Travelogue: Hong Kong Part II
Written by Philippe Canning
Hong Kong – Day 1
The flight from Beijing to Hong Kong takes a little over 3 hours. We land and head straight for the hotel. We are staying in Kowloon which is the peninsula that is facing Hong Kong Island. Our hotel is situated just on the edge of Victoria Harbour and we have a wonderful view of the famous Central Hong Kong skyline. A multitude of tightly packed sky scrapers line the shoreline with two green peaks in the background.
After leaving our luggage in the hotel room we immediately set out to find lunch. Hong Kong is a city of seven million, all crowded in a very restricted area. We find a noodle shop on Lock road, a small street lined with restaurants, just West of Nathan road. The place is called Mak noodles and it offers several types of noodle dishes, both with or without broth. I have the wet version of the rice noodles with brisket and wontons and Corinne has the dry version of shrimp noodles with crab roe. Service is quick and efficient and the food delicious.
We spend the rest of the day walking around Kowloon and get a bit of shopping done. Hong Kong is a shopping Mecca and you can find just about everything here. Shopping options are very diverse. You can choose to walk the narrow streets and lanes and especially the Temple Street Night Market (open from 5 p.m. daily) to find all sorts of clothing items, cell phone accessories, electronics, art, jewelry, trinkets and gadgets. Most items are cheap, mass produced or copies of luxury items. Most well known brands are also represented and have huge flagship stores on the main streets. Then, there are the high-end malls, Harbour City and Ocean Tower communicate together to form a huge shopping and entertainment complex complete with several restaurants, some of them very fancy. Every single designer or luxury brand you could ever dream of is well represented. Most items are tax free so they are a little less expensive than back home, but not as much of a bargain as it used to be a few years ago.
After wandering around in the streets and malls of Hong Kong, we end up near the Harbour, where the ferry terminal to HK Island is and stroll back to the hotel. We enjoy a few drinks at the beautiful pool bar enjoying the beautiful views of Victoria Harbour and Central, across the Bay.
For our first dinner we rely on the expert advice from the concierge and head to Symphony on Jade, just a few minutes walking distance form our hotel, located in the cultural center just off the Avenue of the Stars which runs along the Harbour. Symphony on Jade is a Cantonese restaurant that also serves Dim Sum in the morning and for lunch. We order some local specialties: crispy beef brisket, fried vegetable dumplings, BBQ pork and BBQ goose, shrimp dumplings and crispy rice cake topped with breaded fish. Very different from the North and Beijing cuisine, Cantonese is more fragrant and has more complex flavours. There is also a careful balance which is attained in combining the sweet, the salty, the tangy and the sour. The crispy brisket served, with the long bone on the side of the plate is especially delicious. Very tender with a crispy deep-fried crust and not overly fatty. The BBQ pork and goose were also highlights, sweet, savoury and served with just enough skin on both items to contrast the moist tender meats. After dinner we walk back to the hotel but pause on the shore line to witness the light show from across the Bay. Every night, at 8 p.m., all of the tall buildings located in Central come alive with an explosive display of lights, lasers and music. It puts many fireworks displays to shame.
Hong Kong – Day 2
Our kind concierge has recommended a breakfast place near the hotel. Macau Café is located on Locke Road very close to our Hotel and just one block West of Nathan Road. You can find some Macanese specialities which is a curious blend of Portuguese and Chinese as well as Chinese dishes. In general, Hong Kong is a city that enjoys sleeping in. Nothing much happens before 10 a.m. and most stores and restaurants are closed. We were lucky enough to find a few on Locke Street that were open from 6 a.m. or so. I have some soup with noodles, shrimp won tons and fish balls and Corinne has some Portuguese bread with peanut butter. You can even have some egg dishes and sausage, or even breakfast sandwiches. However, as in Beijing, the Chinese breakfast is not as different in its composition from other meals of the day as the Western breakfast contrasts with lunch and dinner. Most Chinese have a bowl of noodles in soup for breakfast and I am more than content to follow their lead. I would have soup for breakfast every day If I could.
After breakfast we make our way to the Star Ferry pier where we purchase a token for the boat that will take us to Hong Kong. The cost of crossing is less than $1 Canadian and departures are throughout the day, every 10 to 15 minutes. The crossing takes a little more than 10 minutes. We disembark and head up the hill towards the Peak Tram station. The Peak Tram is a small cable trolley that takes you up the mountains. There is a large structure on top with a huge outdoor viewing platform. Purchase tickets for the tram and the peak terrace combo by internet or at the entrance. The package will cost you around $20 CDN each. The ride and the view are quite worth the while. Arrive early, we were there just after opening and already when we exited, a long queue had formed.
After our ride we walk around Central. The area consists of skyscraper upon skyscraper all interconnected by huge shopping malls and galleries in a maze of sky bridges and corridors. It is very easy to get lost in here as there is almost no way to see the surroundings through the concrete forest.
For lunch, we make our way to City Hall and try Maxim’s Palace at City Hall. We are about to experience Dim Sum (Little Sun in Cantonese). Dim Sum is normally had in the morning and at lunch. It is a meal that needs a bit of time to enjoy and it is best when dining in a group of four or more. You will understand why on both accounts in a short while. The restaurant is made up of a vast hall, with high ceilings from which large crystal chandeliers dangle. A succession of linen covered large round tables that can accommodate up to 10 people each cover the whole floor like so many lily pads on a pond. We are assigned a table number and we are ushered over. The table is quickly set up with the requisite chop sticks, bowl, plate and porcelain spoon as well as a pot of hot Chinese tea. A piece of paper with different markings is placed on our table.
Ordering is simple, several uniformed ladies walk around the restaurant floor, carefully following the grid pattern intersecting between the table. They haul large stainless-steel carts from which steam is escaping. Some other carts are made up of several shelves behind clear doors, much like a curio cabinet. Every cart contains several different specialties, some steamed and served right from the bamboo steamers, some deep fried, served on plates. They shout in Chinese what they are offering but thankfully, there are little signs on each cart describing the dishes in Chinese and English. We have several steamed dumplings, a few rice rolls, some squid and few more items I forget. Every time a dish is served, the little card on our table gets stamped in the corresponding category of dish. Once you have had enough, you simply stop ordering and ask for the bill to be tallies up. Simple enough. It is however impossible to know in advance how much you will spend for your meal. We spent about $70 CDN for two and believe me, we ate more than enough.
We finish the day by strolling around for a little while and then embark on the ferry back to Kowloon. We stop at the pool and have yet a few more drinks. Don’t expect to find a selection of fine wines, or even half decent wines when you dine in Hong Kong in the restaurants that cater to the local crowds. Of course, you can have great wine selections in the many high end, Michelin starred restaurants located in the major hotel but in my opinion, it defeats the whole purpose. Most people in HK stick to beer and tea with their meals. A few cocktails are sometimes on hand.
For dinner, we are going to my favourite place: Temple Street Night Market. Located in Kowloon, it is frequented by locals and foreigners alike. Nothing is fancy here. Most place are very simple plain spaces that open on the street. Seating is minimalist on plastic benches strewn on the tiled floor or literally on the pavement. But the food is amazing. There are several types of restaurants: BBQ and Cantonese but we are here for the seafood at Spicy Crab, on a side street off Temple Street. The creatures are either stored in water tanks or placed in plastic bins, still live, waiting to be picked and cooked. Everything is ultra fresh. We order the spicy crab which is pan fried with a mountain of very hot chilies that infuse the meat through the hard shell, some steamed scallops served on the half shell with glass noodles, steamed bok choy, fried squid and curry fish balls. Service is hurried and polite at best, cleanliness is well… at least we made sure the table top was clean. The setting is chaotic. However, the food is absolutely delicious. Most dishes are super affordable. The crab dish for example was only about $30 for a large meaty crab, enough for one person as a main course. The drink menu is limited: beer, water of soft drinks
Hong Kong – Day 3
We are going to Macau today, a small group of islands located just West of Hong Kong. There are 2 options a fast ferry leaves from Kowloon and takes about 1 hour 15 minutes, on a set schedule a few times per day. The other option is from Central: a super fast hydrofoil leaves every 15 minutes, 24 hours per day and covers the distance in a little over an hour. After our breakfast at Macau café: Macanese won ton soup and Portuguese bread with peanut butter we take the taxi to Central for the super fast ferry. Tickets one way are $25 CDN each.
We reach Macau well before noon and take another taxi to the old part of town, near the ruins of Saint-Paul’s church. Macau was a Portuguese possession for several years. Many colonial buildings still stand in this part of the Island, lining the cobbled street. We visit the ruins of Saint-Paul with is lonely standing façade. We walk through the streets and try to find a decent place to have lunch, to no avail. We wanted to experience Macanese specialties but we could only find a few counters selling snacks and some questionable looking establishments. The sun is beating hard and we are getting desperate.
We decide to grab a cab to Taipa and check out Macau’s main attraction: the casinos. Macau is Asia’s answer to Las Vegas. It started with a few Asian casinos but after some time, the large casino brands from the US decide to establish themselves here. The likes of MGM Grand, Wynn, The Venetian, Sands and others all have vast casino and hotels in Macau, some brands even have several properties. The setup is almost identical to Las Vegas with the large properties squeezed in side by side. We end up at the Venetian which is an exact replica of the complex in Las Vegas, together with the interior canals and the vast shopping arcade.
We find a decent Chinese restaurant and have some noodles with beef, fried char siu buns, dumplings and spring rolls. Not at all what we were looking for, but it will do. We take a short walk in the complex and decide to call it a day. Macau is very deceiving. We were hoping to experience the Portuguese influence in the City and sample Macanese specialities. Unfortunately, the emphasis is strictly on the gambling in Macau. Not worth the visit. Taxi back to the ferry terminal, ferry to Hong Kong Island and yet another taxi to the hotel. We reflect on our day over drinks and realize that Macau was an unnecessary day trip.
We go back to Temple Street Night Market for more crab at Temple Street Spicy crab. Different place, similar name, almost identical menu. We order the ginger and garlic steamed crab, shrimp net spring rolls, broccoli and chicken wings. The crab is very different from the spicy version. Very moist from the steam bath and fragrant. Very satisfying again.
Hong Kong – Day 4
We are going to take it easy today, the weather has been stifling hot and humid. We need a break from all of this walking. After another breakfast at Macau Café (noodle soup with fish balls and fish cakes) we take a walk in Kowloon park, sort of Hong Kong’s answer to Central Park in NYC although on a much more modest scale and stroll in the streets of Kowloon for a little bit of shopping.
We find another Cantonese restaurant called Aberdeen floating restaurant on Hankow Road where we enjoy noodle soup with brisket, fried squid and BBQ pork rice rolls. The brisket soup is particularly tasty and the prices very reasonable. We finish our day relaxing around the pool overlooking Victoria Harbour
For our last meal in Hong Kong we pay a visit to Spring Deer, on Mody road. It is a favourite amongst the locals and it serves Peking Duck. Located on the 2nd floor of a run-down building in a sector that is populated by Hong Kong tailors and thrift stores selling vintage designer bags and luxury watches, Spring Deer is certainly not a fancy restaurant. It might once have been but the décor is tired and dated. Nevertheless, we are greeted by a suit clad maître D and we are shown to our table. Reservations are a must. It gets really crowded really fast. We order the Peking Duck, vegetable dumplings and stir-fried vegetables. The bird arrives shortly after we order. The beast is huge and at $70, it is more than sufficient as a main course for 2, even 3 people. The slices are thicker, meatier and more tender than the one we had in Beijing. Presentation is not as refined but it falls within the rules with the pancakes, condiments and special sauce. Our server was a kind man well in his 70s standing at attention and catering tour every need in his Chinese collar, starched white uniform. The meal is a little hurried as they will need our table for the next sitting but not rushed. We were warned that our table was reserved for one hour. This is another place that is worth a visit while dining with a group but we really enjoyed our last dinner in Hong Kong
We are off to Taipei, Taiwan early in the morning so we go back straight to the hotel.
See Part I of the Travelogue HERE.