Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year

video from johnny__to on instagram

Happy Chinese New Year! A year ago Carolyn and I were in Hong Kong as the decorations were going up, but I’m thinking it’s not totally unrealistic that we could actually be in China for this holiday one day in the future. Chinese New Year has always been one of those cool holidays that isn’t from my own culture but seems super cool. Last week when we went shopping at the “Oriental Market” the cashier invited us to come watch the Lion Dance, and you know what? We might just do that. Life always seems a little bit better when you go to interesting events.

NPR’s Morning Edition interviews Ying Compestine

On my way to work today I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition, as usual, and this super interesting interview came on. I was pretty excited to hear that the year of the horse is auspicious for those of us who want to work hard, struggle, and achieve our goals. I’m certainly in that boat this year. Too bad I don’t have Ying Compestine’s cookbook, or else I might have planned ahead and tried to actually make some of her steamed dumplings. I have some in the freezer all ready to go, though.

 

Chinese New Year decorations in Macau last year.

 

I’m kinda sad that we’ve already consumed the char siu bao we bought at the Oriental Market last week though. Char siu bao are my favorite dim sum, and they make me think of the incredible bao we had at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong last year. One day we’re going to get back there. You just wait and see.

At any rate, Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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Hong Kong Holiday: Shopping and Dining in Hong Kong

After our day trip to Macau we fell even deeper in love with Hong Kong. Macau is beautiful and great in its own right, but Hong Kong is really the kind of place we would want to live. One thing we like to do is shop, and after two years in Korea with limited options of size and style, Hong Kong was our first chance to do some shopping for clothes. I guess it’s worth mentioning here that since last February Carolyn is 50 pounds lighter, and I’m 40 pounds lighter. Holy cow. So yeah, we needed some new clothes. First though, we needed breakfast. We picked up coffee as we walked down to the IFC and then had a breakfast of Tim Ho Wan char siu bao take away. Awesome way to start the day, if you ask me. We spent the rest of the day trying on jeans, jackets, shirts, and shoes, each getting a nice new outfit to wear for dinner and our last day in Hong Kong.

Tsui Wah Restaurant - Hong Kong

Tsui Wah Restaurant – Hong Kong

Fried won tons - Tsui Wah - Hong Kong

Fried won tons – Tsui Wah – Hong Kong

Fish ball and noodle soup - Tsui Wah - Hong Kong

Fish ball and noodle soup – Tsui Wah – Hong Kong

Chiu Chow style fried rice - Tsui Wah - Hong Kong

Chiu Chow style fried rice – Tsui Wah – Hong Kong

Tsui Wah Restaurant - pork with black bean sauce and vegetables - Hong Kong

Tsui Wah Restaurant – pork with black bean sauce and vegetables

Tsui Wah - Chicken with Shiitake Mushrooms - Hong Kong

Tsui Wah – Chicken with Shiitake Mushrooms in garlic sauce

 

Our choice for dinner was Tsui Wah, a spot featured by Anthony Bourdain on his Hong Kong episode of The Layover. It’s kind of a Cantonese/Hong Kong style greasy spoon. The menu at this place is freaking huge, with everything from hot dogs to steaks to westernized Chinese foods.

We at at Tsui Wah twice, once right after getting back from Macau, when I ordered the fish ball noodle soup, which tasted really good until I dumped a little bit too much of the chili oil in it. It was still good, but I had de-improved it with my addition. The fried won tons were awesome, and the Chiu Chow style fried rice was freaking delicious. (I should just let Carolyn order for me all the time because she always picks the most delicious thing that lands on our table.)

This time we ordered two different Chinese dishes, a pork with vegetables and black bean sauce, and a chicken with shiitake mushrooms in a garlic and galangal sauce.

We were stuffed after this dinner, so we took a short little walk around Lan Kwai Fong, up into soho, and back, stopping at the California Vintage Wine Bar in Lan Kwai Fong once again, because, HELLO, pot de creme.

Loyal Dining - Hong Kong

Loyal Dining – Hong Kong

Hong Kong - California Vintage Wine Bar

California Vintage Wine Bar

 

California Vintage Wine Bar - chocolate pot de creme

California Vintage Wine Bar – chocolate pot de creme

So yeah, it was a pretty expensive great day that resulted in a cheap dinner followed by a glass of wine and a freaking GREAT dessert. Full of nice hot food, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. The next morning we put on our fancy new clothes, had breakfast, and took the Star Ferry  one last time to Tsim Sha Tsui. We wanted to visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It’s a cool looking building, and the outdoor market we were planning to visit didn’t open until noon, so we had some time to fill.

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Chinese Antiquities

We couldn’t skip the gallery of Chinese antiquities at the museum, it just wouldn’t have been right.

The Andy Warhol exhibition was really cool, and it featured his personal photos of his trip to China in the early 1980’s and a lot of his different art pieces. While I do understand the irony of checking out an Andy Warhol exhibit when we’ll be back in the U.S. in like 3 weeks, I must say that seeing a great art exhibition feels pretty cosmopolitan, and that’s what Hong Kong is all about. It was especially cool to see the school groups of kids from all over the world whose parents work in Hong Kong on their field trips.

After the Warhol exhibit we swung through the gallery of Chinese Antiquities because we were in fact, in China, right? FUN FACT: In college I majored in History, our best professor was from China. I took all of his classes. I can still name most of the Chinese dynasties in order. I think it’s ironic that the Chinese unit of currency is named after the dynasty of the Mongols. Okay. So yeah, I have some background with Chinese history, and seeing even everyday items like pots and pans and crap labeled “Qing Dynasty” was pretty impressive to me. But it was all fairly dry stuff, and we were getting hungry, so it was time to head out to Mongkok to see this market we’d heard about.

Ladies Market - Mongkok - Kowloon - Hong Kong

The Ladies Market in Mongkok is a great place to get trinkets and souvenirs.

Mongkok - Kowloon - Hong Kong

Mongkok is pretty much everything I thought Hong Kong would be, but on steroids and with a main line of caffiene.

Mongkok Kowloon Hong Kong

People hustling around in Mongkok.

Hui Lau Shan Healthy Dessert - Kowloon - Hong Kong

Hui Lau Shan Healthy Dessert – Kowloon – Hong Kong

Hui Lau Shan Healthy Dessert - Jelly Shakes

These jelly shakes are not to my taste. They weren’t bad, but not my thing.

The ladies market, and honestly, the entire Mongkok district were packed with people. It must be one of the most densely packed places I’ve ever been since…well…Macau. The market was the first place where we saw things that looked, well, Chinese for purchase, so we picked up a few things for family. We were hungry, and we had decided to head back to Central for lunch, so we stopped at Hui Lau Shin to try these mango jelly shakes we’d seen on TV. I had one with mango jelly, fresh mango, and coconut milk. The first few sips were terrible. After a good stir things improved somewhat but holy cow, not my thing. Carolyn’s was a little better, with clear jelly, strawberry, and mango. Definitely more drinkable. Beverages consumed, it was back into the MTR and a short time later we were at Central MTR Station.

Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan, yeah. Again.

Yeah, we went back to Tim Ho Wan for one last dim sum bash. We ordered five varieties of dim sum and stuffed ourselves until we were about to pop. There were a lot of people waiting for a table, but we got in pretty quickly. Read the dim sum post, I just had dinner and I don’t want to make myself hungry by describing a Tim Ho Wan dim sum meal, it just wouldn’t be right. After our meal, we went back to the room to drop off our bags and get off our feet for a bit. We wanted to go down to the waterfront with no cameras or anything later to take in the lights of this magnificent city one more time.

Just before 8pm we headed down to the waterfront, parked ourselves on a public pier and cuddled while we watched the Symphony of Lights from the Hong Kong side. It was beautiful. With a final bit of space in our stomachs we headed up to a pizza-by-the-slice place we saw in soho earlier, each had a delicious slice, and returned to the hotel. From here it was packing, setting alarms, and getting ready for an early morning departure.

I'm smug in the knowledge that after this bird leaves the ground I will be laying down flat.

I’m smug in the knowledge that after this bird leaves the ground I will be laying down flat.

Carolyn's spreading her cuteness to business class.

Carolyn’s spreading her cuteness to business class.

As you might have read before, our trip to Hong Kong ended in style. Due to a full plane we had a free upgrade to business class, and that was a very welcome free upgrade. This whole trip seemed to be telling us what life could be like if we were rolling in the money. I wonder if it was trying to sell us a timeshare.

 

Hong Kong Holiday: Day 4 – Nan Lian Garden, Chi Lin Nunnery, noodles, Wong Tai Sin

Hong Kong Skyline at Day

Hong Kong’s skyline on a clearish day.

After we woke up, had coffee and breakfast, and noticed that the sky was pretty clear we realized we had no choice but to head straight back to Tsim Sha Tsui to take pictures of the skyline. It was cool and breezy, and we got a really nice view of Hong Kong during the day. It was a pretty good start to the day. Opening our handy dandy Hong Kong walking tour map, we decided to head up to Diamond Hill to see a few sites deep in Kowloon.

Golden Pagoda, Nan Lian Garden, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Golden Pagoda in the Nan Lian Garden.

A selfie in the Nan Lian Garden.

A selfie in the Nan Lian Garden.

Nan Lian Garden is a beautiful Chinese garden with tons of koi and beautifully groomed plants. We walked around here for a bit, but much to our disappointment none of the koi turned into dragons. It seemed like every leaf, on every tree here was sculpted, trained, coached, or whatever the hell it is bonsai enthusiasts do. They played a soundtrack of traditional Chinese music, and people even quieted their voices a bit as they walked around.

Chi Lin Nunnery Hong Kong

The Chi Lin Nunnery is a beautiful, serene place that you wouldn’t think you could find in noisy Kowloon.

Carolyn showing off her runway walk.

Carolyn showing off her runway walk.

Chi Lin Nunnery lotus garden, Hong Kong

Looking down on the lotus ponds at the Chi Lin Nunnery.

Adjacent to the Nan Lian Garden is the Chi Lin Nunnery. The Nunnery has gorgeous lotus ponds, and magnificent golden Buddhas, but there were no photography signs next to all of the statues of the Bodhisattvas. Sigh. In the nunnery was the sound of monks chanting in that super low throaty voice, and silence. It was beautiful. After spending a couple of hours in the garden and nunnery, we were hungry. Next stop, LUNCH.

Fishball and Noodle Soup

Fishball and Noodle Soup

Chicken Congee

Chicken Congee

Milk Pudding

Sweet, slimy goodness.

 

We had lunch at a mall food court, but the food courts in Asia are awesome. Each stall sells one or maybe two food items, and it’s fresh, and prepared to order. Hello! We found a stall called “Noodle Expert” and ordered the chicken congee and fish ball and noodle soup. This was my first fish ball soup in Hong Kong, and it was delicious. With just a bit of chili sauce and soy this soup was a spicy, savory way to fill my belly before we continued on our quest to see every cultural site  a few temples on the Kowloon peninsula. But first, dessert. We had a milk pudding, which is a special Hong Kong treat. The milk is steamed with sugar and some sort of stabilizer, but as soon as you put it into your mouth the change of temperature causes it to collapse into a liquidy mess. A few years ago I would have hated this for the texture, but I really really liked it. Carolyn had a more stable mango flavored one that was perhaps a little bit tastier, but I digress.

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Wong Tai Sin temple,

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Wong Tai Sin Temple with apartments, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Inside Wong Tai Sin temple.

Our next stop on the temple tour of Hong Kong was the Wong Tai Sin temple. This is the most popular temple in Hong Kong, and boy can you tell. There were a ton of people coming to worship, pray, and do whatever people do in these temples. I’ve been to Buddhist temples in Thailand and Korea, and seen people performing their acts of faith before, but this was something else. In Korea people seem to do a few bows or even a prostration or two and move along. In Thailand they shake out their sticks of incense, light incense, etc. Here everyone was doing something different. There were people shaking groups of sticks with writing on them, reading the one that came out, and then following that up with other activities. There were people with fruits, vegetables, chickens, and money spread out in very specific patterns in front of their prayer mats. Hundreds of people were carrying bundles of lit incense like torches as they made their way to different prayer boxes. It was chaotic, it was noisy, it was smokey, it was awesome. We watched for a while, let ourselves get caught up in all of it, and then made our way back down to the subway to head towards our final stop.

 

The last stop was a place that no longer exists, but we wanted to see it anyway. Kowloon Walled City was once the most densely populated place in the world, a cluster of apartment buildings not under governance by Hong Kong, the British Empire, or China. It was a place of crime, prostitution, and unlicensed dentistry. It was definitely worth a look. Now there’s a park, where one of the bases of the gate remains, and the original gatehouse still stands. It’s hard to imagine what this place looked like before it was destroyed in 1993, but from photos like the one above I can only imagine what kind of gambling, drug dealing, and organized crime went on.

After walking around all day we were tired and hungry. After getting off the MTR in Central we sat down for a few minutes, got organized, and decided that for dinner we wanted something spectacular as it was payday and we were sooooooo reserved with our spending until our paychecks were deposited. We headed into soho and got a table at a Spanish restaurant and ordered wine and tapas. Spanish food in Hong Kong? Well you know, Hong Kong is a bit like New York. You can get whatever you want, when you want it. We wanted Spanish. Don’t judge me. You don’t know me. You don’t know my story. God, that line NEVER gets old. Dinner was absolutely delicious.

Walking back towards the Mini Hotel through Lan Kwai Fong, we stumbled upon a wine bar. We went in and had a couple of glasses of wine, wound down, and thought about how awesome our day was. We were definitely ready for some rest at this point, because in the morning we would be headed to Macau.

Hong Kong Holiday: Day 2 – A cloudy day in Kowloon

We woke up bright and early for our first full day in Hong Kong, at around 7:45am. We left the room at around 9:00am and knew that we had to find something to eat. I mean, there was a rumble in the jungle and that lion needed to be fed. We looked over the tourist map we picked up at the tourism bureau upon arrival and decided to make our way over to Central district’s soho, where there was supposed to be a good food scene.

Lan Kwai Fong street scenes

Lan Kwai Fong is a great neighborhood to stay in when you visit Hong Kong.

Our hotel was located in the Lan Kwai Fong neighborhood, which is a great place to stay when you visit Hong Kong. By day it’s a bit quiet, but at night it has a great bar scene. There’s anything you want from noisy clubs to quiet little wine bars. As we walked through the neighborhood that morning though we had food on the mind, not drinks. We did admire the varied architecture, especially the buildings that had a more British colonial feel. After a few minutes we were walking alongside the mid-levels escalator. In Hong Kong an escalator can be a great form of mass transit, because the city is built on a mountain and a lot of people live farther up. It runs downhill from 7-10am or so, and turns around and takes people uphill after that. We followed it up to soho (South of Hollywood) and an English pub called The Yorkshire Pudding caught our eye right away.

English Breakfast at the Yorkshire Pudding Gastropub in Hong Kong.

Top: The Great English Fry-up, Bottom: Soldiers and toast. Both: Absolutely delectable.

The Yorkshire Pudding is a little gastropub that puts out some really great food. Living in Korea we can’t get a decent breakfast unless we make it at home, but this was really over the top. I ordered the Great English Fry-up, and Carolyn got the soldiers and toast. Imagine my surprise when my hard-boiled egg kinda lady ordered coddled eggs! The service was pretty great, they didn’t have coffee on site, I guess, so the waitress actually went down the street to get coffee for us. Nuts! The food was delectable, and the pub was smartly decorated. It was nice to have a long, enjoyable breakfast and watch the people of Hong Kong make their way down the escalator to work. After breakfast we also headed down the escalator, stopped for coffee at the IFC, and decided to head to Kowloon.

Star Ferry from Hong Kong to Kowloon.

Star Ferry ride from Hong Kong to Kowloon.

There’s a couple of ways to get from Hong Kong island to Kowloon, and for our first trip across we chose the Star Ferry. The Star Ferry fleet is made of these classic old ferry boats that cross the harbor in just about seven or eight minutes. You can smell the sea air and feel the wind on your face and all that. The views are why you take the ferry though. It’s kinda nice to watch the skyline pass by, and the Kowloon skyline come in from the fog, if the weather is foggy.

Hong Kong skyline

Fog envelops the Hong Kong skyline.

We got off the ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui and headed over to the waterfront to take in the skyline. The weather made the Hong Kong skyline almost invisible. It seemed like the clouds were starting to burn off, so we decided to head into Kowloon and have a look around for lunch. A quick glance at our map told us that the big cluster of restaurants was going to be about ten or so blocks away, so we pointed ourselves inland at Nathan Road and started walking.

Tsim Sha Tsui streets.

The streets of Tsim Sha Tsui are lined with beautiful trees and filled with hustling people.

Tsim Sha Tsui is a freaking bustling neighborhood. I don’t know how many tailors approached me trying to sell me a suit, how many jewelry stores are open for business, or how many freaking hostels there are in the alleyways, but it’s a circus compared to Central district. We walked and walked and walk, checking off the landmarks on the map as we got closer to Kowloon’s soho for lunch. Here’s an interesting fact, when we get hungry we’re insufferable. Both of us. By the time we finally found some restaurants nothing even sounded good and we just wanted to sit the heck down, ya know? Carolyn put the decision up to me, and I picked a Sichuan style place with a menu filled with not-so-expensive eats.

Szechuan style dan dan noodles and roast duck.

Homemade dan-dan noodles in a hot and spicy broth served with a side of roast duck.

For lunch I ordered the homemade dan-dan noodles in a hot, spicy, peanut-y broth, served with a side of roast duck. The noodles were absolutely delicious, and the duck was so rich. The duck was so rich that you could have tricked someone into thinking it was ham. Carolyn ordered kung pao chicken, which was a completely different experience than the American version. The chicken didn’t make the picture though, because it was delivered a few minutes later than the noodles and duck and my hands were busy shoveling food into my merciless gaping maw. Needless to say, after filling our bellies with delicious Sichuan style food, we were ready to hit the street again and have a look around Kowloon.

St. Andrew's Anglican Church Kowloon

St. Andrew’s Anglican Church is a super quiet refuge in the noisy streets of Kowloon.

The first stop on our walk after lunch was the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. This church is right on Nathan Road in the noisy heart of Kowloon, but once you entered the church compound it was gloriously quiet. We went inside and sat down for a minute. Carolyn and I are both drawn to cathedrals and churches when we visit new places, and this one was gorgeous. I’ve noticed that the Anglican churches seem to be more reserved and practical looking than their Catholic counterparts. They still have beautiful stained glass and architecture, but something about it feels a bit more British, but that makes sense for an Anglican church, no? Given the British only turned over Hong Kong to China in 1997, it’s pretty obvious why there’s so many Anglican churches around. After a few minutes of silence we crossed the street to see what was in Kowloon Park.

Kowloon avenue of comic stars

Kowloon Park had a display of famous comic book characters. No, we didn’t pose with them…there were barriers.

As we entered the park we were immediately drawn by the garish gate to the Avenue of Comic Stars. This was a small display of statues of famous comic book and manga characters. It was really cool to see larger than life-sized statues of such fantastic characters, and no, we didn’t get to pose with them…they had ropes around their bases. Kowloon Park is huge, though, and we wanted to have a look around, dusk was only a few hours away and we were on the right side of Victoria Harbour to get a good spot for the Symphony of Lights. Plus there was a miniature McDonald’s, and that means ice cream on a warm day!

Kowloon Park

Top: A man does Tai Chi in Kowloon Park’s Chinese Garden
Center: Maze Garden
Bottom: Aviary

We slurped down our ice cream and explored the park a bit. Kowloon Park has a beautiful set of gardens. In the Chinese Garden, we found a few older people doing tai-chi. One man was particularly picturesque under the roof of a gazebo over a pond. How ridiculous is that? In the maze garden we were surprised to find our way in and out very easily, and at the aviary we sat down and watched the flamingos do their thing. I guess seeing pink flamingos isn’t really anything special, but seeing them with the skyscrapers of Kowloon reflecting in the water of their pond is special.

Carolyn ventured to the other side of the pond and I was taking pictures of her, when an old lady said something to me in Cantonese. I’m pretty sure it translated to Quit taking pictures of that pretty girl, you freaking creep. I replied “my girlfriend! my girlfriend!” and she says “oh! perfect!” She smiled at me and I made my way over to Carolyn, making a point to carry her purse so the old lady would see that I’m not some nutjob. We walked on a bit until we crossed over a bridge and found ourselves on a pier with a great view of the International Commerce Center.

The International Commerce Center is the tallest building in Hong Kong. We took this selfie on the pier with this view of the ICC.

The International Commerce Center is the tallest building in Hong Kong. We took this selfie on the pier with this view of the ICC.

The ICC is the tallest building in Hong Kong, and we enjoyed getting a relatively close up view of it. We also enjoyed the narcissistic act of taking selfie photos in the glass of the pier tower. I’d say that I believe there’s some sort of lameness about people taking selfies like this on vacation but we look really good together and our parents like to see pictures of us. Ha! The sun was starting to drop towards the horizon at this point, so we headed for the waterfront to find the statue of Bruce Lee and get set up in a good spot to take some photos of the light show.

Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Center

The Kowloon Mosque and Islamic center is a beautiful example of Islamic architecture surrounded by the tall, nondescript buildings of Kowloon.

On the way back to the waterfront we passed this beautiful mosque. The tourist guide said that you couldn’t go in unless you’re a Muslim, so we stayed outside, but the difference in architecture from the surrounding buildings was astounding. As we passed by women were heading upstairs and men were washing their hands and feet in the courtyard for prayers. So many people were streaming in and out, in all sorts of different clothes from different places. It was pretty amazing. Unfortunately we wanted to be at the waterfront for sunset, so we didn’t get to hear the call to prayers from the minarets. Who would have thought that our first good look at a mosque would be in Hong Kong, though? I’d expect it in Turkey or the U.A.E. or even in Thailand or Indonesia, but not Hong Kong. It’s a far more diverse city than I ever imagined. We walked on towards the watefront, to visit the Avenue of Stars until dark.

Bruce Lee's star and statue on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui

The man, the legend, Bruce Lee. In bronze.

We arrived at the Avenue of Stars right at dusk, watched the sun set over the skyscrapers of Hong Kong island, and had a look at the stars and statues on the Avenue of Stars. We stumbled right onto Bruce Lee’s star, and took this picture. Seconds later there were a ton more feet in the area, because after all, Bruce Lee is a freaking legend. We hobbled a little farther down the path and found his statue. There was a crowd around it taking pictures like you might expect to see at the Louvre snapping photos of the Mona Lisa or something.

We decided to skip dinner and pick up a salad or something on the way back to the room and just have a snack while we waited for darkness and the light show. In Hong Kong you’re never more than about three and a half meters from a Starbucks, so we had some sausages and coffees as darkness settled in. We headed back out to the Avenue of Stars, scoped out a great spot, and waited for the show to begin.

Hong Kong skyline symphony of lights

Every night at 8pm Hong Kong presents the Symphony of Lights, a laser and light show involving 40 huge buildings.

Settled in next to the waterfront, tripod set up, and ready to go, we waited until 8:00pm for the show to begin. It’s sort of a 90’s style laser show, but on a scale that you can’t imagine. Something like 40 skyscrapers have lighting displays that dance to the music, and a ton of lasers light up the foggy sky. It’s a bit kitschy perhaps, but it’s a pretty impressive sight. I can only imagine how fast the electric meters spin from 8:00 to 8:10 every night. Holy cow.

We caught the ferry back over to Hong Kong, picked up a salad and some salmon hand-rolls at the 7-11, and settled in for the night. Our first full day in Hong Kong was a huge success, we’d seen a ton of sights, taken a ton of pictures, and only explored the Kowloon side. After 12 hours on our feet, we slept fast and hard.

Hong Kong Holiday: Day 1 – To Hong Kong!

Laugh, dammit.

Laugh, dammit.

So after a rushed two weeks of figuring out just what the heck we expected out of our trip to Hong Kong, our countdown timer ticked down to zero and we were off! Our day started pretty early on Tuesday morning. We packed our toothbrushes (I seriously need to get a second toothbrush because I hate waiting until after I’ve brushed my teeth to pack it) put on a lighter-than-usual set of clothes (because it’s warm in Hong Kong, but cold as all hell in Korea) and set out for the subway station a little before 7:00am. We caught a train from Daegu to Seoul, then the airport express train to the Incheon International Airport, and there we were ready to check in.

I expected problems at this point. I bought the airfare on Travelocity before registering for a membership, I had no way to confirm the details, the emailed itinerary from Travelocity didn’t look super legitimate, and Air India seemed to only have a couple of flights between Seoul and Hong Kong every week, so if we missed it or there was a problem we were screwed. At check in there was no problem. Score! That meant we were pretty much good to go for the trip because the hotel confirmed by email a day or two earlier. Hooray!

Air India

If their planes were white instead of beige, I’d have been a lot more comfortable.

We’ve never flown on Air India before, but one of our friends has. She told us that the plane would smell of disinfectant and deodorizer. Boy did it. I mean, seriously, I had to get my inhaler out of my bag just to feel comfortable sitting in the cabin. Luckily it filtered out pretty quickly once we were airborne. The coach cabin wasn’t too cramped, with no one but us and a couple of organized Korean tour groups on board. Let me be a little bit of a grump for a second. When I spend money on a plane ticket, I purchase my seat and its armrests, the space between my seat and Carolyn’s seat, and the space between Carolyn’s seat and the window. There is no excuse for you to put your foot on my armrest. Yes, I’m talking to you, Korean couple seated behind us (not in the seats which you were assigned) who put your nasty, garlic smelling feet into our face and didn’t take the damn hint when I bumped you with my elbow.

The flight wasn’t terrible by any means. There were a few decent options on the in flight entertainment system. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAustin Powers: Goldmember, etc. For a short flight of three hours it totally suited the bill. The in flight meal was a curry of chicken or fish (your choice) with some super slimy but not terrible okra, a salad, and bread pudding. The meal definitely merited praise for airline food. Add to that the fact that we were flying over southern China and the in-flight map system reminded me of flying over Utah and that feeling exotic a little over 10 years ago and you have a mix of nostalgia and achievement that would make any flight seem better than it really is. My only complaint was that they switched the entertainment system on the public screens to the forward facing camera for landing. I had no idea a plane could yaw that much after the wheels touched down. I think a tire might have blown out or something too, because it was the bumpiest, loudest landing I’ve ever experienced. But it was a landing, so all was good. After walking through about 15 miles or so of Hong Kong airport travelators we cleared customs and immigration really fast and took the 24 minute Airport Express to Hong Kong Station.

IFC

International Financial Center (left), Hong Kong waterfront (right)

We needed to walk from Hong Kong Station to Central MTR Station to start the directions to our hotel, so we followed the exits as marked on the map and reached daylight. I looked up and the first thing I saw was the IFC. It’s one of the more iconic buildings in the Hong Kong skyline, and if you’re a tall-building-nerd like me, it’s one of the more iconic buildings in the world. In front of us was Victoria Harbour, and to the right was the Hong Kong waterfront. How’s that for an introduction to one of the world’s greatest cities? The directions to the hotel were simple and easy, and about 10 minutes later we walked into the mini hotel Central, a small boutique hotel in the heart of Hong Kong’s central district. As the name implies, the rooms are tiny. What you’re paying for here is location, location, location, and the price was right. Check in was fast, although there was a $1,000HK security deposit that wasn’t mentioned on the booking site. That’s about $150US, so it wasn’t a huge ordeal, and we got it all back. At this point we’d been up for nearly twelve hours, so we freshened up and took a break before grabbing our cameras and heading out to find dinner.

beijing style hot and sour soup smoked chicken

Top: Hot and Sour soup, Bottom: Smoked chicken, Not pictured: Steamed rice

We walked just a couple of blocks and found a street with a ton of restaurants. We walked until we found something Chinese, the Wang Fu restaurant. Wang Fu is a Beijing style restaurant that earned a little bit of Michelin attention in 2012 for their Beijing style dumplings and soups. We were checking out the menu outside, looking through the options because the price was totally right, when the proprietor walked out and asked us to come in. We sat down, ordered, and about four and a half seconds later a bowl of steaming hot and sour soup and a plate of smoked chicken landed on our table.

The hot and sour soup was surprisingly familiar. It turns out that the Americanized version of it isn’t too far off, though the flavors in the version we had here were a bit more balanced and subtle. The noodles were fresh, and had a great texture with just a little bit of chew and pull. The soup was gorgeous. The smoked chicken was really good, too. It had a texture a bit like pulled pork, but of course without the sauce. The flavor of the smoke was strong, and with the steamed rice it made a really nice accompaniment for the soup. Bellies full, it was out to walk off our first Chinese meal in China.

Hong Kong night

Counterclockwise from Top: Hong Kong Waterfront, IFC from Central district streets, Wellington St. eateries.

We walked back down towards Queens Road Central, admiring Hong Kong’s night-time sparkles. Osaka lights up at night. Seoul lights up at night. Busan lights up at night. Hong Kong shows them all up and makes them look like amateurs. I think the coolest bit is seeing the skyscrapers from the gaps in the buildings. Central district calms down a bit at night, so the streets weren’t empty or anything but it wasn’t hard to get around. It was a real nice, easy way to get our bearings on our first day in Hong Kong. After walking down to the Star Ferry pier to take a few pictures of our first glimpses of the skyline we headed back up to the hotel. We enjoyed a little bit of English programming on the television after hot showers, set the air conditioner to freezing, and fell asleep.

 

 

Dim-Sum – The Primate’s guide to our favorite food in Hong Kong

I used to have a recording of a commercial for some ancient dim-sum place in the northeast or somewhere that went something like this:

Dim-sum!

It’s something good!

It’s something good I wanna sticky choppy pupu platter!

About five or six years ago I went for dim sum with friends in Seattle during the Lunar New Year celebrations in their local Chinatown. Of course, at that point I couldn’t even imagine that I’d be sitting in a Michelin starred restaurant in Hong Kong nomming the crap out of some dim sum. Life goes in lots of unexpected directions, I guess, and this one was a happy, wonderful, delicious surprise.

 

Carolyn looking like she's getting away with something in front of Tim Ho Wan's IFC location.

Carolyn looking like she’s getting away with something in front of Tim Ho Wan’s IFC location.

Tim Ho Wan – Hong Kong’s fine dim-sum experience

Tim Ho Wan has gained fame through Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover for American audiences, it’s damn fine dim-sum to the locals of Hong Kong, and it’s incredibly low prices paired with it’s Michelin star. I mean, can you name another restaurant that’s been awarded Michelin stars where two people can eat for just over $10 U.S.? Didn’t think so. Needless to say, it’s wildly popular.

When visiting Tim Ho Wan, plan to wait. I’d say 15-30 minutes for take out, and 0-60 minutes for a table. We were lucky both times we sat in, but planned so that we weren’t eating during normal mealtime hours. Every time we went for dim-sum we saw a line form as we sat at our table. The good news is they turn and burn the tables really fast, so you won’t be standing there forever.

The location we visited was in Hong Kong Station, so although the address says IFC Mall, you should head downstairs into Hong Kong Station. It’s near a 7-11 and a few other shops. You’ll find it easily by the large crowd gathered outside. If there’s a wait, elbow your way up to the hostess stand and wait for someone to hand you a menu card (you order before you sit) and give you a number. If you don’t speak Cantonese, hold your menu card so the hand written number faces the hostess, because they won’t call the numbers out in English. I developed that technique myself. Heh.

What to order, what to order? Well, we ordered one item every time we visited, and a few different items each time we sat in. I’ll give you the English names as they were listed on the menu (as best as I can remember) so that you know which dim-sum we enjoyed. The good news is, if you order it at Tim Ho Wan, it’s going to be amazing, so don’t sweat if you order the wrong thing by accident. Here’s my guide to Hong Kong dim-sum at Tim Ho Wan, aside from the char siu bao it’s in no particular order.

Most char siu bao are steamed, but baking them earns Tim Ho Wan the Primate's Seal of Excellence for their amazing buns.

Most char siu bao are steamed, but baking them earns Tim Ho Wan the Primate’s Seal of Excellence for their amazing buns.

See? BBQ Pork. Told ya.

See? BBQ Pork. Told ya.

Char siu bao – our favorite dim-sum

Typically a steamed bun filled with sweet and savory barbecued pork, Tim Ho Wan puts a spin on it. Instead of steaming the bun, the chef bakes them, and the bun is much sweeter than the standard steamed bao. As far as dim-sum goes, this is my favorite three bites on earth for now. The bun is even topped with granulated sugar, and while it might not seem like much out of the ordinary, it really really sets the whole thing off. There is a reason you see these buns come out of the kitchen twenty at a time. We made a special take-away trip to Tim Ho Wan solely for these buns!

A thin rice paper wrapper breaded and fried holds succulent meat inside.

A thin rice paper wrapper breaded and fried holds succulent meat inside.

Hom sui gok – deep fried meat dumplings

As far as dim-sum goes, this is just about as good as it gets (unless you’re eating char-siu bao.) These little bites of joy are basically a meaty filling wrapped in a thin rice-wrapper and deep fried. They might be a little bit too hot to nom as soon as they get to the table, but fortune favors the patient in this case. Each one of these is about three or four bites of chewy, savory goodness that will make your dim-sum experience a little bit more joyful.

These bone-in spareribs are so savory that it hurts, but you know, in a good way.

These bone-in spareribs are so savory that it hurts, but you know, in a good way.

Zi jup paai gwat – steamed spareribs with fermented black-beans

Unwrapped meat is a joy in dim-sum. Be careful of the bones, though. These steamed spareribs with fermented black beans were amazing. The fatty skin on these satisfies hunger like nothing else, and the flavor is so savory that it puts even the most umami of foods I’ve eaten in Japan into the “really just savory” category. Don’t miss these at your next dim-sum outing.

This glutinous rice dumpling was filled with delicious bbq chicken and steamed in a banana leaf.

This glutinous rice dumpling was filled with delicious bbq chicken and steamed in a lotus leaf.

Lo mai gai – steamed glutinous rice and barbecue chicken in a lotus leaf

I think that lo mai gai is a must at every dim-sum meal. Someone always wants it, or in our case, someone at the next table suggested it. The first time I tried this in Seattle I wasn’t a huge fan, but this time was different. The rice had a bit of a crisp edge on the outside, and inside the sticky rice was a glob of barbecued chicken with a seriously smoky flavor. Tim Ho Wan does all dim-sum right, but they changed my mind about this whole category of steamed delights.

The runny yolk and rice pair perfectly with the stewed beef for a few marvelous bites.

The runny yolk and rice pair perfectly with the stewed beef for a few marvelous bites.

Cantonese name unknown – beef on steamed rice with fried egg

This was one of my favorite surprise dishes we ordered at Tim Ho Wan. The beef on this rice was incredibly tender and savory. The fried egg on top oozed yolk all over the beef and rice and made it into a gloppy mess that was easy to handle with chopsticks. Hello dim-sum heaven. This bowl of goodness had no wrapper, wasn’t dumpling like at all, and had no clear portioning. I really wanted to just stick my face in the bowl as if it was a dog bowl and go to town. That would have been bliss, and frowned upon.

These are the best shumai I've ever eaten, easily.

These are the best siumai I’ve ever eaten, easily.

Siumai – steamed dumplings with pork and shrimp

These are perhaps the world’s standard dim-sum dish. In fact, at lots of restaurants I’ve seen these referred to simply as “dim-sum.” I think that does the whole concept of “dim-sum” a bit of a disservice, but what the hell do I know anyhow? As far as siumai go, these are the best I’ve ever had. The shrimp weren’t overdone, the filling was delicious, the wrappers weren’t overcooked. I imagine it’s a difficult thing to get that whole balance perfect.

These dumplings were filled with green onion, water chestnut, and meat. Delicious.

These dumplings were filled with green onion, water chestnut, and meat. Delicious.

Zing gau – Chiu Chow style dumplings with meat and vegetables

These dumplings had a much thicker wrapper than any other dim-sum I’ve eaten before. They were filled with green onion, water chestnut, peanut, and pork, and boy oh boy were they yummy. Sadly, they were overwhelmed by the deliciousness of everything else on the table and were somewhat less memorable than all of the other dumplings and meats. They were still absolutely good enough to be on anyone’s table anywhere, however.

So, there you have it, another Primate’s Thoroughly Incomplete Guide to something. In this case, dim-sum. Let’s get real, it’s dim-sum at Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong. My most pure suggestions for dim-sum at Tim Ho Wan are these.

  1. Go with someone you love.
  2. Wear your fat pants.
  3. Order everything.
  4. Eat everything.
  5. Repeat.