China


Just realised that almost a month has passed since I was in Hong Kong – it feels like yesterday! Anyway, happy Chinese new year! The year of the dragon started on Monday and sadly, I have had no time to celebrate due to work. I’m sure I’ll do something later.

It was just past Christmas-time when I was in Hong Kong and one of my colleagues who calls Hong Kong home was back visiting friends and family; we arranged to meet up in Mongkok one afternoon. There’s nothing like being shown around by locals and they understood what I meant by wanting to try things that were particularly from Hong Kong. And yes, they too are serious about eating. Mongkok was exactly what I expected of Hong Kong: crowded and brightly lit with signs and with snack stands at every corner!

After walking about the pet market for a bit (and cooing at the cute little puppies), we started with the proper eating with my first egg waffle (also known as an eggette).

Egg Waffle

Oh, how beautiful it was. I loved the contrasts in the waffle – the light and pillowy puffs connected by a thin crisp sheet. The flavour was excellent too and no extra sauce was necessary. It amused me no end to eat them by hand, snapping off pieces as you go.

We went off wandering down the Ladies’ Market but that egg waffle wasn’t enough to fortify us and we found ourselves flagging by the end of it. We were brought over to China Cafe, a little cha chaan teng, a particularly Hong Kong style of tea cafe, hidden from the street by a food market. Nothing seem to have been touched in the cafe since the 60s and had retained every bit of charm for it. Watch out though if you don’t read Chinese – they don’t seem to have an English menu.

Hot milk tea was very strong and benefited from lots of sugar.

Milk Tea

A couple of pineapple buns (bolo bau) were ordered with thick slices of butter stuffed in the middle. Ah, now I know where I was going wrong with pineapple buns – I always found them quite dull. They’re just plain buns with their only redeeming feature being the sweet cookie crust; despite their name, there’s no actual pineapple in them. Well, it’s much better with butter!

Pineapple Bun with Butter

And another first for me – Hong Kong style French toast. I think they deep fry the entire thing, which is the only way I can think of for the egg to turn such a beautifully even brown. M poured syrup over the entire thing and we all tucked in – yes, I do love this kind of French toast.

French Toast

China Cafe
1077A Canton Road
Mong Kok
Hong Kong

We wandered back past the station to see the lights of Mongkok. The sky may have been dark but down on street level, it could have been confused for day! It was crowded (Mongkok has the highest population density in the world) and bright and fun.

Mongkok at Night

After again walking around for a bit, K and M led us to a street lined with restaurants. K wanted to introduce me to Chiu Chow cuisine. Also known as Teochew cuisine, Chiu Chow cuisine is very popular in Hong Kong and while I recognise many of the dishes on that Wikipedia page due to their popularity in Malaysia too, I had never had a purely Chiu Chow meal nor did I know what was popular in Hong Kong. (Oh, Teochew porridge I do know – I wrote about it a couple of months ago.) I was quite excited to try it with those in the know.

K started us off with a peppery soup of pork intestines and pickled vegetables. While the intestines weren’t for me, I loved the strong flavour of white pepper in the porky broth.

Pork Intestine and Pickled Vegetable Soup

A combination of barbecued sweet sausage and squid appeared on almost every table there. An egg braised in spiced soy too was also ordered. It’s quite plain but in a soothing way.

Barbecued Sausage and Squid

Boiled Egg

A plain grilled fish came out with a variety of sauces – soy, chilli, soy bean. Actually, I started losing track of all the sauce dishes around me. If it’s one thing that struck me about Chiu Chow cuisine, it was the use of so many condiments at the table.

Grilled Fish

The Chiu Chow oyster omelette was totally different to the sticky, starchy Malaysian variety that I knew. This deep fried eggy fritter had oysters scattered throughout and was delicious dipped in chilli sauce.

Oyster Omelette

Some brilliant salt and chilli pork ribs and stir fried pea shoots with garlic rounded up our meal. Oh, and white rice too, gotta have that. We stuffed ourselves well.

Salt and Chilli Pork Ribs

Garlic Fried Pea Shoots

Biu Kee Lok Yeun Chiu Chau Restaurant
G/F 33-37, Fa Yuen Street
Mongkok
Hong Kong

As always, there was still space in our dessert stomachs (though this time, we really were struggling) and K and M took us to Lucky Dessert nearby. We were there early in the night and so the place was half empty but they assured us that it gets much busier later as it’s quite popular with the younger crowd. I do like the fresh and fruity Hong Kong style desserts and the ones served here were quite modern in style.

Mango pancakes were thin crepes filled with cream and slices of fresh mango. This appears to be quite a popular dessert in Hong Kong and I have to admit, I’m still on the fence about this one. I think I prefer my mango without cream.

Mango Pancakes

This was a whole banana and chocolate chips wrapped in filo pastry. Nice but my focus was really on the next dessert…

Banana and Chocolate in Filo Pastry

My favourite was this last one – durian in sticky rice rolls. Thin mochi-like skins were rolled around lots of fresh durian meat. I had no idea durian was so popular in Hong Kong!

Durian in Sticky Rice Rolls

Lucky Dessert
G/F, 25-27 Soy Street
Mong Kok
Hong Kong

As you can imagine, we had to roll ourselves back home that night. Thank you so much for showing us around, K and M!

Beef noodle soup. When more than one person recommended the ones at Kau Kee to me, it became a priority visit while in Hong Kong. As befits a 90+ year old restaurant with a speciality, their menu is short – beef brisket or beef slices or curry beef tendon on your choice of noodle soup. There may have been a vegetable too.

At about 8pm on a weekday, three of us found a table with relative ease though the small restaurant was constantly packed while we were there. A bowl of Kau Kee’s special beef brisket in traditional broth (88 HKD, all beef and no noodles), another of beef brisket with e-fu noodles in broth (32 HKD), and two curry beef tendon with rice vermicelli (30 HKD each) had us bursting at the seams.

The bowls weren’t large but they were filled to the brim – lots of noodles and beef and topped up with broth. The beef brisket was just tender and very flavourful and well, beefy, as was the broth. I enjoyed the e-fu noodles though perhaps their strong flavour would pair better with the curry.

Special Beef Brisket in Traditional Broth

Beef Brisket with E-Fu Noodle in Broth

The curry beef tendon was gorgeous. This beautiful bowl opened my eyes to excellent Chinese curries – I had only had terrible yellow curry powder and cornstarch monstrosities prior to this. This was delicious and rich and complex and full of both tendon and beef brisket. I’d never had such soft beef tendon as this before; they must have simmered the mixture for ages.

Beef Tendon in Curry Sauce with Vermicelli

Dinner

We did over order by that bowl of extra beef; a single bowl of beef and noodles each would have been enough and been even more of a budget dinner. Oh, what I’d give for a bowl of the curry right now!

Kau Kee
G/F, 21 Gough Street
Central
Hong Kong

I was looking forward to a day out to one of Hong Kong’s smaller islands but I was to choose between Cheung Chau and Lamma Island. I went with the smaller island – Cheung Chau – mainly because it sounded like fun and heck, it’s home to the bun festival every year (not that we’d get to see it that day). It was a quick half hour ferry ride from Central and we emerged onto an island that was just as crowded as Hong Kong island but with a more relaxed, holiday feel to it.

Apparently, the thing to do on Cheung Chau is eat seafood. With empty stomachs, we wandered down the road and ended up at one place where the tables were packed and the food looked good. The New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant, it was!

New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant

What a lovely spread we had out there in the sun (yes, about 20C that winter day)! Scrambled egg with prawns was the first to our table and it was excellent, all fluffy egg and juicy, crunchy prawns.

Scrambled Egg with Prawns

Stir fried gai lan with garlic was crunchy and all the green we needed.

Stir Fried Gai Lan with Garlic

The salt and chilli squid was greaseless and crisp and made up for a hard and greasy version the previous day at Hay Hay Kitchen in Wan Chai.

Salt and Chilli Squid

Salty, carby goodness came in the form of chicken and salted fish fried rice.

Chicken and Salted Fish Fried Rice

Our steamed garlic scallops came with a wonderfully ridiculous amount of sweet garlic and unexpected but pleasantly slippery mung bean vermicelli. We scraped the contents of each shell straight into our mouths.

Steamed Garlic Scallops

Finally, a whole steamed fish, a Cantonese classic. We picked it clean.

Steamed Fish

The seafood was all magnificently fresh though I doubt they’ve been caught very locally. I was told most of the waters surrounding Hong Kong had been fished clean though I did see a few fishing boats come in with a small catch and some fish and prawns being dried in the sun. Local or not local, with the warm sun on our backs, fresh breeze on our faces and cold drinks in our hands, this was a memorable lunch.

New Baccarat Seafood Restaurant
9A G/F Pak She Praya Road
Cheung Chau
Hong Kong

With full bellies, we strolled around Cheung Chau’s car-less streets and over to the beach on the other side too. And I knew Hong Kong was famous for its wide variety of street foods but the variety of snacks available on Cheung Chau was still amazing and surprising. Fish balls, deep fried mochi ice cream, sticky rice cakes, popcorn, waffles, egg waffles, ice cream, shaved ice, pastries, grilled squid … all that temptation was just too great.

We first stopped at the Grand Plaza Cake Shop (91B, Hoi Poi Road, Cheung Chau) where a large crowd was jostling for just-out-of-the-oven egg tarts of both the Hong Kong and Macanese varieties. We had one of each – the mini dan tat (the Hong Kong version) was particularly tasty.

Macanese Egg Tarts Mini Egg Tarts

One of Each

We couldn’t pass up this Taiwanese shaved ice stand and I walked away with this aromatic guava one. The flavours are already frozen into the ice block and the shaved ice almost resembles freshy fallen snow in its consistency – all light and fluffy.

Shaving Ice

Guava Shaved Ice

Finally, on the way back to the ferry port, my first tornado potato! It’s a single potato spiral cut on a stick and mine was fresh out of the fryer. A bank of shakers in front of the shop allowed you to custom flavour your fried potato however you wish – there was curry, extra hot, chicken and garlic powders all along mine. Salty, greasy, good.

Tornado Potato

Needless to say, go with empty stomachs to Cheung Chau. To get to the island, take a ferry from Central Pier 5 in Hong Kong. You can use an Octopus card to pay – did I mention my love for their Octopus card? I love that all transport around Hong Kong can be paid with it and many eating establishments also accept payment with it.

Apart from a one day stopover when I was seven years old, this trip over the new year was my first time in Hong Kong. For the first time in a long time, this was a proper holiday with no work commitments; I was there to see one of my best friends who moved out there about two years ago. My trip was packed with catching up, seeing the sights and sampling as much of the local cuisine as possible. Thank you so much, M and S, for hosting me!

One of the first and best breakfasts I had (jetlag meant that I desperately needed a big meal in the morning) while there involved scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs. I went all the way to Hong Kong to eat scrambled eggs!

Australia Dairy Co.

Oh, but what luscious and silky scrambled eggs. They were from the famed Australia Dairy Company and when we visited one weekday, we found a queue going down the road. Not being in any rush, we joined the end of it and to our surprise, we found ourselves at the head of the queue (still going down the road) in about 10 minutes. It was soon apparent how they managed to turn over customers so quickly. Everyone was sat wherever possible, sharing tables if necessary. Your food arrived within 5 minutes of ordering and your bill was also ready when you finish for you to take up to pay at the counter next to the entrance. This was not a place to linger. We shared a table with two other friends having breakfast and while it was a bit cramped, it was never uncomfortable.

The short menu is either on Chinese on the table or brought in English separately. There are a few sets and then an a la carte menu that mostly consisted of the food in the sets served separately along with a few more bits and bobs – like I said, it’s short and they obviously specialise in dairy and eggs (it’s the “Dairy Company” after all though I have no idea if they have any relation to Australia). We both opted for a Breakfast Set (26 HKD): toast with butter, fried or scrambled eggs, macaroni with ham in chicken soup and coffee or milk tea. Scrambled with milk tea for both of us.

I think the macaroni soup is a good example of what they call soy sauce western food – there is obviously a western influence on this dish but nowhere in the west would you see a dish like this. This was certainly filling but not something for which I’d jump through hoops.

The Breakfast Set

But those scrambled eggs! I’d jump through a dozen flaming hoops for that plate of softly set yellow. The buttered crustless toast on the side was thick and fluffy perfect with it. All this and a hot milk tea really set us up for the day.

Scrambled Eggs and Buttered Toast

We also tried one of their egg custards (20 HKD). There are yellow (egg) and white (egg white and milk) versions and we tried a yellow. It’s very smooth and soft set and while I’m not a big fan of milk in general, it very slowly started to grow on me. Well, it didn’t grow on me enough to actually like it – we didn’t even manage to finish half.

Egg Custard

Egg Custards

Definitely recommended and if you happen to pass it and are feeling a bit peckish, do get their scrambled eggs (also available in a sandwich). I’ve got to learn to make eggs like they do.

Australia Dairy Company
47 Parkes Street
Jordan
Hong Kong

The final Beijing post! It’s going to be a little haphazard but I just wanted to remember the best of the rest of the meals I ate there. Not every meal was spectacular but every meal was at least good. However, some of the good meals had spectacular dishes as part of it. Nothing was bad (except for the smell of stinky tofu which I just couldn’t get over – someone, please teach me how to eat it!).

On Ghost Street

After a day in the calming environments of the Lama Temple and the Confucian Temple, Blai and I headed to Ghost Street, a street full of restaurants that open long and late hours. We stopped into one (I forgot to note down its name) and picked pretty randomly from the long picture menu. The fried mantou, here in a basket with steamed ones, were just… well, let’s just say it’s hard to fault deep fried things.

Steamed and Fried Mantou

The restaurant also specialised in grilled skewers and the best we tried was skewers of mushrooms, here shiitake mushrooms. When grilled, they were incredibly juicy and even better when sprinkled with a tongue-tingling chilli and cumin mixture.

Grilled Mushroom Skewers

At a random restaurant near our second hotel

We went to this restaurant the night we moved hotels. While all the other dishes were average (but still very good when compared to most of London’s restaurants), this aubergine dish was quite the stand-out. The silky vegetable melted in the mouth.

Aubergine

A dinner at Guolin Jiachangcai

A terrible downpour one night forced us to stick to restaurants near our hotel again. We entered one very crowded place which turned out to be Guolin Jiachangcai, a popular restaurant serving homestyle food from all over China.

The star of that meal was this Hakka meicai kourou, steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens. I nestled slices of the rich pork belly and the vegetable into the accompanying steamed buns and thereby ate some of the finest sandwiches known to man.

Meicai Kourou

From Sichuan province, we had this excellent mapo tofu, cooked with a firmer tofu than usual but I quite liked it that way!

Mapo Tofu

At a Chinese fast food restaurant

After watching the crowds at Hou Hai on the night of the mid-autumn (moon) festival, we trawled the area looking for a restaurant that could accommodate us so late at night. We stopped into one place on the street leading down from the Drum Tower that turned out to be a noodles and food on skewers fast food restaurant. Apart from a few skewers and a plate of dumplings, we also ordered minced pork noodles. A deep bowl full of hand pulled noodles sitting in a savoury broth studded with minced pork, diced potato, chives, carrots, tofu, tofu skin, and pressed tofu was brought to us. It really hit the spot that night!

Minced Pork Noodles

We also had the opportunity to see the all the staff at the restaurant (along with the owners and their families) sit down together to share an extravagant mid-autumn festival meal!

A work dinner

All of us from our group who travelled to Beijing were gathered together one night for a group dinner at a restaurant whose name I forgot to note down but I did hastily scribble down what I think is its web address. It was a seriously extravagant meal with our boss taking care of the ordering and well, over-ordering.

The restaurant was quite unique, consisting of just private rooms, each equipped with a wide screen tv with karaoke capability (we opted out this time). During ordering, we were even offered a fresh fruit platter with these fresh dates. I’d never had them before and was surprised by their crunchy, apple-like texture and not very sweet flavour.

Fresh Dates

The roasted pigeons were just finger licking good. There was a fantastic skin to meat ratio on these birds and they were just so juicy and tender.

Roasted Pigeons

I had too much of this – braised beef slices with mung bean noodles. The mung bean noodles had been wrapped into little bite-sized bundles. I helped myself to at least three bowlfuls of this – it was just all gorgeous in its beefy broth.

Braised Beef with Mung Bean Noodles

This Shanghainese dish is steamed red dates stuffed with glutinous rice, not something I would order if I saw it on a menu but they really are fantastic. They’re sweet as you’d expect dates to be but they’re less sweet than the brown dried kinds you find here and they’re not served as a dessert. The glutinous rice stuffing has the texture of mochi. When steamed together, they meld together into quite the succulent mouthful.

Red Dates Stuffed with Glutinous Rice

These radish puffs might look familiar – they are available in a certain Taiwanese restaurant in London. However, these in Beijing were just amazing – so light, so greaseless, so flaky. I somehow managed to fit in two of them.

Radish Puffs

It was also quite interesting to see how, in such a large meal as this (there were at least 20 different dishes), to see the progression from cold dishes to hot dishes to the pastries and breads and finally, dessert (a fruit platter).

Lunch across from the Pearl Market

OK, I didn’t have the name nor the address of this place and so rather than have a post to itself, this, our last lunch in Beijing, got stuck here. After a quick visit to the Pearl Market, we needed an equally quick bite before heading back to the hotel and leaving for the airport. We came across this little place across the street from the north side of the Pearl Market – that’s the best description of the location I can give you!

There’s one picture in the window and that’s of the one thing they sell there – flatbreads filled with meat. You can see them being made fresh in the front of the shop.

Brushing with Oil

We split one made with pork (beef was also available), dipping them into our own made dipping sauces of black vinegar and chilli oil. So delicious, I loved the huge variety of breads I encountered in Beijing.

Pork Stuffed Flatbread

As everybody else was having it too, we asked for the accompanying soup. This soup turned out to be an extremely bland and thick cornmeal “soup”. I have no idea what the appeal is but it was quite novel!

Our Lunch

And that completes my final Beijing post. If you need more, all of my Beijing photos can be found in this Flickr photoset (two trips to the Great Wall, anyone?!).

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