It’s the worst form of torture to constantly receive flight sale notifications when you’re almost broke! It’s the promise and lure of an upcoming holiday which keeps me going through the working day, the working week, the working month. Night Owl and I have recently booked flights in October to Vietnam for $350 return (bangin’ bargain), and I frankly have no idea as to what to do there other than do some cave snorkeling and eat lots of pho and spring rolls. I quite enjoy snorkeling because I’m a sub-par swimmer (I blame my small feet) and love using flippers; with the start of monsoon season approaching end of October, we will most likely be spending most of our time in the northern parts of the country.
The recent weather we have been having in Sydney though reminds me of my March trip to Hong Kong, where we escaped for a quick five days. We had passed by on our way to Japan last year, but at the time it was too humid to do any real exploring ; and of course we were eager to return to visit our favourite bar in the world (you’ll have to read my previous Hong Kong blog post to see what it is!). Not having been to my heritage country Taiwan for a little over three years, Hong Kong is my in-between metropolis; English is common, I can get around easily, yet it’s a huge taste of Asian culture from street food to the markets selling goldfish and knick knacks. There’s the glamorous side to it if you have the cash to spend, or if you’re strapped there’s places for that too.
I don’t remember the exact order of our trip as it was back in early March, but I’ll do my best! At this time the weather averaged between 18-23 degrees so it made for pleasant everyday weather.
We had caught a mid-week day flight from Sydney and arrived on Wednesday 8th March in the evening. We were staying at Hotel Pennington by Rhombus, which is a very comfortable and convenient hotel situated very close to the Causeway Bay MRT station – most importantly, it was within stumbling distance of our favourite bar which we had made two bookings for during our brief stay. Upon checking in, we had a wander around the Times Square area and ended up having a rather exxy meal at the local branch of Din Tai Fung; I guess the presence of all the groups of ex-pats should have given that away! It was a little surprising as I’ve had Din Tai Fung in Taiwan before and it was a lot cheaper than Sydney so I had been expecting more or less the same. Oh well – our bellies were full and we headed back to our hotel to enjoy an early night in a luxurious king-sized bed.
The best part of a holiday is when you wake up at your usual time to go to work and realise… you don’t have anywhere to go! On our first morning we make our way to Lin Heung Tea House near Sheung Wan, reputed to be one of the most genuine tea house (or yum cha) venues remaining in Hong Kong.
Expect to share a table. The venue is full of locals rubbing shoulders with tourists – the tourists looking semi-amused and confused, the locals chilling with a pot of tea, some claypot chicken rice and their morning newspaper. Yum cha here is a laid back affair, had in a leisurely manner for breakfast rather than a special occasion as is the case for Westerners. Find your own seating, or if one of the tea waiters (you’ll spot them in white) is feeling helpful, they will show you to an empty spot. We had a very friendly man who showed us the English tea menu (we chose the Jasmine tea), and he brought over our cups and a bowl of boiling hot water, indicating that we should rinse our cups. Food is everyone-for-themselves, so when the middle-aged lady trundles out of the kitchen with her trolley, she’s promptly surrounded and pounced upon docket-wielding hungry customers. I have no idea what some of the dishes are, as it’s a whole lot more rustic-style than the usual shrimp dumplings and sui mai that I’m used to, but I grab a couple of things and head back to my seat.
Steamed pork buns were easy enough to identify, the pork being a little chewier than expected. I thought that these roll things (above) may have been the braised bamboo and mushroom tofu-wrapped rolls I love so much. Night Owl took an experimental bite first and said she thought it tasted like tripe; something she loves but which I’m dearly not a fan of. While it’s tender and braised to the degree that it all just tastes meaty-in-general, my imagination is too active for me and I wash it down with a big mouthful of tea.
Our later dishes are easier to identify – cabbage leaves stuffed with claypot braised rice dotted with mushrooms and dried shrimp, brown sugar steamed cakes with oozing molten peanut butter, and classic egg tarts which come out onto the trolley on one enormous baking tray, warm and deliciously eggy.
I’m needing a hot water refill at this stage and look around in confusion. I eavesdrop on the table of Chinese tourists next to me, who say that since food is self-serve, perhaps water is too and they stand and go to the front of the restaurant, where there’s a large stainless steel bench with a boiling water tap. As they return to their table, I stand and take my teapot, only to have the tea waiter run up to me and tell me off in Mandarin, saying to be careful and that I’m usurping his job. He swats away my hands as I apologise and try to pick up the teapot, lifting it for me and walking me back to my table while continuing to scold me light-heartedly. He takes a keen interest in my camera and sneaks behind me to occasionally take a peek at how my photos are turning out.
It’s a large comparison to the yum cha place we visit on our last day in Hong Kong, being Dim Dim Sum Dim Sum Specialty House, which is similar to Tim Ho Wan in that you order off a clipboard and can sit back and relax while you wait for the food to emerge. All the usual dishes are here, so it takes out the guess work if it’s not really your thing.
Take the MTR over to the mainland and wander through the markets of Jordan and visit the Hong Kong Museum of History. If you get peckish, I recommend Kam Wah Cafe for their Bo Lo Bao, or Pineapple Bun.
For those of you who don’t know what a Pineapple Bun is, it’s a common Hong Kong snack of a pillowy soft bun with a crunchy and sugary top in a pineapple-like pattern, hence the name. There are dozens, if not hundreds of bakeries selling these goodies in Hong Kong, but food bloggers have recommended Kam Wah and I can see it’s good from the long line of locals out the front getting takeaway. We squeeze past to the inside cafe where we are briskly seated in a shared booth and handed English menus. I’ve heard about the silent rule of needing to order a drink with any item, so we go with two hot milk teas, a pineapple bun with butter, and two egg tarts.
The Pineapple Bun is everything I could have dreamed for, and more. Crunchy and buttery on top, pillowy soft and warm bread with a big pat of melting butter. Apparently it’s a very Macanese thing to get a pork chop inside your pineapple bun, but we don’t need the extra protein to enjoy such a goodie. There’s a huge list of savoury food items on the menu, and all extraordinarily cheap.
The hot milk tea takes us by surprise with how strong it is; it tastes like creamer has been used, rather than milk, and the black tea is full and tannin-y. It’s ridiculously fortifying and just what we needed after being on our feet all morning.
And the egg tarts – crumbly crust, eggy and silky on the inside – perfection! We actually came here twice during our visit because we returned to the Mong Kok area to pick up some cheap shoes, and the second time we were lucky enough to be served by the owner herself.
During one walk down to the antique-district of Cat Alley in Sheung Wan, we had gone past a BBQ restaurant near Central that looked very popular, and we decided to pick up some roast meat for a lazy dinner to eat back at our hotel. Little did we know that this was the famous Michelin-starred Yat Lok Roast Goose Restaurant, notorious for their atrocious service and their insanely delicious roast goose meat. I order half a goose with rice which wasn’t particularly cheap by Hong Kong standards, but it’s surprisingly heavy and we traipse back to our hotel, making a stop off at one of the 7-Elevens near our hood to pick up some Yakult and beer.
The goose is gamier and leaner than duck, but still amazingly succulent with the crispiest, glistening skin. It would be hard to say which one I prefer – goose or duck. It was during another night on our trip that we visited a regular everyday BBQ joint closer to us this time, located at 34 Jardine’s Bazaar. I order half a duck and am thrilled when they offer vegetables – the first greens we’ve had in days! At their insistence, we also take them up on the barbecue pork as well, which was some of the most aromatic and sweetest pork I’ve ever had.
Maybe it’s time to talk about one of the stranger breakfasts we had! Leftover barbecue meats was hardly a strange breakfast when a bowl of macaroni and Spam soup is put in front of you.
Yes, we’re talking about the Australia Dairy Company. This was on our morning that we were going to head over to Macau, and when we arrived at the joint we were astonished to see the line for breakfast was already twenty people deep at least for some scrambled eggs – albeit known to be the best scrambled eggs many have tasted. I have no idea why it’s called Australia Dairy Company as there’s nowhere that says they get their dairy from Australia?
Service is brisk which is understandable considering how packed it is, but it borders on rude – the waiters clicking their tongue in annoyance when you can’t squeeze your chair in any more to let people pass by. We go with the standard breakfast selection of hot milk tea, scrambled eggs and macaroni soup.
Do you want some eggs with your butter? Many food bloggers have hailed Australia Dairy Company to have the best scrambled eggs they have ever tasted, and I’m inclined to agree – but I can tell it has a LOT of butter in it! The macaroni soup is chicken stock with a s*** load of MSG in it, but it’s strangely comforting with its carby-saltiness.
Our teas have been forgotten and I hail down a passing waiter to his great annoyance. We finish our meal quickly and are happy to get out of there – only to emerge outside and see the line is triple what it was when we arrived!
From memory, that was the morning that we went to Macau. Going to Macau is interesting – you fill out Customs Declaration Forms as you would when visiting another country, yet it’s only a three hour ferry ride away and Hong Kong dollars can be used in Macau. We were keen to check out the “Vegas of Asia” so to speak, and went there with high expectations.
Little did we know….about six hours later, we were departing Macau and had never been happier to leave a country. While the Portugese-quarter of Macau had beautiful architecture and cute cobblestoned streets, it was swarming with tourists. We visited a casino to see what the big deal was, but after a brief walk-around inside we promptly made our way back out. Maybe it’s because I’m not a gambler, but I found the atmosphere inside gaudy, claustrophobic, and draining. Frankly put – it made me feel ill. We had had some delicious Portugese Tarts earlier in the day, but when Night Owl took me to a nearby shopping centre’s food court for a breather and some food – I had no appetite. THAT in itself shows you how unwell I felt! But I took some photos of course – otherwise the visit would have been a waste. I’m quite happy to never go back to Macau again in my lifetime!
In terms of trips out of Hong Kong, I preferred our day trip out to Lantau Island to see the giant Buddha at Ngong Ping and Tai O Fishing Village. When we arrived at Tung Chung MTR, I was devastated to hear that the cable car down to Tung Chung was down for service and maintenance – which happens once a decade! How ironic that it fell on the day we were visiting. Instead we were hustled onto a bus to go through the valley to Ngong Ping. It was a long, scenic ride which would have been better enjoyed from the sky-high luxury of a cable car, and being seated at the back of a coach with a crazy driver who sped downhill for the whole way made for a bumpy, precarious drive. We were all relieved when we arrived at the giant Buddha, and to stretch our legs climbing the stairs to the top. There’s a monastery inside the mountain, and a shop right under the Buddha which sells prayer beads and other items.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the cows wandering around the monastery grounds. They are harmless and will obligingly stand still for photographs and pats.
A further bus ride took us to Tai O Fishing Village, which is a quaint little village surrounded by mountains. It’s home to the Tanka people, a community of fisher folk who have built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island for generations. These unusual structures are interconnected, forming a tightly knit community that literally lives on the water. Their local market sells a plethora of dried and preserved seafood products, some edible and some not – including decorative pufferfish!
Our trip was over before we could believe it. I hadn’t really taken any photos of our evenings out, as I didn’t take my camera with me. Two of our evenings were spent at our favourite bar with our favourite bartender, and on our last evening in Hong Kong we visited a gay bar – the first time both Night Owl and I have ever visited a gay venue overseas. The local girls were very friendly, and the night was whiled away with numerous rounds and discussions about how the LGBTQI scene is changing in Sydney and Hong Kong. A few Facebook friends were made, and we will probably see them again next year, en-route to our second visit to Japan together. I’ll keep you posted 😉
Lin Heung Tea House
162 Wellington Street
Sheung Wan HK
+852 2544 4556
Dim Dim Sum
Diamond Building, 6 Tin Lok Ln
Wan Chai, HK
+852 2891 7677
Kam Wah Cafe & Bakery
Ground Floor, 47 Bute Street
Mong Kok, HK
+852 2394 6346
Yat Lok Restaurant
Conwell House, GF, 34-38 Stanley St
+852 2524 3882
Australia Dairy Company
47 Parkes Street
+852 2730 1356
Pastelaria Koi Kei
The Venetian, Macau
Estrada da Baia de Nossa Senhora da Esperanca, Macau
+853 2893 9173