Eight nights and eight days of eating in the intersection of the world’s palates is a luxury of tastes, textures and amazement. While the most culinarily diverse place on Earth is Australia, Hong Kong has food that is true to its origins, mashed with some of the best the rest of the world has to offer.
What the rest of the world has to offer is at a high expense given the challenges of bringing ingredients across from other continents. What Hong Kong brings in local Asian, particularly Chinese, is remarkable and remarkably cheap for travellers. There is a Michelin starred restaurant that you can eat at, and be fully satisfied, for around A$15 a person in Tim Ho Wan (several branches), but there is so much more than that.
I tried my first congee at Hong Kee Congee Shop, a little east of Causeway Bay, in an enclave that is worth discovering (Tin Hau). That was A$5. And it was divine. We had Hainanese chicken rice in Kowloon at Good Satay for A$7 after an arduous trek in search for several other restaurants that had closed. It was prepared with monotonous experience and it was fantastic.
We went out to dim sum at busy, dynamic, horrible shopping centre train stations; in gorgeous, ornate, glamorous rooms purpose built; and in places that almost spoke of their transformation into gastrotemples. We ate noodles on the 12th floor of Hysan Place shopping centre at Ho Hung Kee; and in holes in the wall like Mak’s Noodles with facilities you would have rather not discovered. They were there because of the skill of the chefs and the dedication of the staff and owners.
Many places have lost their soul through redevelopment and relocation. Really lost soul. But the food speaks to some of what is left behind from the loss. Some you don’t have a clue they are restaurants and then you walk into another world. Some, like West Villa, you find are on top of Dior et al and are probably a shell of what they were before relocating, that is but for the incredible food.
It is hard for me, having not been here for ten years, to fathom the change this city has seen. It is one thing to see a place a decade apart. Actually living through that change would be exciting, scary and difficult. One of my most powerful experiences was happening upon the protest camp in Admiralty. I believe in what they are doing, and luckily I don’t need to fight for these types of freedoms in Australia, or sleep on six lane highways that look more like the Walking Dead set in Atlanta. Desperately sad but extremely important for HK.
The money in this city has staggered me for the first time having visited as a child, and as a young adult previously. Sure, you can eat cheaply and very well, but what I consider conveniences in Australia like quality and reasonably priced Italian, French, breakfast, coffee, beer, wine and cocktails, is very difficult or impossible to find.
Instead we had a delightful Italian meal at Grissini, but really paid for it considering lunch is comparatively cheap. Well I haven’t recently paid almost A$300 for two people to eat an Italian lunch recently! At least the food, service and wine were quality.
The best meal, not surprisingly to anyone who has heard of this restaurant, was Lung King Heen. It is really, really expensive. But it is really deserving of its accolades and it is an impeccable example of taking tradition and finding a modern edge without overdoing it. The subtlety is deafening. As is the complexity.
I learned a great deal from this trip. You can find exquisite French patisseries in HK, around the corner from cafés that do a single origin natural Ethiopian, down the road from one starred dim sum, across from an old Pawn Shop that is serving locally brewed IPA a few lanes down from egg tarts that there are lines for! It is like Flinders Lane but has the beauty of not knowing how great it is.
I learned that sipping tea at dim sum definitely aids digestion; that you cannot judge HK food by its cover; there is extreme competition in some places that creates happy hours that should be renamed crazy hours; that drinking 118 floors up in the air is cool (and cold outdoors); and that sometimes the view and the cake are better than the weak cocktails (at A$35 a pop!)
In the end, there is no doubt this is the New York of Asia without some of the facade that you can experience in some of the greatest cities that I also love. Even with low levels of English speaking in many places you receive hospitality and respect that I wish we could offer across the board in Australia. All this when I know intuitively that these people, so many of them, are really struggling to make ends meet. If this place is expensive to me, imagine paying the constantly increasing rent (and other expenses) on low incomes, and not knowing the future of your great city.
Hong Kong is a city I am comfortable in. It is inviting, intriguing, and indulgent. Just be prepared for the associated expense and be open to the restaurant that doesn’t look or feel like home. You are a world away.