I Ate Hong Kong

The most rewarding way to discover Hong Kong is with an open mind, without inhibition and a generous measure of let’s, “Rome” in Hong Kong.

“I don’t eat anything I can’t pronounce”. I still laugh out loud remembering this line from the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The English protagonist, visiting India for the first time refuses to sample anything, save for the dry biscuits that she’d brought from home.

Like her, I can relate to the feeling of uncertainty whenever travelling anywhere abroad and confronted with an untranslatable menu. Or an unrecognisable dish, with a suspicious aroma and peculiar texture. I’m not going to lie, with a sheepish grin, I hear myself often asking, “what animal is this?” whilst quietly praying, “please don’t say donkey”. And yet paradoxically, I know that if the menu had said donkey, I’d actually consider trying it. Yes, I too am now staring at the screen, thinking did I really just say that? I too shock myself from time to time. It’s because travel continually challenges me, refines and tempers my world view and leads me to a “when in Rome” attitude, which leads to some very rewarding and enriching memories. The most rewarding way to discover Hong Kong is with an open mind, without inhibition and a generous measure of let’s, “Rome” in Hong Kong. Fortunately, I take my own advice, and so with Cathay Pacific Airlines I ate Hong Kong. To whet your appetite for Hong Kong, here is the menu to inspire your sense of adventure.

The Winery. It was too late for lunch and to too early for dinner, but when in Hong Kong it’s best to let your stomach be the guide and not the clock. “I don’t only want to eat at Western places” registers somewhere in my psyche, but I’m not really paying close attention to what my husband is saying. I’m too busy scanning the cafe as we’re escorted to our table. Gorgeous, hip styling that may serve to alienate a more mature crowd were it not for the abundance of natural greenery throughout. The interior is gorgeous. Plants combined with the calm green tones have me convinced I’m in the right place to taste my very first Hong Kong meal. The menu may have been “Western” but the chef was Korean, and our taste buds soon knew about it. You know it’s good when you eat at the same place twice in one day. Yes. We really did do that. It turned out that the owner is an Aussie expat, living in Hong Kong for over twenty years. With a litany of successful restaurants to his name, The Winery is the newest addition. The coffee and cocktails were a meal in their own right, and left me convinced that I was in need of two stomachs as my journey along Hong Kong’s eaten track began.

Plagued by stories of traveller’s eating street food only to see the inside of a restroom for the remainder of their trip had me seriously considering what risks I should take. It may seem silly to the experienced, but confidence comes from doing, and everything is easy once you know how. And how to eat Hong Kong safely and like a frugal local was something, that this Western Aussie girl didn’t know how… yet. With the wisdom of an ex- Cathay Pacific air hostess, now turned local tour guide I enlisted the services of The Hong Kong Getaway to help me better understand the local food scene.

I learnt that the Hong Kong government have clear and strict food regulations around the safety and hygiene of food. I witnessed firsthand masses of uniformed men and women walking through the streets who I mistook as police. My guide informed me that they were in fact government health officers conducting random audits on food premises. Now feeling confident that I could try some unpronounceable food, the adventure really began.

Deep fried peanut butter sandwich, cooked once, then lathered in extra butter and honey. Yes, request a defibrillator on standby. I never eat like this. I’m a salad and soup girl. But this authentic Hong Kong food is popular amongst teenagers, often a shared after school or weekend cafe treat. Counteracting the richness of the sandwich, lemon ice tea is one not to miss. Served with loads of crushed ice, floating lemons in liquid, the key is to pierce the lemons with your straw whilst sipping to enhance the ice-tea flavour.

Having heard that the Hong Kong government had listed the Pineapple Bun as a “part of intangible cultural history” this was a must to try. With no association to the pineapple, other than the sweet bun has a crunchy top loosely resembling a pineapple crust, this sweet treat is popular at breakfast or as a snack item. Branching out and forgoing my fibre some Weetbix, I ate it at breakfast. With butter. Customarily, you insert a large chunk of butter on the inside and eat as it melts. I had hoped it would be inedible, and I’d save myself the calories, but of course it proved delicious. Wickedly moreish, like much of the food in Hong Kong.

Waste is very much a Western privilege, and so the Malaysian style chicken curry had next to no excess. My understanding is that the entire chicken is used, which logically given that everything is fresh and hygienic isn’t an issue, really it’s all just chicken I told myself. And once cooked in the delicious Malay sauces, and served with rice it was all the same. Washed down with red bean milk ice tea. A beverage that you should definitely try as it’s so unusual yet unexpectedly pleasant.

Whilst every style of food from street-eats, to takeaway fast food, to café and restaurant meals were all lick your lips delicious, I did notice a difference between quality, flavours and cost. Yet all were a sensory insight into the culinary culture of Hong Kong, and definitely worth the experience.

If you’re like me and uncertain where to begin with the street food scene I found these tips that I picked up along my travel journey useful.

Obviously, the services of a local for insider tips is an ideal starting point. However, if your budget doesn’t allow this, look for the following:

  • Stores or stands that attract long queues and large crowds. This suggests that food turn over should be frequent and high. It also indicates popularity and potentially what is worth waiting for.
  • Assess the crowd dining or in the queues. Crowds that comprise of a mixed demographic with business men, families, women and children are indicative of a safe bet.
  • I witnessed firsthand street vendors begin cooking early in the morning. Choose your time carefully of when you buy. Not too early (allowing the food ample cooking time), and not too late (hedging your bets it hasn’t been left all day).

I tend to use all the afore mentioned tips in conjunction with each other.

In circumnavigating Hong Kong with our stomachs, beyond what was Western and beyond the familiar something very unexpected, and unplanned happened in the process. We found ourselves surrounded by the company of locals within their go-to territory. Had we not had our guide with us we would never have been made aware of the effect our Western presence had on the owners and diners. “The owner feels very proud that foreigners want to eat her food” was the exact translation, and with surprise at hearing these words, I glance up from my deep fried peanut butter sandwich, with extra lashings of butter to glance at my guide, only to see a room of full of smiling and nodding heads looking at us. And this moment it dawned on me, the simple act of a shared experience had led to this moment of unity. I didn’t realise the message that I was sending by sitting with them at the time, and yet I had unknowingly said, “Your food is my food”. And in response, I’d heard “Mi casa su casa”. I encourage you, when in Hong Kong be sure to ‘Rome’, you never know where it may lead you.

This article was written by Julia McGregor from Lost and Found Traveller

Disclaimer: Whilst this fabulous trip was made possible by Hong Kong’s national airline carrier, Cathay Pacific and The Hong Kong Board of Tourism, my opinions remain my own. I was afforded full creative freedom and autonomy, and am thrilled to share with you my eating experience in Hong Kong. All mentioned venues are not sponsored in anyway, and remain my unbiased opinion. Likewise, I privately enlisted the services of local tour operator The Hong Kong Getaway (and paid for them independently).

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