Archives for category: Food

Wan Chai (灣仔), Tuesday evening

We walk down Hennessy Road (幹尼詩道), amidst its garish neon signs and endless streams of traffic.  The sun, wherever it was – a cloudy day today, for the most part – has set; a fine light rain descends on the street.  People are either moving to and fro in a hurry or patiently queuing up for buses.  It is rush hour.

But I’m on a mission.  A final mission.  This is my last day in Hong Kong, and I’m grateful to be spending it with my family, who arrived here several days earlier just as my classes ended.  And as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way for me to really tie things up, to bid a final farewell to a place I’ve called home for four months – a place that, I am now convinced, I will call home once again in the future.

If this really is the last time I will be in Hong Kong, then I am going to Joy Hing.  And if this is the last time I’ll be here with my family, then I’ll take them with me.

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Sunday morning

Dear reader,

I want to tell you something about the market town/city of Yuen Long (元朗).  I really do.  This is a wonderful place – a magical place – that I can’t believe I’d overlooked before.

But it’s difficult to do anything like that if I’m not sitting next to or across from you, maybe with a cup of milk tea (奶茶) in one hand.  The milk tea isn’t really necessary, in truth (unless we’re having breakfast), but the contact (or potential for contact) is.  Because I would much rather tell this story using hand gestures; visual cues; call-and-response; scents – anything but words, either in English or in Chinese.

This is how it seems to work in Yuen Long, too – how it has always worked here, everywhere in Hong Kong (and elsewhere) since the beginning, as I’ve realized.  Histories and cultures are codified not only in words and images but also in tone and pitch, in gruffs and laughter, in aromas and sounds and tastes and textures.

That’s the ideal story I would like to tell.  No, scratch that – this is the ideal conversation I want to share with you.  A conversation that lets both of us discover what makes this place so remarkable, so compelling, so beautiful.

But since I am here and you are there, and because these screens cannot reconcile the distance between us…well, could I ask you to use your imagination a bit?  To take the skeins of text and imagery I’ve compiled and to put them together?

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Friday afternoon

First and foremost: credit where credit is due.  This excursion owes itself entirely to the exploits of the HK-China-South Korea food blogs TomEatsJenCooks and e*ting the world, whose respective authors – who, as I understand it, have paid their own homage to other HK food blogs, in particular Life as a Bon Vivant – took a trip to Sham Shui Po (深水埗) nine months ago in search of…well, food.  Good, honest, local food.

As such, this isn’t going to be as original a post as others have been, nor will it claim to be as informative – let alone authoritative – as, or maybe even different from, the others.  (You’ll even notice addresses here that have been conspicuously absent from previous posts, so savor this opportunity!) The most obvious reason is that the other journeys – even my own, in a way – have been well-documented (OpenRice in particular will attest to that), and their writers are very, very experienced when it comes to HK food – something for which I applaud them wholeheartedly.  But another reason (and one that I’m less proud of) is that…well, I haven’t eaten enough food lately.  Enough good food, that is.

All of that was enough for me to take the trip myself, to try and understand what makes something good…good.

And good lord, I think I found that out today.

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I can’t remember what drew me here first.

The sight – low-hanging awnings; stone steps along a steep slope; light and shadow; older women; plastic chairs; fake wooden tables.  The sound – impatient yelling; raucous laughter; roaring flames; clattering porcelain.  The smell – garlic; oil; scallions; oyster sauce.

“What do you want, kid?”  The woman’s voice is one-half angry, one-third exhausted, one-sixth indifferent.

I smile, pull up a seat, and step into the darkness.  This – whatever it is – is going to be good.

It’s a dai pai dong (大牌檔).  Right in the middle of everything and nothing.  Right in the middle of Sheung Wan (上環).

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Four days – it’s been four days since I last updated this project.  An eternity elsewhere in the world; a blink of the eye here in Hong Kong.  (Maybe that’s what they mean by “time difference?”)

At any rate, I’m sincerely sorry for the delay.  Academics, lethargy, and other responsibilities (not sure if “lethargy” counts as a responsibility) had hindered any attempt to travel, let alone write.

Until yesterday, that is.  So let’s jump in, hop on the East Rail Line, and head to Tai Po.  But let’s take our time, because Tai Po, as we’ll discover (or maybe you’ve consulted a map already?), is huge.

And once again, we’re heading for the markets.

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Wednesday afternoon/evening

We slowly wander through an exhibit on newspapers and print media in early-modern Hong Kong when, out of nowhere, solemn bells toll – to the tune of Westminster Quarters – over the loudspeaker.  One by one, we check the time.

“It’s 5:45?!?  Have we really been here that long?”

Jordan and Melody can’t quite believe it either, even though we remember that we entered the museum an hour and a half earlier.  Suddenly, the trilingual announcement declares that the museum will close in fifteen minutes.

We step up our pace (which has been little more than a comfortable stroll) and make our way to the exit.  “What should we do next?”

“Is anyone hungry?”

No, not at the moment.  It’s Wednesday, though, which means that we have another alternative to eating right away or (gasp) heading back to campus early.

We make our way to the science museum just across the open courtyard.

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A long escalator ride, one of the longest I’ve had here.  The stairs creep slowly upward, though the ones going down seem to be moving faster.  It’s as though they no longer want people coming up.

In one sense, I’m correct.  It’s evening in the very middle of the week – 7 p.m. – and the market is bustling.  People budge past each other in narrow aisles to buy groceries.  Discarded produce is strewn across the floor against the wall.  Fish stall owners begin to hose down the floor, enough so that even the main areas become slippery rinks.

Otherwise, the evening crowd simply enters and exits.  Up one escalator and down another.

I have no need to buy groceries, though.  It’s the second (third, in the context of this post) escalator I’m after, and I ride this one to the very top of the building.  A quick turn of the corner, and I’ve arrived.

First overriding sensual impression: this is hell.

Second nuanced acclimatized impression: this is home.

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The menu options. How many can you name? (No cheating!)

Wednesday evening

I’ve been staring at the menu on the wall for about five minutes, trying my hardest to translate the options posted.  三餸一麵十八元: Three ‘dishes’ (options which include a variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables) in one noodle soup for 18$HKD.  There’s a mix of familiar and unfamiliar items, some of them ‘replaced’ by their homophones (same pronunciation, different meaning) for the sake of efficiency (e.g. 九才 for 韭菜, or chives).  Melody helps out as well; in the end, we can, between both of us, read 70% of the menu.  Jordan waits.

Finally, we find a table and I order for our little group.  For Jordan: squid (魷魚), sausage (香腸 – “as long as it’s not a hot dog or something like that”), mixed greens (生菜) with thin rice noodles (米粉).  For Melody: pork (豬紅), fish balls (魚旦), and chives with flat rice noodles (河粉).  And for myself: squid, pork, and chives with flat rice noodles.

Five minutes later, our orders arrive.  We sit and stare at what’s been given to us.

I blink.  There’s a mix of familiar and unfamiliar items, to be sure.

But it’s not what I expected to get at all.  Not even in Tuen Mun (屯門), not all the way out here.

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Cheung Sha Wan Road (長沙灣道), Cheung Sha Wan (長沙灣), Kowloon.

Thursday afternoon

Off the MTR, again – this time at Lai Chi Kok (荔枝角) – and I slow my walking pace ever so slightly as I ascend the stairs onto street level.  High-rises everywhere, as per usual; a main thoroughfare on the right, cars rushing past; people walking either past or in front.

For the first time, though, I’m on a set mission: to find an address, in search of lab equipment for school.  (Which reminds me: classes started the day earlier.)  The safety orientation leader informed me that I would need to pick up my own set of lab goggles and a coat.  Now I stand and look around, trying to get even the faintest sense of where I am, let alone where to go.  A nearby street sign, however, tells me that, at the very least, I’m on the right road, and the numbers point me toward the right direction.  I cross.

I pass the building by about a hundred feet – no, thirty meters (metric for distance here) – and turn back before entering.  The vendor’s name is “Kou Hing Hong Scientific Supplies Ltd” (球興儀器行有限公司), although the office itself looks nothing like what I expected it to look like (essentially, a lab).  The secretary at the front desk informs me that the seller is on his lunch break (it’s 1:30 or so) and won’t return until two.  She seems genuinely sorry.  I thank her and leave.

This is Cheung Sha Wan (長沙灣), and despite my ‘mission’ I know, deep down, that I have no reason to be here. But I keep walking.

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Mong Kok

Evening in a crowded city street in Mong Kok (旺角).

Wednesday evening

Traffic.  Traffic everywhere.  Foot traffic; car traffic.  People queuing up; cars move past.  Smoke, light, and sound take their place alongside the musky scent of the nighttime air.  Above ground level, signs hang from buildings and flash and glow like auctioneers showing off their wares; on the street, merchants and market owners lean out from their stalls and shout out their fresh produce.  All fast.  No time to stop.

It is, apparently, impossible to stop anywhere around here without being driven back into the flow of life.  But I take the bite…

“Hey…are you alright there?” Jordan asks.

The flaky crust and the sweet-and-savory char siu (叉燒) of the pastry melt together.  For five seconds, everything – everything – makes sense.

“Yeah…I’m fine.”

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