By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I grew up in Hong Kong and was fed with yummy food often. This kid was rich, you’d think. If my family was rich, we wouldn’t have had to move seven times before I graduated from high school.
My mother always looked for an apartment with cheaper rent. She ran a rooming apartment (not house) for a long time before she decided it was too much trouble. Many bad tenants skipped out on paying rent constantly. There were little empty spaces in the apartment. It was not until I was 17 that I got a study desk to share with my brother.
One thing’s for sure, Chinese families care more about food than their living spaces. Every two weeks, my mom would take the family to dine in decent, yet inexpensive restaurants.
Dining out became many Hong Kong families’ only form of leisure. Perhaps, it’s a chance to escape from our dingy apartment to “breathe.” Most families live in very tight and small spaces. What could beat the restaurants’ air conditioning during the hot and humid summers?
Even though I moved to America decades ago, my childhood memories of great meals still linger in my mind. I miss Hong Kong’s wonderful food. Last year, I visited Hong Kong twice to visit my mother and son who works there. Of course, I had experienced many food adventures.
“Did you gain weight?” friends asked. Nay. That’s the cool part.
One reason is you have lots of opportunities to walk in Hong Kong. It’s not like in the United States, where you drive when you go out. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes of walking to go shopping, go dining, or get to the subway (usually three floors underground. The walking melts away all the calories I consume).
Also, American restaurants spoil us with big portions. Hong Kong is just the opposite — much smaller portions. I consider it a benefit, so you don’t overeat and you can also order a variety of food. How can you get fat when everything you eat is just a tiny bite?
The other bonus is convenience. In Hong Kong, you don’t need much to be able to afford exceptional places to eat. It’s all around you — in the neighborhoods— and anywhere you live in the city. Today, the majority of the restaurants for the average folks are usually full.
There are numerous quality restaurants in all price ranges, from high to low, fancy to casual.
What food do I miss most?
Soup is my favorite companion. I would venture into a Hong Kong restaurant and ask, “What’s your house special soup?” House special means better-priced and also cooked long hours with multiple ingredients.
Some of you might have read my column, knowing that I have osteoporosis. Chinese culture believes that drinking soup with chicken feet and bones, pork bones, or tendon strengthen your feet.
Last November, one unusual soup I had was stewed pork tendon and almond milk soup at the City Garden Hotel. Stewed soup can double its healing nourishment on my bones, I assumed.
With a vast amount of calcium, tendon is even better than bones. The word tendon
might scare you — or you might associate it with big chunks of fat. However, there was not a drop of grease in the smooth tendon soup. The $25 soup was big enough for two. I was thrilled that the hotel offered a 50 percent discount to all the hotel guests.
The other one was at a Shanghai restaurant, stewed chicken with wonton soup. When I saw the wonton in the soup, I was afraid it would be too filling. But I couldn’t resist the chicken soup. I knew the wonton would be awesome with that soup.
Another great soup I ate in Hong Kong was at a vegetarian restaurant club. When the waitress brought us the soup, I wasn’t impressed. What could be so special — just a bunch of wild mushrooms with seven peas and some shredded carrots? My skepticism was unfounded.
After a few sips, I couldn’t stop. “Exquisite” was my response. I had to conclude that the dish revealed the chef’s marvelous feat. He must have experimented a thousand times to make the soup so palatable.
Those examples were fine dining. What about just casual ones? My brother introduced me to a noodle place close to his hotel. Its dining room, like many typical Hong Kong restaurants, was plain and had no décor. A bowl of noodles with dumplings was so huge that only a big man could finish it. We each ordered a different one from the menu. To our surprise, I finished most of it because it tasted fabulous, and the price was under $5 USD.
If you like fusion foods, Hong Kong is the best place for such cuisine. Wonder why Hong Kong does a super job on fusion cooking? It used to be a British colony. Its proximity to Macau, once a Portuguese colony, is another factor. Several famous Hong Kong foods have reflected these two European influences, such as the Portuguese rice with chicken, British egg tarts, many kinds of tea snacks, and breads.
In recent decades, Hong Kong restaurants have diversified into many niches, such as Spanish, French, Turkish, Nepalese, and Indian. Our son has restaurant clients.
“Take us to dine in your client’s restaurant,” said my husband. “We’d like to support your client.”
“I will take you to a Nepalese restaurant on the beach,” he said. What a nice setting!
So he drove us to Limewood, a restaurant owned by a Nepalese family on Repulse Bay. We could hear the waves, even though the noise from the bar was loud. The restaurant served Nepalese and Western-style of cooking. I have never dined in that kind of restaurant before.
We enjoyed the fusion food so much that our son took us to a French restaurant the next day. Owned by a French guy, Eiffel Bistro is located at Tai Koo City. I would not have expected to find a French restaurant inside a mostly Chinese residential area.
When I glanced at the open kitchen, I saw Chinese chefs. Would he use soy sauce too in his butter sauce? Again, the cooking was superb. The steak and salmon were cooked just right.
I hate anything overcooked.
We asked for garlic bread. We thought it would be like America’s French bread grilled with cheese, butter, and garlic. But no, it didn’t have cheese and I didn’t feel that garlic was the major ingredient. But the bread tasted good and we wanted more. The restaurant might not have been 100 percent authentically French. It had adjusted a little to Chinese taste with less butter. That doesn’t matter to me.
My favorite snack in Hong Kong is the chicken tail bread (coconut bun), pineapple bread (looks like pineapple), or egg tart. How are those coconut buns different from America’s?
It’s freshly baked from the oven. I ate it while it was still hot. It was so good that no words can do it justice.
Also, Seattle’s chicken tail bun is way too sweet and does not have enough coconut. I like the bread to be stuffed completely, not just two mouthfuls. I still buy Seattle’s chicken tail bun for my employees frequently, but not for myself.
It’s in most Hong Kong bakeries and cost about $1 USD. That’s my childhood breakfast.
Well, I can’t wait to go back to Hong Kong again this year. ■
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.