Fragrant Harbor Tasty

Our trip to Hong Kong was my first time visiting East Asia. (Awesome!) Furthermore, as I was traveling with a Hong Kong expert in tow, I was beside myself with excitement as the day of arrival neared.   Our jumping off point to Hong Kong, the congested, smog-ridden city of Katmandu, made the wait all the more unbearable.  Traveling in Nepal and India often involved some sense of uncertainty (will the bus show up?  Is there a bus at all?) and I was optimistically gauging a 50% chance that our flight would leave Katmandu at all.  Luckily, Cathay Pacific did not disappoint and we left a dark stormy evening in Katmandu for a sunny early morning in Hong Kong.

Me and my chicken feet - ne touche pas!

Hong Kong, which I learned means “Fragrant Harbor”,  is heaven for those who love food.  From the moment we stepped off the plane, there was a wide variety of delicious food options, both healthy and hedonistic.  Sik Faan!

Audrey had been filling me in on what we would be experiencing food-wise, but like any new place, one is bound to be surprised.  Our first food experience was perhaps one of the most “authentic” (i.e. not what most tourists get to enjoy) meals in Hong Kong, a trip to the wet market in North Point.

My first meal in a foreign country always brings an excited rush of anticipation, and the informal, delicious lunch we sat down to at the Java Road Food Complex hit the spot.  If the terms “wet market” and “food complex” don’t conjure up a positive culinary experience in your mind, you need to go to Hong Kong.  Many neighborhoods in Hong Kong have a “food complex”, massive, drab

Site of our first meal, the Java Road Wet Market in North Point

looking buildings that hide a bounty of delicious eating and food shopping options.  At the North Point Food Complex, we accessed the second floor via escalator into a huge, white-tiled room with half a dozen noodle and congee businesses.  Each vendor’s area was roughly demarcated by an arc of plastic tables and chairs.  It was that late-middle part of the morning (around 11am) when most people had certainly eaten breakfast but it was too early for lunch, so we had the place to ourselves.

Wet Market
Java Road Market Complex
99 Java Road between the tramline and Shu Kuk Road
North Point, Hong Kong
Closest MTR: North Point stop, exit A1

One of the many happy shoppers in Times Square. I think he just ate Sichuan food.

Continuing my international quest for the best cup of joe on the planet, we stopped one afternoon at one of Audrey’s favorite spots.  Entering a narrow passageway right across the street from the bustle of Times Square, we found Café Corridor, a shoe-box- sized oasis of caffeination.  From a tiny compartment to the left of the entrance, hipster baristas concocted delicious espresso drinks, including versions I had never heard of before.  A flat white?  I learned later that it’s an Australian take on a latte with a layer of superdense milk microfoam.  Just the thing to refuel after a hard day of shopping…

Foam art at Café Corridor

Café Corridor
26A Russell Street
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2892 2927
Hours: 12 noon – 11pm (Sun – Thu) 12 noon – late (Fr & Sat)

We had been enjoying wonderful Cantonese food since Day One of our visit to Hong Kong, but there is a wealth of other excellent Chinese cuisines available, too.  One of the best and most memorable is Da Ping Huo, a small underground Sichuan kitchen run by a dedicated husband and wife team (they cook, decorate the restaurant and sing!).  I thought I had tried Sichuan food before, but after dining at Da Ping Huo, I realized that I was a complete novice.  Can you say spicy?!  We sat down to a prix fixe 12 course meal, where six dishes were “mild” and six dishes grew progressively spicier.  Sichuan food can incorporate A LOT of Sichuan peppercorns (which are actually the fruit of deciduous trees, not in fact related to pepper) that create a unique fragrant aroma and novocain-like effect on one’s mouth.  The combination with chilies creates a sensation akin to having ones tongue spit-roasted and pickled at the same time.  Despite this, the food was incredibly addictive with wonderful combinations of flavors and textures: crunchy soy-nuts, sesame oil, cilantro, celery and green onions complementing chicken, tofu, prawns and beef.  We avoided the wine list and went for a basic Chinese lager, which served to temper the heat of the food, at least to some degree.  At the end of the meal, the chef sings Sichuan opera!  An exciting end to an exciting meal.

Da Ping Huo
49 Hollywood Road
SoHo, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2559-1317

One of the wonderful modes of transportation in Hong Kong. Locals call it riding the "ding ding" because of the bell the conductor rings when departing from each station.

One of the best fine-dining experiences we had in Hong Kong was with Audrey’s aunt and uncle, who are also big foodies (it must run in the family!).   They took us to Eighteen Brook, a bright, austerely decorated restaurant that serves a host of excellently prepared classic Cantonese dishes, as well as their own unique creations.  Audrey’s Uncle Laurie asked me if there was anything I didn’t eat. Wanting to impress, I said, nope! He apparently took this as a challenge – the ordering took place in Cantonese, so, unaware of how many courses to expect I unwisely tucked into the first few with abandon: eggplant with thousand-year-old duck egg, slightly gooey and intensely savory, fried tofu with hoisin, a delicate combination of sweet, creamy and crisp, and a conch stir fry flanked with flavorful, crunchy carrots and celery.  We were enjoying bowls of the extremely rare delicacy bird’s nest soup, when an entire lobster over braised noodles arrived at the table. The crustacean, large and in charge, had to be at least four pounds. Its bright shell glinted with thick ginger and scallion sauce.  Audrey gave me a “there is more to come” look  and I knew that my stomach was in trouble.  Sure enough, salt and pepper fried chicken, delicate bundles of grouper and shrimp paste, and mushroom “abalone” with sautéed lettuce followed the lobster.  The last savory dish was stir-fried glutinous rice, a classic, labor intensive dish that creates a deliciously rich mixture of rice flecked with sausage, mushrooms and dried shrimps and scallops.  I heroically sampled everything, even going back for seconds on the glutinous rice.  Dessert was thankfully light: sweet tofu in a ginger sauce and mango mochi with coconut.  I would highly recommend this restaurant, but make sure to arrive very hungry!

Eighteen Brook Cantonese Cuisine
8/F, Convention Plaza
1 Harbour Road
Wanchai, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2827 8802

This entry was posted in Grand Voyage 2010 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fragrant Harbor Tasty

  1. kaz says:

    welcome back, love the write up!!

Leave a Reply