One of the few things we have come to miss in our lives as expatriates, is the taste of authentic asian cuisine on our palettes. Even with the abundance of Chinese restaurants and asian grocery stores in Munich, our ocassional 800+ kilometer drive to Holland just for the authentic Hong Kong kitchen and Indonesian food probably give you an example of the length we would go to, just to savour the authentic taste again. So, it goes without saying that our final trip for 2010 is a Food Tour, leaving -15C blizzard covered Europe and off to Hong Kong and Macau this time. As the festive season (Christmas, New Year and the Chinese Lunar New Year shortly thereafter) is upon us, Hong Kong and Macau's population appeared to increase at least two fold, by the tourists decending from mainland China to check out what is on offer. We know this from the abundance of non coloqual Cantonese that is spoken on the streets, plus the telltale signs of shoppers with XXL suitcases, the pushing/shoving and fashion kaleidoscope of the Chinese new wealth, although we have to say that heavy wool clothing at 15C is not a sight too common for us. SInce the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 (and the Portugese returning Macau soon after that), the amount of English spoken has reduced, so it pays to speak the local lingo. At least for us, the hawker cuisine we're after is only available this way.

Getting Around
The Hong Kong MTR, with transport map apps available for your iPhone or iPad, provides a very easy means of getting around the Kowloon district and Hong Kong island, via their trams, busses and trains. You may pay a stored-value card called the Octopus Card, which incidentally can also be used to purchase incidentals at kiosks such as 7Eleven. Although we used the card, we noted Octopus keyrings being used too! How cool!For the more daring, ocassional mini bus services take people to the outskirts - but for tourists, this could be a bit too adventurous considering the routes are somewhat unknown (to us) and published only in Chinese. The fun part was that the service will pick you up and drop you off literally anywhere along the route - you just have to tell the driver when you wish to get off. Our excuse was that the seats were too small for us. Ferry services operate from Hong Kong (or from the Kowloon side too) to Macau at regular intervals from many companies - Turbojet, Fast Ferry Services etc. and for some, you're able to make your bookings on the internet too! This was how we made our bookings for the 90 minute journey between the two Chinese SARs. In Macau, things became dramatically easier as the major hotels run regular complimentary shuttle services to (and from) the Macau jetty. Then, we used the taxi service to bring us to the tourists attractions, whether it be in Macau city or the "ancient" Taipa city. As most major shopping facilitiesare connected to hotels, we simply use their shuttle services (i.e.: using Macau jetty as the transport hub) to get between them.
Food
Think of Hong Kong and we think of wonderfully delicious but simple meals like Congee, fried noodles, roasted meats, Dim Sum, iced milk tea and the humble iced milk coffee n tea mix. When in season, seafood like the Crab, Prawns (or Shrimps as it's called in the US), Abalone, Scallops, Oyster, Mantis Prawn and when available, the Hairy Crab, Geoduck and Bamboo Clams are also mouth watering treats not to be missed. Late in the evenings, we'd often venture into the streets again to look for street vendor specials liked spicy skewered meatballs and octopus, BBQ Chicken Wings, Offals, Giant Sausage, Sweet Meats or Steamed Buns and other assorted Dim Sum portions, then washed down with some Iced Soya Bean or an Iced Sugarcane... the later no longer something Raymond should have. The "Pungent Toufu" was something we both enjoyed tremendously but is not without its contraversial following. Deep fried, then served in a skewer drenched in sauce, the treat is absolutely delicious but its pungence simply puts people off. Our first expereince of this treat was in Taipei, from a vendor who sold these delicacies off his street cart without a license, he had a sentry warn him each time authorities are close by. He would then make a run for it, cart and all! Hong Kong is also famous for its shaved iced desserts, topped with sliced fruit like mangoes, melon or red bean and some ice cream. These stores open until late in the evening and are often so full of people, queues are commonplace.

 

 


Image Library

 

 


Spiralling Joss Stick
from a local temple


The Sao Paulo Cathedral
in Macau is only a facade


The giant panda mascot
was Jeanette's favourite


Our hotel suite in Macau

Food in Macau
Macau is famous for the barbequed sweet meat, pork chop bun and the custard egg tart. Hence, it goes without saying that one simply MUST try their specialities when in Macau. We understood that Macau is the home of the Sweet Meat, which is a delicacy in Malaysia and often something we've had as a treat.

The sweet meat was available in sixteen flavours and found at almost every street corner in Macau, especially in tourist areas. Compared to the ones found in Malaysia, these Mecanese "original" sweet meats were grilled in much larger precut sizes - not only at they at least twice the width and length, there are about three times the thickness. However, the samples taste much more succulent (juicy) than the thinner ones we find in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. You really can't miss this in Macau as vendors often line up the street, handing out samples to lure in customers.

The Custard Egg Tarts were the specialty of the Portugese people, Macau's previous occupants. Be real careful - the tarts may taste wonderful and are brittle on the outside, the custard is piping hot and can burn your mouth if you gulp the entire piece! With good quality tarts, the pasty simply flakes off as you devour them. These tarts are much better than the original ones we've tried in Lisbon a couple of years back, the Macanese did a good job fusionising the Portugese orginal. The Mecanese even made a Bird Nest tart which tasted pretty good, if you are lucky enough to find it.

Whilst the (Chee Phar Pow) pork chop bun can be ocassionally found in touristy spots, but a humble store under a tree in the Taipa district is where it all began. Thanks to memories of a past visit and a television program on the subject, Jeanette led us to this store. You can spot vendors selling these delicacies a mile away by the number of people queueing up to get their hands on one... or more. The one we tried in town before hitting the original cafe was a "copy" but it tasted far better than the original! Oh yes, it's an entire pork chop in one of these buns - bones an all so keep a look out for the bone if you do have the opportunitiy to enjoy one!

Food Tour Thoughts
Food Tours to us is about sampling local cuisines, especially in a new country.. In a recent trip to Vietnam, we engaged the services of two tour guides - one fo show us the sights and the other to tell us about the local cuisine and then take us to sample to highlights. To the guides, its a lot more difficult than it seems simply because they have been trained to keep tourists happy by showing them the "safe meals", hence missing out on the local authenticity.

For Hong Kong, our Food Tour was not only about sampling the best of classical cantonese cuisine (and street food), but also to discover creative new food ideas.

The "Yin Yang" Shabu Shabu was one such experience: essentially a chinese hot pot ("Bouillon Fondue" in Europe), served in two soy flavours - one white soy milk based and the other black soy based. We visited one such establishment, offering "all you can eat" shabu shabu, with the choice of Australian beef slices, Kobe beef slices or pork loin slices, a huge vegetable and seafood bar plus dessserts and coffee afterwards. The catch is all food must be ordered and self-cooked within 90 minutes.

We found the "all you can eat" time limited system in a few other places and working quite well since Hong Kong eating places are mostly full, with queues of people extending into the streets. A Korean barbeque restaurant we visited used this system, resulting in lots of customers and huge queues. Suffice to say, the restaurant must be able to serve up their meals fast and accurately. SInce the restaurant does not actually have to cook the food, the system worked well.

Sharing Tables
For those familiar in Hong Kong, sharing a table with strangers is common practice but is often not for the weak hearted. In smaller stores, where food often taste better, we were asked to share a table with a taiwanese couple. This table was approximately 800mm x 400mm, each couple sitting on the long end, facing the other couple. As our dishes, the condoments and utensils tray fill the table, we've had to lift our plates to eat off it.... at least we got to sit down! This was the only experience we've had during our trip, where we actually spoke with the couple.

Things are a bit more challenging as we shared a small round table with a family of three from Hong Kong - husband, wife and a young child (circa 5 years old). We noticed some perculiar behaviour here : the child kicked his mum under the table the whole time, the mum in turn disciplined the child on a continuous basis and the father, just kept taking snapshots of the two as they stopped to pose, enjoy their food and then checking the results on his camera.

The most challenging experience we've had this trip was to share a tiny table with two individuals: and old and a middle aged man. The neatly dressed old man tried to strike a conversation every way he could, bringing up subjects like "my noodles are taking a while","... they haven't written up my order yet. I wonder if they remembered it.." etc., while the other person seemed to be enjoying his meal tremendously. At least he gave us this impression as he loudly slurpped his congee, chomp his food and shoved meat up his mouth at such a pace you'd think the world is about to end. Spitting the bones on the table was a bit off-putting though. He also seem to feel important parading a bluetooth headset in his ear.


 


Jeanette enjoying the Mecanese original "Chee Phar Pow"


One simply can't go past the hot Custard Egg Tart


A "Yin Yang" Shabu Shabu
Basically a hotpot (or "Steamboat" as named in Malaysia) with soy milk soup and black soy soup. A novel idea but absolutely delicious!


Salmon Roe Sushi
... with "roe to the max !"


Serving a refreshing cup of
Coconut Milk


A gnome eyeing a window display on sale during the festive period


Where are the sights?
As sightseeing was not the purpose of our trip this time, we didn't do so much of this. Hong Kong and Taiwan were two places we frequented for a "sanity check" relief during our the assignment in South Korea, we've had the opportunity to check out places such as its temples, the Kowloon Bay, the worlds longest escalator, The Peak etc... (.. and even the smallest Disneyland in the world!), this trip was reserved mainly for getting supplies for our Munich home and of course, enjoying the food.

 


So, in the week-long trip we enjoyed meals from eateries ranging from the world's best restaurants in central Hong Kong, scrumptuous seaood dinners with friends through to local eateries in the side streets of Kowloon and Macau. It was a wonderful experience returning, albeit experiencing the sheer volume of mainland shoppers and well wishes for the festive season.

With temperatures between 15 and the low 20's (in Celcius), it was a massive difference when we returned to Europe that was still in the -5C territory. We will return ...

In the meantime, we certainly hope you enjoy the pictures.. and yes, they are mostly about food.


Jeanette and Raymond
January 2011