In Hong Kong it rained and rained and poured and rained some more. Sweeping buckets of rain. Warm, heavy sheets of rain. We had assumed that, due to Hong Kong’s status as a world financial capital and international city, this was going to be a fairly easy place to navigate. Assumptions are dangerous when traveling to new and unfamiliar places, and we found ourselves surprised to fall a few beats behind during our stay. A few beats behind in the torrential rain, that is.
Everyone around us went about their daily lives; work-focused, buttoned up and designer clad business men and women from all over the world.
We spent countless hours wandering up and down steep staircases and winding alleyways, searching for restaurants, foods stands and museums. There was an intricate network of escalators and covered walkways, carved through the city’s hills and endless shopping malls, which we were not at all privy to as foreigners. Many times we found ourselves arriving at our destination, soaking wet and panting out of breath from climbing steps, only to discover that there had been an escalator which would have picked us up around the corner from where we had begun our journey and deposited right us at our targeted location.
During our intensive rain walks, we peered out from under our umbrellas at the modge-podge of sleek modern sky scrapers, pastel and grey concrete apartment buildings, parks, temples, and British colonial-era administrative structures. Whatever can be said about the often tragic, plague ridden, and exploited history of this city, what architecturally stands in HK today is truly something to look at. You can say the same thing about the food culture as well.
Here is Brandon with a “butter cuddle,” a pressed and grilled squid toast. We stayed in a hotel in the Tsim Sha Tsui area, which was equal parts convenient and touristy. We could not step 10 feet away from the door of our hotel without a man approaching us to ask us if we wanted to buy a shirt, a handbag, a suit, or a watch. By the time we reached the subway 4 blocks away, this occurred up to 8 more times. We heard that there are some great restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui, but we didn’t go to any of them. We had business to attend to in the Sheung Wan and Sham Shui Po neighborhoods, and even in Central, where you can enjoy world class dim sum in the basement of a skyscraper. Let’s start there.
Here is our take-out spread of dim sum from the IFC Building location of Tim Ho Wan. http://www.timhowan.com
The story of our Tim Ho Wan experience is a strong example of how we were just a tick behind the flow of things in Hong Kong. We ordered to-go because the wait for a table was about 2 hours. With fragrant, piping hot plastic bags full of styrofoam containers of dumplings and buns in our hands, we combed madly through a giant, hectic, fancy shopping mall for a space to just sit and eat our lunch. We were eventually directed to the top floor of the mall, where it quickly became apparent that all of the seating was outside, and it was, of course, pouring rain. By the grace of a higher power, the rain abated for about 20 minutes and we were able to find an only semi-soaked table under a little awning to eat our delicious dim sum.
Our favorite bite in the meal was the roast pork bun. Perfect combination of soft and crispy, sweet and savory. Made it all worth it!
See the mall employee squeegeeing the tables off in the background? Moral of the story- no one gets take-out dim sum in HK, unless you are going back to work and bringing it back with you to your office.
In Central, we also visited the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and Dr. K. Lo Tea House. If you are interested in tea and learning about Chinese cultural history, this is a really neat museum.
Anyone want to try and read my fortune?
Afterwards, we bought earthy, strong and tasty puh’er tea in the Sheun Wan area. There is no American equivalent to the tea shop we visited. It was basically a one-car sized garage of wall to wall tea.
Also in Sheun Wan, we spent time between downpours in a little no-frills cafe, which among other things offered delicious milk tea (black tea poured with condensed milk, which may as well be the official beverage of Hong Kong) and the local HK delicacy of fried French Toast. There may be nothing more culturally representative of Hong Kong’s history of colonization by the British than these little cafes, run by Chinese people, that serve milk tea and french toast to a clientele of neighborhood regulars. As time goes on, it will be interesting to see what becomes of these greasy spoons, as Hong Kong may move further away from its history as a British colony and find its identity more culturally aligned with the sleek and modern Chinese metropolises of Shenzhen and Shanghai.
Milk Tea from the Hong Kong Museum of History. One of the best local history museums we have ever visited. http://www.lcsd.gov.