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Hong Kong Food and Features
Chinese Food in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan
Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 10 - 14, and 16
This city offers great Chinese food. At the high end, it is appreciated by the affluent, others flock to the Mom and Pop places. Many eateries are not on the small two hundred fifty islands where lots of locals live; so the bustling metropolis on the main island and on Kowloon is where to check out places for food. Want a lay of the land? Look down from the funicular on Victoria Peak which is thirteen hundred feet above the main island.
Years ago, visitors first went to see Wong Tai Sin and the Man Ho Temples, the Kowloon Masid and Islamic Center, St John's Cathedral, and the Po Lin Monastery on nearby Lantau Island. Now folks flock to Victoria Harbor, the Avenue of the Stars, Happy Valley Racetrack, Hong Kong Park, the Bank of China Tower, and Discovery Bay for starters. Then they go to the museums. There are plenty of them including the Science Museum, Space Museum, Heritage Museum, Police Museum, and others. Youngsters and the young at heart trek off to the amusement parks at Ocean Park, Disneyland, and Repulse Bay, and to Noah's Ark and other places of amusement. We see and seek out eateries with the best foods.
The United States sees Hong Kong as a large trading partner while China sees it as a window on the rest of the world. Hong Kong sees itself as Asia's most visited city ceded to Britain in 1842, Kowloon turned over in 1860, the entire British lease ending in 1997. China now calls Hong Kong its 'special area.'
Visitors know it as lovely between May and September, rainy at other times. That does not stop them from coming year-round to shop, eat, and enjoy. They come to purchase textiles by the meter, acquire ready-made clothes to fill their suitcases, and buy a plethora of watches and jewelry, electronics, toys, other plastic play things, footwear, and more.
On our most recent trip, we stopped by using it as our gateway to China. We did not spare time to visit the Tsin Sha Tsui Cultural Center, a single museum, not even the one for tea, the Temple of 10,000 Buddha's, or any other place most tourists get to. We knew lots of them from earlier visits.
We simply joined the seven million locals and one million annual visitors to this 'Fragrant Harbour' to savor its gastronomic greatness. Lots of folk enjoy its fantastic culinary, most representing Southern Chinese chow. We looked for that and the many other foods China is known for.
While most eateries are Cantonese as were the street stalls of the past which are no more, we sought out the ever increasing chic hotel restaurants and other new and favorite eateries now serving lighter, healthier, and more sophisticated food. Our first order of eating was to devour foods from a past street cart turned outstanding restaurant that we adore. It is our favorite in this city. We once suggested it to a sophisticated grandson who can afford it. He admitted he was impressed with its newly-fixed-up place, and reported that he, too, loved the foods we encouraged him to taste at this 'go-to' place.
YUNG KEE RESTAURANT; 32 WELLINGTON STREET; CENTRAL; phone: (852) 2522-1624, is an outstanding eatery that started as a cart with a solo vendor. Over the years, business grew and its owner, Kam Shui Fai, now owns an award-winning eatery selling goose and other goodies. Now his place is five-floors tall in five-attached buildings. This is a place we would be remiss not to write about, and often. Open daily except the first three days of Chinese New Year, this outstanding eatery has made several moves before its newest one, all on Wellington Street where Kam Shi Fai bought and later demolished several locations. His staff roasts many a goose, more than two hundred daily, more during the holidays. They are raised to his specifications in China just for his eatery.
His restaurant is "one of the top fifteen restaurants in the entire world," a well-deserved reputation in the finest food place growing since before 1968 when it was first nominated for that title. Since the 1980s, Yung Kee has received more than fifty awards and prizes not only in Hong Kong where it is called "the Best of the Best," but in France, Canada, Japan, and elsewhere. This is the only Chinese restaurant ever listed with this honor by Forbes Magazine.
On our most recent visit, we were not disappointed. We had a fantastic egg white and scallop dish, the roast goose, some of their famous sausages and ham, and many other delectable and delightful dishes. We did not have their Smoked Crispy Bean Curd with Special Sauce, Braised Giant Mottled Eel in Casserole, or Fried Sticky Rice with Cured Meats as we often do. How many dishes can two hungry folk enjoy at one sitting?
Hungry or not, we always get their goose and have since the mid 1970s when we made our first trip to Hong Kong. We did purchase their cookbook, and for those who can not get here, they should, too. The recipes include many dishes made here that we now can make at home. We did review it in this magazine, so check it out in the book review listings in the Index of this magazine, then you can too.
On this trip, we took an early morning MTR, the Hong Kong subway, to the Tung Chung station, ambled about a block, and went up a long escalator to ride the special cable car to NGONG PING 360 CULTURAL VILLAGE, 11 Tat Tung Road; Lantau Island; phone (852) 3666 0612. This new to us attraction was completed in 2009, and it, too, has fine food, some shopping, phenomenal views, and other entertainment. One is the Heart Sutra, a famous Buddhist prayer place, another the thirty-eight carved poles on Wisdom Path. A third is the world's largest sitting bronze Buddha; it is atop a huge flight of stairs overlooking Lantau Island. There is a Walking With Buddha multimedia experience about the life of Siddhartha Guatama who became 'The Buddha' and a great place to eat Chiu Chao food and another to taste fine tea. We did these last two in reverse order.
The LI-NONG TEA HOUSE was our first stop after alighting from what they called their 'crystal car' on an almost twenty-five minute wonderful ride. At this tea emporium, we enjoyed a great tea ceremony that began with a beautiful floral one bursting forth with a beautiful flower from its dried tea-leaf housing. Invented by Ms. Xue Tongyun. torch-bearer for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, we tasted that one and others.
After that, we ambled over to the NGONG PING GARDEN RESTAURANT, a terrific Chiu-chow/Cantonese spot that seats almost three hundred. They have a sister restaurant, Pok Lah in Causeway Bay that open in 1967; we have yet to get there. This branch opened in 2009. On this day we have a lovely lunch here; a great idea because the cable cars stop running at dark.
This mid-day meal begins with Fish in Rice Basket, and a gorgeous green and white Yin Yang Soup. Next we enjoy Pork with Deep Fried Pearl Leaf; it is decorated with a carrot-colored salt mold of a Buddha, and looks terrific. This dish is followed by Chiu Chow Beans, a delicious Oyster Pancake, and some huge Fried Shrimp. We end the lunch with a typical Chiu Chow noodle dish with sugar and black vinegar, both intended for dipping. Every dish is delicious, but we do need to stop eating all this great food because there is other food to taste in other facilities.
Next we wandered to the WOO KEE LOONG GIFT SHOP and taste their delicacies including many crunchy sweets, dinosaur-shaped dumplings, lobster sugar, different fried fish balls, waffles, shu mai, fun guo, and Hong Kong herbal treats. A pity to be so full, next time one should go here before lunch. Though over-stuffed, we do indulge in some delicious shrimp balls, cashew cookies, and many other fresh and fried treats. This is a good place to stock up on items making great gifts. Next, we opt for something sweet and go to the HONEYMOON DESSERT. This is where their menu includes many sweet and non-sweets, drinks.
Hoards of people on the cable cars are going to learn about Buddhism, see the world's largest sitting Tian Tan Buddha constructed of more than two hundred bronze pieces. It weighs some two hundred and fifty tons, and looks down on the Po Lin Monastery, established in 1906, and more. Years ago we did hike on this island, eat a fine vegetarian meal at this monastery some call the 'Buddhist World in the South.'
Then, we also went to HUNAN GARDEN to eat their Mashed Chicken Soup and Minced Duck in Lettuce Leaves. Once we went to KING HEUNG for Five-spice Lamb, a tender northern spicy cracklingly crisp delicious dish.
On this trip, we go to CITY HALL MAXIM'S PALACE. It is not where many restaurants are, but we are hungry and so stop for dim sum. Crowded it is, everyone is well dressed. One recommendation is to to try their goose and doufu, so we do. Most dishes here are boring; this one fits that bill.
Before wandering about Hong Kong island and the Kowloon Peninsula, a bit of history. Both were ceded to Britain by China in 1842 and 1860, respectively, then leased to them until 1997. They are very different today as one arrives to Hong Kong by plane, not by train at Shumchun Station or one can arrive by ship at the new cruise terminal. We land at the new International Airport built on reclaimed land on Chek Lap Kok Island. We come hungry and wanting to savor all types of steamed, stewed, and superbly succulent stove-prepared foods.
These days, most restaurants have exotic treats, baubles and bites bigger and better than ever, more sophisticated ones, too. There is champagne and sparklers during Chinese New Year, fancy fine food all year long, and indulgences with super Chinese food that whets appetites and fills stomachs with lots of fine food. Folks enjoy, and we do too, Hong Kong Cantonese chow and foods from many of the two dozen other Chinese provinces and from elsewhere around the world.
A Sichuan specialty can be had at MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE in the Winner Building; 37 D’Aguilar Street. Central; PHONE: 852-2522-0338. There, the private kitchen offers ever-changing meals; we had one on a previous trip. It requires a reservation. Worth sampling is their six-course super spicy meal; on our last trip it was more than twenty-six bucks each. Jason Yao and his wife Sophie Lin are ably assisted by other family members who make fine piquant fare. Eating here feels like dining with a northern family of fine chefs.
MANDARIN ORIENTAL'S MAN WAH and the REGENT'S LAI CHING HEEN are where to go when money is no object. At one or the other, one can delight in sixty or six hundred dollar bowls of Shark's Fin Soup, Fresh Abalone Made Your Way, and other dried seafood delights that are wonderful wonders.
Many Cantonese adore seafood in Chaozhou restaurants that specialize in modern dishes from the northeast of the Guangdong Province, many made with lard, lemons, and other citrus sauces. Others like to devour eel steamed with salted plum sauce, taro in peanut oil with Meyer lemons, and other winning fine foods.
Some go for meals with Tit Kum Yum tea, the Iron Goddess of Mercy beverage said to help foods go down. There are Hunanese spots to order ginger-infused stock that looks like chicken mousse with ginger, shrimp paste, hot chili peppers, and wine. We like minced pigeon from a small Hong Kong region served on a lettuce leaf, and drool over indulging in a northern specialty of spiced lamb with star anise, cassia bark, Sichuan peppercorns, fennel, cumin, and cloves.
Some delight in char sui at Hong Kong dim sum places such as FU SING SUNSHINE PLAZA; 353 Lockhart Road; in the Wan Chai District; phone: 583-2893-8798. Do make reservations. Once we did pop in and were lucky to get some barbecued pork buns and their har gow, other times we were sorely disappointed not to be able devour their translucent shrimp dumplings because no seats were available.
We have love them at LUNG KING HEEN; 8 Finance Street; Central District; phone: 852-3196-888. Several times we did stop for an egg tart or two or three at ISLAND TANG; 9 Queens Road, Central; Phone: 852-2526-9798. There are other places where we love their dim sum; many more probably need discovering.
Both Chinese and English are lingua franca in Hong Kong, most menus have English translations, and most of us do not need a visa for this city. However, you need to learn what you will need. Be aware that almost everyone needs one for China, so get yours before leaving home and not at a travel agency in Hong Kong as there it can take a couple of days.
On China's mainland, be prepared for an education in patience. Language can be helpful, our Chinese is very limited, but that does not deter. The Chinese are obsessed with fresh and tasty food and that is our reward. Street stalls are things of the past as they are in Hong Kong, sanitation is improving, and the dai pai dong street eateries are now small clean restaurants that are better than before.
In Hong Kong, most floating restaurants are in Aberdeen, and for tourists. Locals advise their seafood can be wonderful, but they are crowded, and often have no time to pay attention to you or your chow. There are a healthy number of McDonald's and other fast food facilities, Kentucky Fried is very popular with the locals, too, but not with us.
Hong Kong boasts more jewelry shops than any other city in the world. Their gold beauties, pearl pretties, and gems of jade, even their designer eyeglasses are popular; but this city's culinary jewels are more heavenly. Cookery competition is fierce, and while some golden oldies did depart after the Olympics, there are more restaurants per capita than in any other city in the world. We like to try as many as our stomachs do allow. Many are top notch, some have famous chefs from around the world, and we like the known and unknown places including taking tea at the Peninsula Hotel. It is fun to indulge in that sparkling jewel near the Kowloon side of the Star Ferry; it is on their street floor.
On the other side of the water using the ferry is LUK YU TEA HOUSE; 24 Stanley Street; Central. In the past we have dined at the MANDARIN ORIENTAL HOTEL and next time probably will get to the lofty new RITZ CARLTON TIN LUNG HEEN on the 102nd floor in their 120-story mixed residential and commercial tower. The hotel is above this eatery, and a place to go at night to both eat and look down at all Hong Kong has to offer.
We have revisited GADDI'S in the PENINSULA HOTEL, even though one of their baubles has burst. It is their legendary turtle soup. On a last visit, our waiter said it now comes from a can. That transgression should not be at their prices.
When entertaining, we have been taken to a ,B>SWEET DYNASTY restaurant. We have all twelve of their cookbooks, we like their food because it is simple and very good. Many simple things can be great, and some of theirs are!
We have yet to enjoy a popular combo, their yuan yang. We skip this coffee and tea combo served with evaporated milk even though Hong Kongers love it and they love iced coffee flavored with lemon. Restaurants have main course innovations, too. Some tout chef Alvon Leung's Bo Innovation, Suckling Pig made with vanilla, apple, and peas, or his Langoustine with English Mustard, Salted Egg, Cauliflower, Black Truffles, and Duck Sauce, we have yet to do so.
We prefer LEI GARDEN, an old respected Cantonese eatery founded by Chan Shu Kit offering Pan-fried Shark's Fin with fresh crab meat, Grilled Lobster Steak with Cheese, and Braised Abalone with Fresh Goose Liver. Many are nifty.
SHANG PALACE is, another spot we read about. There chef Mok Kit Keung oversees the kitchen. It is a place we will get to on our next trip because we read about his Braised Bird's Nest with Pumpkin Cream, Oven-baked Cod with Egg Whites and Dried Scallops, and Chilled Pumpkin Cream with Coconut Ice Cream and Black Glutinous Rice.
Not all places mix and match. YE SHANGHAI in Kowloon has Peking Duck, Deep-fried Fish with Sweet and Sour Sauce, Stuffed Baked River Crab, and shao long bao. These soup dumplings are adored. Lots of local folk start their day with some of these 'dot the heart' dim sum; we have, too. Many enjoy their dim sum reading a newspaper or talking to family or friends. The talk is almost always about food eaten in the past, foods to be had later that day, and others wanted in the future.
There are destinations on Canton Road to enjoy a special pudding. A recent Michelin Guide suggested TIM HO WAN for a fine yet inexpensive meal, and we did put this on our list for our next visit, too.
We love the succulent soft-shell crabs Vietnamese-style at INDOCHINE 1929, and Beggar’s Chicken at PEKING RESTAURANT in the WANCHAI DISTRICT. We have devoured items at many night markets in Hong Kong, and recommend you do, too. We still enjoy foods in the basement and others on the top floor of the Yue Hwa department store. We go there to stock up on many non-food finds from China; then truck them home.
Hong Kong has a large number of cavernous restaurants such as at the MAN WAH in the MANDARIN HOTEL on Connaught Street. Though small in comparison, dishes here do dazzle; some are a little steep, but worth every cent.
With Hong Kong an Asian crossroad, we are lucky to go in October/November to have their hairy crabs. In any month one can indulge in braised red-cooked eel dishes and other embarrassments of riches. We love Peking Duck and Beggars Chicken in this city, and their Mongolian Hotpot. We could go on about our many meals here, some are Hong Kong pleasures and treasures not to be missed. We hope you get to try many of them, too, and soon. If not, cook your own local delights. A very few follow; cookbooks have many more!
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