Thursday, January 22, 2009
I wrote a little travel piece for the McGill Tribune this week, so I figure this would be the perfect time to share some stories from my little vacation with my family over the winter holidays.
My family wasn't as lucky as Andree of are u gonna eat that? in their attempt to fly out to Hong Kong from Calgary on Christmas day (their flight to Vancouver got cancelled), so they were forced to fly Calgary-Toronto-Hong Kong on Boxing Day and didn't make it to Hong Kong until the afternoon of Sunday the 28th. My mom put all of us through a gruelling itinerary that involved 2-day trips to Macau and Shenzhen, and though many of us fell ill, we still didn't manage to do everything that my mom planned.
My mom doesn't know that I own a food blog, so she erroneously believes that I like to take random food photos and pushes me to "Take a picture! Take a picture!" whenever we have any meals together. I did resist taking photos at some of our more uninteresting family dinners, but here's a run-down of some of the things I ate while my family was vacationing here.
Dec 30: Shopping on Sai Yeung Choi Street/"Women's Street" (西洋菜街/"女人街") in Mong Kok (旺角)
When my mom came to Hong Kong for my cousin's wedding in November, my dad was already bugging us to head into this cha chaan teng not too far from the section of the street we shop at (we usually start on the corner of Bute & Sai Yeung Choi) to try their pineapple buns (菠蘿包/"bŏ lŏ bau"). We ignored him then, but when this time around my brother's girlfriend took her time to browse every shop and stall, we had to find a place to rest our feet while we waited.
Pineapple buns do not contain any pineapple, but are so called because of their crackly tops. I always thought that 菠蘿包 and 菠蘿油 ("bŏ lŏ yau") referred to the same thing... in a way it does, but the latter denotes the addition of butter. Not a cute little foil-wrapped square next to your bun, but a GIANT SLAB smeared on it. By the time my inner dietitian began to regret my decision, my penny-pinching self had already realized that that slab of butter tacks on an extra $2 (about 25¢ CAD, but still...) and the butter had already started melting into my fresh-out-of-the-oven bun. Yummm... I did scrape some butter off anyway, but I think next time I'll stick to a 菠蘿包 and maybe steal some butter from my dining companion.
I didn't make a note of what the place was called, but it's actually so famous that the second hit when I typed in "菠蘿油 旺角" into Google is actually an OpenRice review of the restaurant. (The photos in it look very similar to mine.) Random side note: OpenRice is THE place to go for Hong Kong restaurant reviews. I first heard about it from my mom, and was surprised to find that my co-workers like to take a look at it before trying out a new restaurant... that's why we haven't tried Fatburger.
So anyway, the cha chaan teng doesn't have an English name and is called 金華冰廳 ("gum wah bing teng") in Chinese. A very stereotypical cha chaan teng that specializes in fresh-out-of-the-oven egg tarts, "Mexican bread", and pineapple buns... #69 of the 100 Chinese Foods to Try Before You Die!
Dec 31: Ocean Park (海洋公園) & On a Boat for New Year's Eve!
I wasn't exactly keen on spending the day at an amusement park, and was a little shocked at the HKD$208 price tag (only ~CAD$33, really, but when you see it as a 3-digit number you can't help but freak a little.) All in all, it was a great day; the rides were surprisingly fun, the sea animals were fun to watch (though a little sad), there were great views on the cable car to the other side of the park, and the pandas made my heart melt.
But oh my, the eats!
My companions ate a lot more than I did, with Andrea (my brother's girlfriend) grabbing an ice cream bar even as we sat down for our first show! We grabbed some chicken wings and fries for a small snack/lunch, but when our stomachs really started grumbling after we went on the "Raging River" ride, I was pleasantly surprised at the vegetarian pizza I got. Loaded with peppers, corn, mushrooms, and zucchini (?) and topped with a grape tomato, I was very pleased that I overlooked the fact that the display pizza seemed to have sat in the display case for hours (fortunately it was just for show).
My brother grabbed a dish of onion rings before heading off to hunt down some BBQ squid on a stick and some soft-serve ice cream for Andrea. The onion rings were good, but I'm not a huge fan to begin with, so I can't really judge.
We were also tempted by a Chinese BBQ place and a noodle place within the park, but didn't have enough time to sit down and try those as we had to leave by 5:30 to meet my parents at the Star Ferry Harbour to prepare for our New Years celebrations!
Our original plan was to go to the cocktail party held at the clubhouse in our apartment building, but that unfortunately got cancelled, so my mom frantically booked spots on a "tour" that took us on a boat to Lamma Island for seafood before bringing us back to Victoria Harbour for the countdown and fireworks.
The ride to Lamma Island was a little miserable for me as I found out the hard way that I have no sealegs whatsoever! We dined "al fresca" at a local seafood restaurant (no pics as we were cramped in with 6 people we didn't know) where the cooks didn't seem to have a handle on seasoning; some of the dishes were a little too sour, some too salty. The best part was the little cat that kept scurrying around, between people's legs.
We had some time to walk around after and I whined when I saw the sign for homemade tofu dessert. In the end, my family was thankful that I did, as the shop sold out soon afterwards due to the rush of "tourists" that were on the island. This tofu dessert was unique to me because instead of being sweetened with ginger simple syrup, brown sugar was spooned on top of the tofu, and there was more at the table if that wasn't sweet enough. I liked how the sandy texture and sweetness of the sugar contrasted with the smooth, mild-tasting tofu.
I got to taste it again (and the rest of my dinner) afterward as I got seasick again on the way back to enjoy the fireworks.
(This is not my video, which just goes to show how bad mine was...)
Jan 1 - 2: Went to Macau. More on that later.
Jan 3: Ngong Ping (昂坪) 360/Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛)/Po Lin Monastery (寶蓮寺)/Seafood at Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門)
I'd never been to Ngong Ping 360 before, and was a little overwhelmed at how many tourists were gathered in one place. However, as you can tell by the amount of photos in my Flickr album, it became an instant favourite. The 20-minute cable car ride lets you see Lantau Island, the third largest island in Hong Kong, from many different angles, including views of the airport and the Tian Tan Buddha. The cable car then drops you off at Ngong Ping Village, which is really just a strip of souvenir shops. It's a tourist trap, but we were so hungry we ducked in a ramen shop for lunch.
I ordered a vegetarian soba, and I was not disappointed. It was FULL of veggies like napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms, seaweed and corn niblets (very popular in HK, btw). Yummy!
I had to rush off to work that day, so I was a little bummed that I had to miss trying out the Buddhist vegetarian food they had the monastery, and the tofu desserts in the little stalls surrounding the place.
That night we went out with my Aunt Shirley (whom you will meet in a few later entries) and my Uncle Tony to Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門). I've already sung the praises of this area in my blog's earlier days, and my sentiments haven't changed (and my siblings still look that ridiculous.)
Jan 4: Visiting my late grandpa at the cemetery
In Western cultures, going to the cemetery basically entails bringing a bouquet of flowers, then perhaps standing there to look at the grave to reflect and weep. In Chinese culture, it's a much bigger ordeal where in addition to flowers, you have to bring a meal and gifts to your loved one. Meal-wise, we bought a chicken, some BBQ pork, a bowl of rice, some buns, eggs, and fruit to place in front of the grave, and we also brought some traditional red chopsticks and cups. We then "invited his neighbours" to come join the meal by placing burning incense (which is food in the Chinese underworld... as the incense burns it is represented as being eaten by the recipient) at their graves.
Afterwards we found a metal barrel and burned some Joss papers. Our family has always stuck to the small traditional stuff, like Hell Bank Notes, cardboard gold bars, a package of clothes, etc. If you go into a Joss paper shop though, there are more extravagant things like mansions and servant girls, and even cars, cell phones, laptops, and iPhones!
We ate a little bit with grandpa at the grave, but decided to take the chicken and pork home to enjoy with our leftover seafood last night. Except my brother got distracted by the girlied-up car next to us (it was filled with little figurines and boas) and ended up leaving all our gear at the cemetery! My brother was very lucky that the poor old lady who walks around the cemetery to "help people burn stuff" for money did not spot the bag and snatch our goods in the time it took us to drive home and back.
Later on in the afternoon we went up to The Peak, but we didn't eat anything.
Jan 5 - 6: Went to Shenzhen. More on that later.
We didn't eat anything too remarkable after that (plus I went back to work) before my family left on Jan. 10, so onwards with the blog catchup!