Hong Kong – a return to the motherland

I have very fond memories of Hong Kong.

Although I was born in the UK, I spent the first couple of years of my life living with my grandparents in Yuen Long, Hong Kong. Even though it was over 20 years ago, some of the memories (catching eels during a flash flood; eating 猪肠粉 every morning; riding my tricycle through the narrow lanes of 英龍圍 with 阿B) will stay with me forever.

So, when my Granddad invited me to go back to Hong Kong to celebrate his 80th birthday, you can imagine my excitement (I spent at least 5 days deciding on an itinerary!)

I left Heathrow on the 16th of August, flying with Cathay Pacific for the first time in years (I’m a BA man!). Having checked in online beforehand, I went over to the check-in desk to deposit my luggage. However, upon being asked for my passport, I received a pleasant little surprise: I was being upgraded (one of my life goals) to premium economy!

Given that I have not flown with Cathay for at least 7 years, you can imagine my astonishment at being upgraded! Thinking back to my conversation with the check-in agent, I can put it down to one of three things:

  • She saw that I was a BA silver member and wanted to poach me
  • She liked that I initiated small talk with her
  • She fancied me (obviously(!))

(Hint: if you travel a lot, I would recommend signing up to a airline reward scheme, such as BA’s Executive Club. Not only does this reward you with air miles for travelling with any OneWorld airline, you also get additional benefits – such as lounge access and queue jump – when you progress to a new tier).

With a grin bigger than a Cheshire cat’s, I headed through security and into the lounge:

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Although I have been to a few airport lounges before, the Cathay Lounge in Terminal 3 had something special: there was a made-to-order noodle bar! Given that plane food is typically average at best, I filled up on noodles, wine and cheesecake before boarding the plane.

My thoughts on premium economy? The seats are wider, come with proper headphones (for those of you who watch films on planes, this is a huge plus!) and the menu was significantly better than that in economy (I got given a small box of chocolates as I settled into watching “Million Dollar Arm”). However, the price of premium economy tickets reflect these improvements: the tickets are almost twice as expensive (£700 relative to £1300)! Nevertheless, the experience definitely made for a great start to my holiday, so thanks @cathaypacific!

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On arrival in Hong Kong, I went into autopilot and reverted back to being PROPER Chinese (my Asian readers will understand!). This means:

  • Eating loads of awesome food
  • Using green tea as a mixer
  • Shouting rather than talking
  • Playing Mahjong at least once a day
  • Haggling to save 20p
  • Speaking Cantonese and Chinglish (and using the work  “啊” way too much)

Looking out of the window whilst riding the E34 back to Yuen Long (my home from home), I noticed that Hong Kong remained largely unchanged – the only difference being that there were more flats being built (a two bed flat in Yuen Long costs over £1m – hence you can understand why developers are building flats everywhere!).

After seeing my Grandparents and dropping off my luggage, I headed off into town to have a bowl(s) of wontons, 水餃 (dumplings) and 牛腩 (beef belly) from 好到底 (HDD) – an institution in Yuen Long.

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Although the prices have gone up and I ended up spending three times more than the average local customer (HKD 180- roughly £15 – relative to HKD 60), it was so worthwhile. The wontons were rich and creamy, the dumplings were slightly sweet and had the appropriate level of bite (Chinese describe this as 爽) and the beef was umaminess at its best! No wonder HDD has stood the test of time!

Day two started off with a quick visit to 英龍圍 (my village ) to pay my respects to my great grandma and my other ancestors.

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I then headed into town via the light rail (seriously one of the best modes of transport!) for some breakfast. Unlike England, some of the best food you can get in HK are only found on the street stalls. And this is perfectly evidenced by my discovery of the best 砵仔糕 (a glutinous rice milk based pudding, stuffed with red beans) and 白糖糕 (a steamed sugar dessert, that has a unique tangy aftertaste). And all for £0.8 – an absolute BARGAIN.

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The stall that sells this can be found on the side road behind Cheung Fat building.

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Still feeling a bit peckish, I headed over to B 仔’s for a childhood favourite: 猪肠粉 (baby rice noodle rolls) with all the toppings and sauces (“wun jern”).

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I finished off my breakfast by going to 勝利牛丸 for some perfectly bouncy (弹牙) beef meatballs

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The perfect breakfast, accomplished.

The afternoon was spent shopping for trainers in Mong Kok – home to authentic (and outrageous) trainers at ridiculously low prices:

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One thing to note is that you can ALWAYS haggle on the price: I ended up haggling the following two pairs of Supras down to £25 a pair (RRP typically over £75), even though it was buy one get one free! If they tell you no, just walk off and 1) they will chase after you 2) you will find the same paid next door for even cheaper!

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I saw some quality t-shirts along the way:

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Feeling a bit peckish, I headed over Next dessert station to try what Open Rice users describe as the best molten green tea cake. At HKD 55 a go, I expected something very special indeed. And boy did I get it:

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The cake was cooked perfectly, with the matcha filling spewing out at the merest of touches. The green tea flavour was subtle and was complimented wonderfully by the al-dente red beans and cold matcha ice cream. The place itself reminded me of a Russell Norman restaurant, with the exposed lamps in particular standing out.

I finished off my trip in Mong Kok by ordering a freshly made Doraemon Dorayaki from a store on 60 Soy Street (diagonally opposite the seven-eleven).

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Although this was a random find, it was probably my best order of the day. Freshly cooked with a deeply rich egg flavour, this dessert was incredible. It smelt soo good that someone actually stopped me on the street to ask where I got it from!

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Next on my list was the infamous Australian Dairy company‘s steamed egg white pudding with milk.

On arrival, I noticed a huge queue – clearly I wasn’t the only one after a taste of the aforementioned dessert. Was the wait worthwhile? 100%.

Although this combination may sound slightly unusual, the dish was wonderfully creamy, light and intense in flavour.

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My only suggestion would be to go with someone who can speak Cantonese and decide on what you are going to order before sitting down. The waiters here don’t take kindly to timewasters….

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Heading next door, I tried the equally famous Mak’s wonton noodles. Having had HDD’s noodles the day before, I was in a good place to decide whether Mak’s produce lived up to the hype. My impression was that the pork-free wonton’s lacked the creaminess of the wonton’s from HDD (due to the ommission of fatty pork belly) but the dumplings were significantly better due to the inclusion of, I believe, waterchestnut, which provided additional texture and sweetness to the dumplings. The beef belly was more multi-dimensional than that at HDD, with equal levels of sweetness and umaminess. I particularly liked the inclusion of beef tendons for mopping up the juice.

Full to bursting, I headed off home on the underground (the underground is HK is so good that you get aircon, mini-TVs and mobile signal. You got some catching up to do TFL!). Only to find that my granddad had purchased a monster of a durian for me to eat!

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For those of you who have never had durian before, I can only describe it as follows:

  • Looks like a mace
  • Smells like a sewer (it smells so bad and the smell lingers for so long that hotels ban people from eating it within hotel premises); other descriptions on wikipedia include “smells as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother”

BUT it tastes sooo good! Creamy, sweet and melt-in-the-mouth. Incredible!

However, I note that if you eat durian, you CANNOT drink alcohol or milk for at least 8 hours as you will suffer from poisoning and/or cardiac arrest. Talk about living on the wildside!

I spent the next day in Shenzhen, visiting my family on my Mum’s side. Compared to 3 years ago, there have been significant improvements! Even the well (my mum claims to have had to walk 3 miles each way in the morning to get water from the well home) has been renovated:

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My grandma had recently had a heart operation, so it was good to see her in good health. My cousins (one is a popstar in Shenzhen – see @mun1012) took me out and showed me around the new sights (I ended up eating durian pancakes and watching Transformers 4 with them and was the only person in the cinema who understood what was going on!).

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Dinner at a place called 魚米粥, which specialises in cantonese dishes, was very unique. One of dishes we tried was a hotpot that turns into congee once finished: the soup from the hotpot turns into a unique stock (based on what you cooked!) and, by pouring semi-cooked rice on top, you get to eat all the beautiful stock as a congee!

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The evening was spent watching Chinese war films with my granddad, which was surprisingly good!

 

The following morning, I treated my mum’s family to breakfast (dim sum obviously!) at a newly opened parlour on Shuiwei street. Specialities included fried milk (it is actually really good!), roast pidgeon (I’d have this for breakfast for the rest of my life!) and sweetcorn juice! I ended up paying £40 for 17 people’s breakfast – an absolute bargain! The equivalent meal in the UK would have easily cost me over £250.

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I then headed back to Hong Kong to try out some more of the restaraunts on my list:

First up was desserts at Xiao Tian Gu, a celebrity haunt. Their sesame, walnut tofu pudding sounded great on paper, but was lacking in execution: all three elements were average (the sesame was not aromatic enough, the walnut was not rich enough and the tofu was not silky enough).

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I then took the tram (ding ding cars – remember that entry is from the back!) to Fortress hill to have some tongyuen at Fuyuantongyuen. Smooth, chewy, nutty and sweet – I can see why they are so famous!

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Next was a quick bus ride to Northpoint station for a long awaited taste of LKK’s eegglette‘s. These egglettes are a Hong Kong street snack that taste like mini waffles with a big crunch. LKK’s (along with Mama’s) are known to serve the best egglettes in HK and despite it being 3pm on a Monday afternoon, there was a big queue for these waffles.

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Seriously, look at how many pans are at work!

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Even Tom Cleverly is a fan!

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I finished off the day by going shopping in City Plaza.

Everytime I see this shop, I can’t but help laugh. Their marketing director must have had a good laugh!

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Apparently they have named a shop after me:

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The hypermarket in the basement of City Plaza (it is awesome in that you can pay by octopus card!) had some really expensive japanese imports.

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I tried to buy a square watermelon, but unfortunately they had run out of stock!

The next day, the Ngs arrived (they missed their flight from Heathrow and had to get the following plane!) so we all went to HDD for breakfast. And they went crazy:

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(Credit to @jackhlng for the arty photo)

So much food was ordered that the waitress thought we were sharing. Little did she know……….

This time round, I tried the dam dam noodles – cooked but dry noodles, covered in fried strips of beef and a sweet and spicy sauce. Not bad (despite its looks)!

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After the meal, we were told that we had been awarded “VIP” status, with Squash in particular being given a nickname of 肥仔仔 (little fat boy)!

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We then decided to head over to Causeway Bay to go shopping.

But not before we ordered a Mango based slushie from HLS (許留山)! For those of you who have never been to HK, HLS is the Asian equivalent of Costa coffee. However,  instead of caffeine based drinks, HLS is filled with refreshing mango based drinks.

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Delicious!

Shopping started off in Time  Square, but we soon headed down to Lane Crawford, where my brother is now banned (don’t ask!)

After shopping for a couple of hours (it’s a tough life), we went to have ramen at a ITK (In The Know) place, as recommended by Tracy.

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Ikkousha Hakata Ramen (博多一幸舎) is situated on a road parallel to times square, opposite the Butao Ramen.

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The menu here is unusual: you pick the ramen base and then customise everything else!

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I went for the classic base with a lighter broth, less oil, al-dente noodles, spring onions, tamago egg (get two if you can!), char siu, bamboo and extra ramen.

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It was insane! (Credit to @khosrulhussain for the photo)

(Hint: try all of the additional condiments on the table – they are frickin’ good!)

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The evening was spent (you guessed it!) eating at a banquet to celebrate my Grandmother’s birthday.

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The cake mountain was only the tip of the iceberg, as there were 12 other courses too:

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Despite a severe hangover the following day, I woke up early to travel up to Guangzhou to pay my respects to my uncle. Details of the trip can be found here. Highlights of the trip include:

– a cycling trip around Huadu (which is home to a beautiful lake)

– living in my dream house

– learning about the tea culture in China and how to make replicate it at home

Fortune

After heading down from Guangzhou, I took the ferry straight to Macau for some “culture” (read gambling). Particular highlights include:

– winning HKD 1,000 from MGM

– staying at the Mandarin Oriental

– eating the best dim sum known to man kind

Further reading can be found here.

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I appreciate that this is a long blog post, so I will just highlight some of the other best moments of HK 2014:

Opening 2 year’s worth of Lay See (lucky money):

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@jackhlng looks so happy!

All you could eat sushi:

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(we absolutely worked that kitchen to the ground…..as a hint, let one person be in charge of ordering, otherwise you will end up with random orders of congee and boiled eggs)

Building a Lego Mario Cart race track for my little cousin:

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My Grandad’s 80th birthday (and associated after parties/after-after parties):

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The birthday boy:

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The ridiculous menu:

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Family photo, Asian style:

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Doing a few deals:

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Secret stash of wine….

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Descending into anarchy….

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Laughing at Asian marketing/choice of names:

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Buffet (and after dinner drinks) at the Inter-continental hotel:

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(Photo of a pre-assembled foie-gras sandwich taken by @beingyellow)

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Malt ice cream from LAB:

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The “juicebar”:

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(my order of cucumber, apple, kiwi, bitter melon and celery got some weird looks, but tasted great!)

Midnight feasts in B仔:

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Seeing the selfie stick in use:

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(Photo courtesy of @jackhlng)

Going dirtbiking in Yuen Long:

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We initially found out about this via kakakadi-allabouthongkong.blogspot.co.uk. Seeing as it was only 20 minutes from where we were staying, I called up the MXclub and, via whatsapp (no-one texts in HK), secured a booking without a deposit.

The owner, Angus, met us at Lin Tong Mei Road (to get there, get the taxi driver to drive towards the Lotus Cafe near the HK Golf Club and call Angus) and drove us to the Club house in his pick up truck. Angus (a world champion in motocross!) was very accommodating and gave us a great deal at HKD 550 per person for 3 hours of dirt biking/quad biking – gear and drinks included. It was a great learning experience, starting with a test of balance on “clown bikes” followed by learning how to kick start a dirt bike, changing gears on the bike and then racing on the track!

Despite it being extremely hot (not helped by the need to wear pads and a helmet), the 3 hours were one of the best experiences I have ever had. A must if you love adrenaline!

Being upgraded again on the way home:

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Notes and hints:

  • If travelling to China, make sure you sort out your visa beforehand.
  • If you are going to Shenzhen, go via Luohu.It is quicker and much more convenient.
  • Be careful with belongings: pickpockets are rife in HK and China.
  • Ignore people on the street that try to sell something to you. It is a common tactic to pickpocket you/scam you.
  • Always haggle, even if you are in department stores. You WILL get a discount.
  • Share your food! When you go out for a meal, every dish ordered is shared
  • There is ALWAYS free Wi-fi in HK/China. Typically found in shopping malls/restaurants (just ask the waiter/waitress for the code)
  • In China, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all blocked.
  • Get an Octopus card (similar to an Oyster card). This will save you a lot of hassle and money and has the added benefit of being accepted as a form of payment in most supermarkets/convenience stores.
  • Do not drink/eat on public transport. If caught, you could get handed a hefty fine
  • Watch your step during the evenings: cockroaches come out to play!
  • Get a cab. Everywhere. They are CHEAP!

Due to previous commitments and other events happening, I ended up missing out on trying the following “pig out” spots. I guess I will just have to go back to HK soon!

  • The butchers club (for burgers like this!)
  • Passion by Gerard Dubois (For french desserts)
  • Honolulu Cafe (for Egg tarts!)
  • Tim Ho Wan (for Michelin star dim sum)
  • Bao (for Flesh and Bun style bao)
  • Yardbird (for yakitori)
  • Atum Desserant (for innovative desserts such as this)
  • 民聲冰室 (for authentic HK style breakfast)
  • Cha Cha Sweets House (for anything matcha flavoured)
  • C’est la B bakery (for their “better than sex” cake)
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2 thoughts on “Hong Kong – a return to the motherland

  1. Pingback: 2014 – a year of new experiences | Tangman style

  2. Pingback: Papaya milkshake, a childhood favourite | Tangman style

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