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Hongkong is truly a city for food lovers – it is also a city where East meets West in an extraordinary twist of Chinese culture and British colonial heritage. Skyscrapers, financial districts, street markets and, of course, a lot of interesting restaurants and food habits.
Text & Photo by Olof Lundborg
I went to this old Asian trading city together with two friends in the middle of the summer, when the temperature circles around 35 degrees and humidity reaches way above 80 percent.
We landed in late afternoon, and before we were installed in our hotel in a typical Chinese part of the city, it was early evening. A long and sleepless journey from Sweden took its toll, so a quick and simple dinner felt like the only option at that moment. As the western part of Hongkong Island is very Chinese, noodle kitchens are numerous. We just chose one of all the places around Des Voeux Street and found ourselves in front of a menu where nothing cost more than 35-40 HK dollars (about the same in SEK), including a drink.
I chose a noodle dish based on pork broth and rice noodles. Most of the dishes had pork broth as a base. Along with the noodles were minced pork (Sloppy Joe style, but spicier), three vegetable wontons, which is more or less the same as dumplings, and big mushrooms. Once the bowl is on the table, you just have to bend your head towards it and start slurping. Table manner is a delicate issue, but I can already inform the reader that neither one of us understood the different ways of behaving correctly according to different restaurants, dishes and situations. The locals always stared and laughed. At the noodle kitchen, however, slurping and spilling like a child felt like a natural and necessary way of handling the lovely broth and noodles.
Lunch in a mall (!) – Ashima Yunnan restaurant
Correctly, when in Hongkong during summertime you really want to visit malls because of the heat outside. Everyone´s there and you will find plenty of good restaurants. As an observant tourist you soon realize that the places with an all Chinese crowd outside and a head waiter distributing queue tickets, are the ones worth a visit. Out in Tai Koo in the Centre Plaza Mall we decided to have lunch at Ashima Yunnan, a Cantonese restaurant. After 20 minutes we were seated by a table, served tea and were given a menu with pictures and a few dishes translated in to English. The chilli pork wontons (stuffed with pork) were fantastic, but the mix of prawns, mushrooms and pepper, as for my main course, was slightly dull but well tasting.
Warning – Sushi at Dozo!
Sometimes even experienced tourists fall in the tourist trap. Oh Lord, we fell in that trap! Sushi in Hongkong Island felt like a good idea after eating vegetables and pork based nutrition for several days. Not that we didn´t like what we had eaten, but we needed variety. Dozo! Restaurant at Lyndhurst Terrace is by far my worst sushi experience ever. Already from the beginning we felt that something was very wrong.
We were seated along the belt where the one sushi dish should pass by after the other, ready for the guests to eat. We ordered beer but had to ask for glasses. Also wasabi was sparse and had to be asked for. And then, the sushi – where was it? The belt was empty, except for a few tired pieces of fish and rice circling around and around. Out of starvation we had a couple of pieces and then paid the bill. The female waiter was totally uninterested in the guests and service, except for the paying situation. I paid with credit card and left no tip (of course!), but one of my friends paid cash and wanted change in return. However, the girl simply decided that she deserved a few HK dollars in tip, in addition to the service charge already put on the bill. I would have strangled the girl, my friend didn´t.
Places like Dozo! should be closed down by authorities, especially in a country where the authorities like to put their nose in just about everything. Luckily there was a Ben & Jerry ice cream bar next door, so we treated ourselves with Chocolate Therapy before heading to another place.
Splendid food but rude guests at Wang Jia Sha
Another warm and humid day in Hongkong and you just want to hide in a luxurious and air conditioned mall. This time, on our way to the ICC-building and the Ritz-Carlton to have a drink and see the panorama view over the city, we had lunch at one of the restaurants in The Element Mall, just below the ICC. The Wang Jia Sha has, like most Chinese restaurants, a Cantonese cuisine.
We were placed near the window and were handed a menu in Chinese, but with pictures. We ordered several courses, and what we thought was a starter came in as a main course, and one of the main courses turned out to be a side order. No problems at all, since we were the strangers.
I started with garlic fried Chinese spinach with broad beans. Salty but very tasty. During my way through the spinach I both felt and noticed an older Chinese lady, at the opposite table, observing me. As the gentleman I am I continued with the next dish, pretending it was raining.
Dumplings with pork in a chicken broth. The taste was mild and like most of these dishes, it´s the broth that tastes the most, at the expense of the dumplings. I really liked it though. The lady still starring, mostly at me, almost without paying any attention to her own table company.
Then I headed for the extremely warm chicken soup with bok choy, a Chinese vegetable. And now I just couldn´t stand it anymore. The lady was starring like a cow. She wasn’t starring and thinking: Oh, that’s a good looking Scandinavian young man who has travelled all the way down here to spend his money and make this city flourish even more. No, no, no, I would have recognised that look. It was more like: Who is that pale and ugly man with a beard, blowing on the food like a big baby, and completely unable to handle spoon and chopstick – I´ve never seen anything like it!
In order to put an end to this rudeness I had to grab my camera, zoom in the lady with the big objective, turn on the flashlight and take three pictures. Finally she got the point and I could return to my warm chicken soup.
Just like the case with this chicken soup, it´s common with whole pieces of meat, bone and skin. This is something that many people don´t like (at least in Sweden), but it gives the soup a richer taste. Besides, those vegetables used, like bok choy, are lovely even if they´re not strong in taste.
Read more about food and restaurants in Hong Kong in part II; More food in Hong Kong