Saturday, January 24, 2009
As China's lesser known SAR, sometimes I can't help but feel a little sorry for Macau because I have no doubt that it has enough character to hold its own against Hong Kong. A former Portuguese colony, the city has done so much to preserve its historic architecture that the Historical Centre of Macau, a collection of over twenty locations, including the Ruins of St. Paul's (or Ruínas de São Paulo - isn't Portuguese awesome?) pictured above, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In recent years though, foreign casino resort companies such as Sands and MGM Mirage have poured money into the city, hoping to transform it into "Asia's Las Vegas", giving Macau's landscape an interesting clash of classic beauty and somewhat-gaudy extravagance.
We also saw this on the food front; although we spent most of our time trying Portuguese-influenced Chinese foods like Macanese egg tarts, we also indulged ourselves at a few fancy hotel eateries.
Macau is just an hour by boat from Hong Kong, and because my great-uncle drives one of these boats, we were able to score some cheap tickets and access to a private VIP room. We also didn't have to pay for hotel rooms, as my aunt has a vacation property there (yeah family hookups!) After dropping off our stuff, we grabbed some taxis to Senado Square (Largo do Senado), a good starting point to see the historical parts of Macau.
We decided to stop in Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記), a restaurant known for its handmade noodles, for lunch.
I ordered the signature wonton noodles, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The noodles were nice and springy and the wontons were filled with shrimpy goodness. My dad decided to be a "baller" and ordered the crab and scallop congee, another "signature" dish, and one of the most expensive items on the menu. It was good, but I find that removing crab meat from its shell is such a fuss... fortunately my dad (who used to do this sort of thing in a restaurant kitchen as a young boy) was willing to help us all out. My mom was really pumped that there was blanched fish skin at the restaurant (you can find it fried in most places). I expected it to be soft, like the skin on steamed fish, but this skin was very thick and chewy though not in a disgusting way.
After lunch we made our way toward the Ruins of St. Paul's and passed by many stalls selling Macanese specialties like almond cookies and pork chop buns. Though I was feeling pretty full, I couldn't resist a Macanese/Portuguese egg tart for dessert.
Portuguese egg tarts differ from regular egg tarts in that the former's filling has been caramelized on top. I didn't really notice a difference taste-wise in the filling, and the caramelization actually left a sort of "skin" on top of the custard. What was really good was the pastry - you can even see the flakiness in the photo!
After making our way up Mount Fortress (Fortaleza do Monte) to check out the cannons and the views there, we went back down the mountain to kill more time in the tourist areas before supper.
Another popular tourist attraction in Macau are its "souvenir" bakeries, that sell goodies like almond cookies, ginger candy, peanut candy, nougat, and jerky wrapped up in pretty packaging for visitors to take home. This ad that was playing in Hong Kong all through the holiday season (and still on sometimes now) is for one of such stores, and also does a good job name-dropping some Macau attractions (in Chinese).
After seeing this ad I really wanted to like Soler, the twin act featured in this ad, but their singing voices get a little too nasally for my taste when performing their own songs. As convincing as this ad was for Choi Heong Yuen (咀香園), I was quickly told that Koi Kei (鉅記) has overtaken it (and all other competitors) by leaps and strides.
And why not? While Choi Heong Yuen seemed desolate even though one of its locations is right on the steps of the Ruins of St. Paul's, all the branches of Koi Kei I saw were always bustling with activity, with salespeople shoving various snacks in your face for you to try, and employees making fresh peanut candies and ginger candies (see above) right at the front of the store. My sister fell in love with the almond cookies (I did too), and we also stocked up on lots of other candy for ourselves and as gifts.
We had supper at the Grand Buffet at the Grand Lisboa. I definitely underestimated just how grand the Grand Buffet would be. By the time I'd filled my first plate (albeit with a bowl of soup in the centre), I looked up and realized I still couldn't see the end of the buffet line!
I had a Chinese medicinal chicken soup, tempura, Hawaiian chicken, and some vegetables hiding behind my soup bowl.
For my second round, I was determined to see the end of the line. I was already beginning to feel full though, so I had to skip the freshly blanched shrimp, dim sum, Chinese BBQ, and teppan yaki sections. I would've skipped the Indian food section too, but couldn't resist having a bit of korma.
Clockwise from korma: Japanese salad, sashimi, fresh oyster, roast that was a little too rare for my taste, broccoli with egg whites, crayfish, more veg. Even after *this* plate was full I had to walk a little bit of ways to see that there were salads (at the end of the line?) as well as a second dessert area (there was another one across from the buffet table at the beginning of the line.)
For my third plate I purposely grabbed a dessert plate because I was just so darn full. Still couldn't resist to get my hands on some beets (though canned), and the beef carpaccio was ok too. Grabbed some fruit, and just had to dip some pineapples in the chocolate fountain!
I was hoping that my third plate would be my last, but my brother's girlfriend pressured me into getting a crepe, which I ruined with some weird-tasting apple sauce. I also couldn't help grab some cute, colourful macarons, but unfortunately they reminded me of Froot Loops.
Overall, there wasn't really anything super-outstanding about the food, but for a buffet, the quality was good and (obviously) the quantity was astounding. I must mention as well that the decor was also really nice.
The next morning, we walked over to the Crown Hotel (just a few blocks away from my aunt's apartment) for dim sum on one of my other aunt's recommendation. The restaurant, Ying, was decorated as elaborately as what you'd expect from "Asia's Las Vegas", with red and gold accents everywhere, including gold string curtains that separated each table. It lacked the crowds of more popular hotels like the MGM Grand and the Venetian, making for quite a classy experience.
I regret not taking many photos, but we all enjoyed the food there, including my brother, a known dim sum/Chinese food hater, which is saying something. (Yes, I'm wondering how anyone could hate dim sum and Chinese food too.)
We spent the day visiting tourist sites like the very artificial Fishermen's Wharf and the Macau Tower. The latter had a café where my family had a bit of an afternoon tea, and though we didn't try any, their pastries looked amazing.
Afterwards, we grabbed cabs to the Venetian and walked around the unfathomably large mall there (made even more confusing by the fact that all the sections looked the same) before deciding to head to Rua do Cunha, a street known for its food shops to find a place for supper.
We ended up choosing Casa de Pasto Seng Cheong (誠昌飯店), which is known for its seafood and counts many Hong Kong stars as frequent customers. I unfortunately didn't take any photos so I don't really remember what we ate, except I do know that we didn't order the signature crab congee and opted for frog legs congee instead. Overall, the meal just wasn't very exciting.
After supper we decided to kill some time before grabbing our boat back to Hong Kong. I just could not resist trying serradura, which translates into "sawdust" one way or another in Portuguese, and is actually ice cream with crushed tea biscuit crumbs on top.
It was nice to end the trip on a sweet note, despite getting seasick again on the way back.
Wong Chi Kei (黃枝記)
17 Largo do Senado
(853) 2533 1313
The Grand Buffet (自助山)
2/F, Grand Lisboa Macau, Avenida de Lisboa
(853) 8803 7733
11/F, Crown Hotel, Avenida de Kwong Tung
(853) 2886 8868
Casa de Pasto Seng Cheong (誠昌飯店)
28-30 Rua do Cunha
(853) 2882 5323
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!
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Menu for Hope Results are out! The lovely Jessica and I didn't win anything (booooo), but more excitingly, the campaign raised over $62,000. We didn't break last year's record, but considering the current economic situation, this is a pretty fantastic sum.
Even more excitingly, someone won *my* prize!
Congratulations Elizabeth Wells! I look forward to hearing from you soon and working with you over the next six weeks :) (Or whenever you want to start, I'm very flexible that way.)
Now run along over to Pim's and see if you've won anything!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A very belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all! After spending two action-packed weeks with my family (and Saturdays volunteering for the community nutrition program where I did my placement), then catching up on my sleep and my work, I'm finally ready to get back to blogging.
I originally started this entry wondering how "perfect" dietitians need to be. Of course I know we're not perfect—I've hung out with enough current and future dietitians to know that we buy lunch from the cafeteria, hold Christmas parties complete with cupcakes and cookies, share plates of fried noodles and fried rice at our local cha chaan teng, and make drool-worthy cinnamon buns complete with cream cheese icing.
What I mean is, how "perfect" does our advice need to be? Should we only recommend plain yogurt, unsweetened cereals, and steamed vegetables? Should we always condemn fruit juice as a fruit serving, or white bread/rice?
This thought first came to me at the Christmas party we held (see photo) as part of a series of workshops geared toward low-income families with kids aged 4-10. Usually this workshop was just a regular "cooking class", but because it was around Christmas, we were able to add a few more recipes, put on some Christmas carols, and attract more participants.
Compared to the usual chips, chocolate and cake that you can usually find at a Christmas party, the snacks that we had were healthy. We had rice balls with a bit of "red rice" (a type of brown rice) added in for extra fibre and filled with canned tuna, salad in tomato cups (with low-fat, non-flavoured yogurt in place of the usual Miracle Whip/mayo with condensed milk "salad dressing" found in Hong Kong salads), tuna fish paninis with low-fat cheese, mini-pizzas, and fruit-yogurt-cereal parfaits.
Sure you could nitpick that a lot of our ingredients were processed—canned tuna, frozen imitation crab meat, and kernel corn from a carton are a few examples; the only fresh ingredients we used were the fruit for the yogurt parfait, and tomatoes. We used a fairly sweet cereal in our yogurt parfaits, processed cheese slices for our sandwiches and "pizza", and like I mentioned before, you'd be hard pressed to find a good whole grain bread here in Hong Kong. If good whole wheat bread is hard to find, then pita bread or tortillas are harder, so we were forced to use regular bread for our "mini-pizzas" and ketchup, since the volunteer we sent out to do the groceries couldn't find tomato sauce in the store. (Though on a subsequent trip I spotted it quite easily, and like the kernel corn, it came in a box.) However, given our resources (cost and facilities) and the availability of certain foods, I'd say we did a pretty good job.
What irked me the most though, was the praise that the dietitians I work with heaped on Calci-Plus. Calci-Plus is a calcium-fortified soy milk, which is actually not that common in Hong Kong/Asia, because soy milk was developed way back in the day as its own beverage, unlike the West, where its gained popularity in recent years as a dairy replacement. At first, I couldn't help but cringe at the fact that its vague nutrition label (allowed to be so until the legislation becomes effective in 2010) shows that each cup contains "up to" 2½ tsps of sugar.
But then I realized that even though it has added sugar, the bigger questions are whether it is a suitable substitute for milk and whether it is really that much better than other soy beverages out there. Of course, this is really hard to do with the limited nutrition info available—the carton doesn't list the calories, nor does it list the total carbohydrates and protein so that you can calculate the calories.
From a calcium standpoint, it looks like Calci-Plus contains levels that are equal to or higher than milk. Additionally, vitamin A & D fortification is not mandatory here, so that is not an issue. We might have to wait till 2010 to reach a verdict, but if drinking Calci-Plus instead of milk doesn't add extra calories, doesn't take away from the amount of protein, etc, then I think it's ok if you're not a milk-drinker... and I'm ignoring the whole issue of isoflavones here.
In terms of other soy milks, the "perfect" recommendation would be unsweetened, calcium-fortified soy milk. I have seen imports like SoGood or SoNice in stores here, but they're generally more expensive than locally produced soy milks (and might not even be available in the low-income community we were working in), and I've found that they don't have the same "soy" flavour that Chinese soy milks do.
Compared to the different soy milks I've seen in Hong Kong, Calci-Plus does not have the lowest amount of added sugar, but it should be noted that "regular" sweetened soy milk tends to have almost double the amount. That's right, over 1 TABLESPOON per cup. While they may not all be fortified with calcium, the various add-ins (like my favourite, black sesame) and amounts of these add-ins make it hard to judge which one is best.
Aside from just looking at the nutrients though, I hope you've noticed that I've mentioned some non-nutritional factors affecting food choice. Because what good is a healthy food if someone can't find it, can't afford it, doesn't have the means to prepare it, or doesn't like the taste?
Now coming full circle to my first question of how "perfect" dietitians should be, I think it depends on the audience. In individual counselling, the dietitian is more knowledgeable about the client's current diet, so I think you can work in baby steps instead of making huge changes right away in order to increase the feelings of success and compliance. For example, my dad eats a fruit-flavoured yogurt in front of the TV every evening. While I've told him many times that plain yogurt would be better, especially with his diabetes, he keeps on buying fruit-flavoured yogurt. Looking at the big picture, fruit-flavoured yogurt is probably fine because if it weren't for this yogurt cup, my dad wouldn't get any dairy at all, so this is better than nothing (but of course, the occasional nudge toward plain yogurt doesn't hurt either!)
I think it's more important to be strict when you're dealing with groups or the community at large because many people already have healthy habits to begin with, and you don't want to mislead them into "stepping down". It's really easy for people to read one article or hear one opinion on a certain food and swear it off forever or eat tons of it, especially if they have really strong feelings for or against the food to begin with. For example, you don't want milk drinkers to suddenly switch to chocolate milk because it's "just as nutritious as white milk", but if you're working with a kid who isn't getting any dairy to begin with, chocolate milk might be a place to start.
There is a trick to optimal nutrition, and that trick is eating a balanced diet. The problem is, there is no clear definition of what a balanced diet is, and a diet that's right for one person may not be right for another, for reasons that may or may not be nutritionally related. And that, my friends, is the Dietitian's Dilemma.