakery's original outlet at Central supposedly rolls out the "best egg tarts in the world" (allegedly declared by Hong Kong's last governor Chris Patten). After the first bite though, I agree with Michelle that it may very well be one of those over-hyped things. The warm tarts - all six of them - looked extremely mouth-watering but hardly emitted any hint of intoxicating aroma like hot egg tarts should. The flaky pastry was passable and the egg custard, forgettable. I wouldn't drag myself all the way to Central just to see if the headquarters pushed out better ones - if quality can't be maintained across all branches, why bother?
The following weekend saw me back in the heart of Kowloon again, this time along Shanghai St Yau Ma Tei for some shopping along its line of kitchen supplies stores (thanks to Hong Kong dweller Rita!). I took the wrong direction northwards Shanghai St towards Mongkok at first and ended up passing outlets selling bathroom fittings, home lighting and electrical appliances instead of pots, pans and tableware. Hungry for some lunch, I stopped at Little Sheep at Argyle St but made the mistake of ordering dim sum instead of just a bowl of lamb noodles. I was probably too starved to think straight and believe me those bundle of rice noodles swimming in soy sauce looked pretty enticing when you've walked from one end of a very long street to the other. Having dim sum alone wasn't only a chore, it was impossible for me to finish everything. By the time I resigned myself to leave alone four juicy Mongolian lamb xiaolongbaos on the table, I got my head cleared again and decided to go back towards Yau Ma Tei to hunt for what I originally came out for.
Then came the point where I wished I brought a bigger luggage for the trip. Finally finding the right end of Shanghai St, half the kitchen and baking supplies shops were dominated by Man Kee, with lots going by names like Man Kee Chopping Board, Man Kee Steel Works and a couple of others I can't remember. All items from toothpick holders to Kitchenaid stand mixers go at wholesale prices and one can bargain, though in all the excitement of the moment I actually forgot to. I grabbed some tableware, props, tart rings and then finally stopped buying when a 10-inch cast iron skillet (HKD50!) made its way into my shopping bag. I didn't think I could squeeze anything more into my Crumpler backpack and it would be ridiculous if I end up with broken plates back in Singapore as almost everything was fragile - except the skillet, which was more of a hazard to all the other stuffs.
With the first round of retail therapy and a lots of eating out of the way, the next day I reckoned that it would be fitting to take up an ex-schoolmate KO's invitation to go hiking, burn away all those dim sum and experience the greener side of Hong Kong. The hiking season is coming to an end as the weather gets menacingly warmer every day. By the time I made it to Chai Wan at the Island the Sunday morning sun was already blazing hot. We did a small part of the Hong Kong Trail, starting from the cemeteries at the foot of Mount Collinson and ending at Shek O Road. It took an hour longer than expected as a very unfit yours truly with a quite recent leg injury gingerly navigated her way through the rocky paths, quickly overtaken by uncles 20 to 30 years older as they fleeted pass her like Duracell bunnies on crack. Thankfully my friend was a sport and patiently waited for me while I busied myself trying not to trip and fall off some off the narrower mountain tracks. Note to self before the next hiking trip - ditch the flowy yoga pants and messenger bag for shorts and a backpack.
After the roughly seven clicks of heart pumping journey, I was rewarded at lunch with more - you guessed it - dim sum. Only this time it was really good. We went to Fu Shing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant at Wanchai and was given a nice table in a separate room away from the noise of the main dining hall. Simple staples like the har gow, steamed glutinous rice in lotus leaves and XO sauce fried chee cheong fun was done properly while their signature char siew for HKD88 (used to be HKD60) was worth its lofty price tag. Their pillowy puffs of char siew polo buns with crispy crusts were also to die for. What stopped me from asking KO to order more were images of those tough-like-steel old uncles beating me at the hiking trail earlier.
As for cakes and other desserts, I haven't gotten to the recommended shops yet but found out that Maxim's import their impeccable pandan chiffon cakes all the way from Malaysia. Lamingtons are also big at bakeries and cafes here, I wonder why they never caught on further down south. That angel food cake you see there caught my attention with its frosting, I admit. I wonder if I can ever frost a cake so smoothly that way.
I hope to have more to report from this latest trip. For now, I need to get back to scheming on my plan for the next three days and decide on which hard case to get for the inevitable check-in build up by the time I fly back next month. Have a great Good Friday and Easter all of you who celebrate.
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- Hong Kong Part I
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