Traveling anywhere around Asia and not dedicating some serious time to the gastronomic side of things is a serious mistake! Mistake that, rest assured, we didn’t want to incur into while in Hong Kong!..
Not only we took a cooking class to make the Chinese cuisine chef that is inside of us come alive, we also took our taste buds on a voyage around China and beyond.
As we were coming from a series of stressful situations in Delhi, we treated ourselves to 3 nights of pure joy at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The rooms were excellent, the pillows fluffy, the service courteous and… the highlight for me… the food was incredible! Specially breakfast.
My favorite part about staying in a good hotel is loosing myself in the breakfast buffet and this one, at the Hyatt, was the most complete breakfast spread I have ever laid my eyes and mouth on! All my international favorites where there (pancakes, waffles, eggs prepared in 1 million different ways, cold meats, warms meats, at least 10 different varieties of exotic fruits, pastries to die for…) along with local delicacies that Chinese people normally have for the start of the day (soups, noodles, dim sums, eggs dipped in tea, all sorts of seaweed, herbs and fried savories). The big debate: what should I have? This is the kind of situation when I wish I had more than 1 stomach, as my palate doesn’t tend to get as tired as down there.
And so I went for a 4 course breakfast (5 course if we count in the big frothy cappuccino I topped it all up with!)
In Asia, some get lost in translation… while some others get lost in breakfast:
At the Hyatt we also enjoyed dinner a couple of times. Simple travel rule: whenever there is room service, one shall take advantage of it.
And because when food is good you make up extra meals through-out the day, late night snacks were also served…
No matter how wonderful our days of fanciness where, it didn’t take us too long to go back to being the food explorers we like to be. And for that, you’ve got to venture yourself into places you just walk past by, notice where the locals eat and have an open mind (and mouth!) to whatever might catch your attention.
It was with this sense of adventure that I had the worst noodle dish I had ever tasted. I know, you really have to be doing something wrong to come across such bad noodles in a Chinese territory! But somehow, I managed to order something that ended up consisting in tasteless boiled noodles covered up with a concoction that, for all I know, could have been horse mucus. Didn’t look good and tasted even worse. The texture reminded me too much of sickness.
Luckily enough, Ashray had better sense and ordered a rice dish that included the word “Portuguese” in it’s title. It had nothing to do with anything I had ever eaten in Portugal, but it was OK to feed the both of us.
A later experience took us to a restaurant where I could hear the menu shouting to us: “BE ADVENTUROUS!”
Vegetarians would have it tough in this place.
Z: “I mean, it’s even hard for regular meat and fish eaters, ’cause all the funny parts…”
A: “Yeah, I wonder what dishes have the regular parts? Do they only buy the funny parts?! What do they do to the rest of the animal?”
And that passion for the unknown inspired me to order noodles cooked in vinegar (something you eventually develop a taste for with time, I guess, as at first it’s incredibly pungent!) topped with some balls of “unknown”. A communication gap with the waitress, who didn’t speak English, didn’t make it easy for me to understand what exactly I was eating… Ashray was convinced it was testicles.
Z: “I don’t think it’s a testicle!”
A: “Don’t be so sure!.. Does it taste manly?!”
Later we understood it was fish balls, (the fish equivalent of meat balls, using processed fish) very commonly used in local preparations.
Z: ” I want to be adventurous and try new food… but sometimes it just goes wrong, ’cause right now I don’t know what’s in my plate!!”
A: “I think even they don’t know!!!”
This was the day that we talked about food the most. We were amazed at the fact that every part of each animal seems to be put to good use. And while I had a vinegary aftertaste, Ashray enjoyed a tea after his noodle soup with meat, that was once again good.
But not all experiences with local cuisine were this bittersweet. Most of them, in fact, were pretty damn good and I am glad I got to try new things. Even those that I didn’t end up liking (at least not at first) constitute an experience and that’s what we go around the world for!
I mean eating comfort in the sense that we had some dishes that could have been described as “comfort food” but also because we were already comfortable with the flavors. Living in Dubai for about 5 years, we got to enjoy a great variety of Asian preparations and grew very fond of the cuisines of China and beyond.
Noodle soup is one of my favorite Asian foods: with vegetables, chicken, dumplings, seaweed or prawns.
My other favorite: dumplings. Just like in Italy I die for ravioli, in China: I’m a dumpling queen! Little pockets filled with minced meats, fish or vegetables make it quickly into my heart – via my mouth, that is!
Last year we developed a taste for sushi – oddly enough, this happened in Chile! And now sushi is something I tend to crave a lot. Living in Delhi for a few months didn’t fulfill our sushi intake needs, but I’m glad Hong Kong did such an amazing job at it!
Whenever you go to a restaurant in Hong Kong (and in China in general) you will always be served complimentary green tea – refreshing (washes away the MSG and soya flavor from your palette pretty effectively), healthy and a great compliment to most flavors. In one of the sushi chains we visited, they even had a hot water dispenser and green tea powder on each table, for you to make your own tea:
Eating the Streets
Going around Hong Kong, one of my favorite past times was to enter the alleys and streets where wet markets still exist. This is where you understand what people really eat at home – as food in restaurants doesn’t tend to give you the full picture.
One thing that is impossible not to notice when you walk around markets and food shops in Hong Kong, is the amount of dried ingredients used in the local cuisine. There are specialized shops selling dried fish and seafood, as well as vegetarian products such as seaweed and mushrooms.
Street food in Asia is a big affair. In general, there is no shortage of food that can be purchased for little and enjoyed largely. Hong Kong wasn’t going to be an exception: there are stalls selling from snacks to full meals and some of the road-side counters have evolved into something more than just street food vending points, adding tables and chairs to their set-up.
Eating in the streets is actually more “airy” than in many restaurants. Budget and medium places tend to have a space problem.. even the seats are quite small sometimes!
Traveling consumes a lot of energy! It’s important to keep on snacking throughout the day on local things…
… or local versions of international favorites:
If you’re salivating and craving Asian food right now, then my mission has been accomplished!
But we still have to share with you THE BEST dinner we had in Hong Kong!