Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hong Kong: A Tummy's Perspective

Last year, Chris and I spent Thanksgiving seeing the sights of Hong Kong. When an opportunity for a cheap weekend jaunt presented itself, we decided to repeat the experience with some friends. This new tradition seems fitting to us as Hong Kong arguably has the best food in all of Asia. So, it makes sense to spend this gluttonous American holiday there. We arrived Thursday night with empty bellies and high expectations. And, I will say, Hong Kong did not disappoint.

For our first meal, we stumbled into a restaurant that our friend had heard about and came highly recommended. The small dining room was packed with locals and the wait staff spoke neither English nor Mandarin, since the language spoken in Hong Kong is Cantonese. While a bit daunting at first, these are actually really good signs that point to good, local food. Luckily, there was some English on the menu and it was very simple: a choice of various meats served over rice. When our steaming plates arrived, all conversation came to a reverant halt as we dug into roast duck, pork, and chicken. We silently tore into crispy, glazed skin and meat, carefully dodging bits of bone that remind you that your meal was alive a few short hours ago. Finishing off with the perfectly cooked rice, conversation slowly returned to the tables. Satisfied, we explored the neighborhood around our hotel before calling it a night.

I have found that, especially when it comes to traditional local food, simplicity is the key. Our next food experience proved this to be true. With our tummies rumbling once again, we went in search of good, Cantonese food. The main street flashed neon signs advertising everything from fettuccine alfredo to lamb gyros. Since we were neither in Italy nor Greece, we decided to head onto one of the side streets to see what we could find. We followed our noses to an open door with delectable aromas wafting out. A line of hungry locals waited their turn outside the small restaurant. Stepping into place, we waited our turn as the smells tickled our noses and enticed our tummies. Patrons were led in as seating became available, one or two at a time. When two chairs opened up at someone's table, we sat down next to a couple of slurping strangers and were handed a menu of four different soups. We pointed to which ones we wanted and a few minutes later, two steaming bowls appeared. The tantalizing scents that had been tempting us for the past several minutes materialized into soft shrimp wantons and chewy yellow noodles swimming in a broth that can only be described as heavenly. The only sounds that could be heard in the dining room were soft slurps and sips interrupted only by loud calls from the waitresses calling in orders to the kitchen staff and directing customers to the newly opened seats. There was also the occasional yummy noise that was unable to be suppressed by an enchanted diner. Reluctantly swallowing the last sip, we asked for the check in a post-soup euphoric daze. The only thing that was able to snap us back to reality was the shock we experienced when we realized that this celestial repast set us back all of $4.

The best meal, however, we saved for last. This climactic approach, while poetic, was entirely unintentional. Chris and I discovered this Hong Kong speciality last year and have longed for it ever since. So, as soon as we landed in Hong Kong, we were on the prowl for dim sum. Dim sum is a Cantonese specialty and consists of a variety of buns and dumplings filled with all sorts of savory and sweet treasures. As it turned out, dim sum was much harder to find than we would have liked. After much wandering and asking around, we finally found a restaurant specializing in this delicacy. The smiling waitress poured our tea into thimble-sized porcelain cups and offered us the encyclopedic menu. Selecting a few favorites as well as some new, adventurous options, we sat back and waited for the food to arrive. Each dish is brought to your table in a bamboo steaming basket and contains three to four buns or dumplings. As with the more traditional Thanksgiving meal, everyone has their specific dish that is their favorite. Following his Southern roots, Chris' preferred treat is the steamed bar-be-cue pork buns. These are steamed bread stuffed with pockets of pork cooked in a slightly spicy, slightly sweet sauce. I agree that they are, indeed, scrumptious. However, in my book, nothing beats the egg custard buns. Again, these are steamed bread but they are filled with a creamy, buttery, sugared custard that drips down your chin as you bite into them. While nothing will ever be able to hold a candle to Mom's turkey and dressing, Hong Kong's dim sum can sure come awfully close.
So, we hope that you enjoyed Thanksgiving and have all recovered from your tryptophan-induced comas. From our Thanksgiving, we would like to offer our humble advice. If ever you are driving down the road and see a sign offering Cantonese style Chinese food, stop. It will be worth your while.


Sharon Miner said...

Having foodie friends abroad is really, really fun for me!!! I'm glad you had a great trip.

Abbey said...

Im just now catching up on blogs and must say, this one made my mouth water. Sounds delicious! I could use something other than the Thanksgiving turkey, dressing & the like, especially since we're about to repeat it in less than 2 weeks for Christmas. Ho-Hum... I could sure go for some Dim Sum! :) I could also go for some Simp-Sons. Just sayin'.