Hong Kong: A Food Diary

Monday, June 03, 2013

Hong Kong is just a 3-hour plane ride away from Singapore.

But it has taken me 50 years of my earthly life before I finally set foot on this famed city.

Taking in the scenic visuals, I got the impression that I had been in these locations before. Many scenes of this city have been embedded in my mind since I started watching HK TV shows and films as a child.
View from the Peak
Standing at the Peak, we were in awe at the feat of human engineering which has made the hilly terrains habitable and at such intensity. Sandwiched between land and sea (Kota Kinabalu in Sabah will be similar), one can sense the populace's struggle for survival on one hand, and the pursuit of prosperity on the other. One wonders whether the population density in this city has reached its peak.

While one may think that this city is just about sky scrapers jostling for space, the visit to the New Territory area was a refreshing country-side experience.

But a visit to HK will be incomplete without shoulder-rubbing with the crowds at Mongkok. Reputed to be the busiest district in the world with a very high density of population, the streets were bustling with life, food and all kinds of goods. Being conversant in Cantonese myself, I could understand some of the street noise and chatter.

We would have been rather touristy-lost if not for some good friends who hosted us. A short 3 days it may be, but we manage to catch up on some precious friendship time. I would talk a lot about them if not for the fact that this is a food blog.

Of course, we got to visit some other old Cantonese "friends"such as Char Siew Pau, Siew Mai, Ngau Lam Meen and Chee Chap Chook.

Truth be told, the food though excellent, wasn't an earth shaking experience. In fact, it largely tasted familiar. Migrating Hong Kong chefs have impacted cities round the world with their Yum Char and Cantonese dishes. One can observe that for a long time now, many Hong Kongers (especially pre-97) have not cultivated a sense of nationhood the way we - and most nations - do. They are very practical about life, whether surviving or seeking to thrive, the last thing on their minds is to see their city as a permanent home and their fellow dwellers as one big "family." It is not on their lips either to sing patriotically and this will give them goosebumps. Crooning Home Truly as a national songShudder at the thought.

The world has benefitted from these Cantonese migrants and you can find a Chinatown in many major cities of the world. And locals and tourists know that is where you can find good Yum Char. Here in Singapore, some tourists find it strange that there is a Chinatown but yes, there you find Chinese truly and some very good Siu Mai.

A poorly taken photo of an excellent Char Siew Pau. 
That said, the steamed Char Siew Pau at "Tasty Congee & Noodle Wantun Shop"(King Kwong Street) is probably the best we have eaten - ever. The name of this shop is descriptive and quite a mouthful, quite like my brother-in-law's clinic: The Ear Nose Throat – Head & Neck Centre. Tell it as it is, eh. Bits of lean and flaky pork in a very tasty sauce oozes out as you bite the soft white "pau." Calling it bread is not quite right for this steamed soft dough. I am sure great Char Siew Paus can be more commonly found in this Cantonese city.

Congee, as you would expect is consistently good every time we had it. Imagine it as soft broken rice in very good soups. Cantonese are masters at (and slaves to?) soups too. No Cantonese meal is complete without a bowl of double-boiled goodness on the side.

Crispy Stuffed Duck at Kin's Kitchen
Our host, Peter, brought us to Kin's Kitchen at Tsing Fung street (Tin Hau). Apparently the chef used to cook for the last British governor, Chris Patten. While there, we noticed that it is a one-Michelin star restaurant. I am glad I only noticed it after we ate the meal. What I can say as a cook myself and familiar with Cantonese cooking, is that most of the dishes here have a nice balance to it. It is just good homey Cantonese cooking. Almost every dish turned out as it should. When in HK (or M'sia), go for their tofu dishes as the type they used is not found here in S'pore. The version in Kin is very good. We liked the crispy stuffed duck the most. The lotus seed stuffing was delicious and the fried skin added flavours and texture.

In some ways, Kin's remind me of the Pusing Restaurant in Ipoh. It is Cantonese cooking at it's best, unpretentious, attention to the right details and eating the dish, you just get the sense that this is how it should be cooked. We liked the dinner at Kin so much that we returned for lunch on our last day.

The Sponge Cake at Violet Cake Shop. 
Another worthy mention is a traditional bakery near to Kin's Kitchen at Tin Hau, Violet Cake Shoplocated at Electric Road. Their sponge cake is fantastic along with whatever you can get your hands on as their tarts/buns were snapped off pretty quickly. And of course, their famous egg tarts (lead photo).

We also visited the wet market at Tai Po and we were amazed at how they keep all their fish alive up till the point of sale. The stalls looked like aquariums but those pretty fishes were not meant to be gawked at but steamed, boiled and fried. As they are used for congee and soups, even the little ones were not spared.

We also found time to pick up dried sausages, the goose livers ones and some nice Chinese hams.

It was a short trip, at best, a whirlwind introductory experience to life in this Pearl of the Orient. We hope to be back one day.

Thanks again, Peter, Jeri, Karis, Zachary, Andrew & Irene for your friendship and hospitality, which made our HK visit so memorable.

Note: Read this post for a recipe using dried shrimp noodles I bought from HK.

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  1. Hi Terry! Although it was just a 3-hr flight away, my trips to HK had always been work related only and I did not really have the chance to tour the city and taste the real HK food.

    I am quite tempted to make a personal trip there now... :D

  2. HK is good re a food tour with some friends.

  3. If you are in the Happy Valley area, near King Kwong St, there is also another good dim sum restaurant called Dim Sum (yep, easy to remember!) at 63 Sing Woo Rd. The dim sum there is also very good, in particular I like their dry fried cheong fun - it's crispy on the outside and soft and yet springy on the inside. I used to live in Happy Valley and even saw Chow Yuen Fatt eating at that restaurant once :)
    Other fabulous places to try include Chairman restaurant and 22 Ships.

  4. Thanks for the tips Flo. Will bear in mind the next time I visit HK again.

  5. I have eaten foods from Kin's Kitchen when I visited HK, actually those foods were actually tasty and very colourful.

  6. Hi Terry,
    Where did you get your chinese sausages and chinese ham from? i would be visiting hong kong and would like to get some as well. Thank you