Thursday, February 12, 2009
Originally my friend Stephen and I were going to try an Indian place he'd heard about from a friend.
"OK, so I just called my friend and it turns out the place is in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE."
Plan B was Italian sandwiches at Peppino's, because I'd never had an Italian sandwich before.
"What makes a sandwich Italian?"
"Body hair... hand gestures... connections to The Mob..."
I was in. Unfortunately, it turns out that Peppino's is closed on Sundays, so after wandering around Kensington for a little while, we finally decided on Plan C: Pulcinella.
Pulcinella specializes in "Authentic Napoletana Pizza" and is located in a brick building that used to be a saloon, but they have completely gutted and redone the place with a very mod, black-and-white decor so that you can hardly recognize it. We had excellent service from our French waiter, despite the fact that we might've been a little underdressed—I had just gone out for a run, while Stephen is growing a beard for his girlfriend and he asked me whether it made him look crazy. It doesn't, but I told him if he doesn't comb his hair, maybe.
We were debating whether to get the Fungi Fritti or the Arancini to start when the server came by, so Stephen asked him whether the former was good.
"Yes, but you have to really like mushrooms to like this dish because the way they prepare it comes out... not as soft as regular mushrooms. If this is your first time here I would suggest trying the Arancini, that is very good." (Remember to imagine this being said in a France-French accent.)
Since our waiter had such awesome mind-reading skills, we decided to start with the Arancini, which is described as "saffron-infused Arborio rice molded and stuffed with mozzarella, breaded and topped with a tomato sauce." (More restaurants should put their menus online.) In other words, risotto balls.
The Arancini was a perfect balance of crispy and creamy, something I'd failed to achieve when trying to make risotto balls from leftover risotto in the past (mine just came out chewy.) I was happy that neither the cheese nor the tomato sauce overpowered anything. The waiter brought by a salt shaker, saying that we would need it, but since my inner nutritionist makes me a salt-phobe (despite having lower-than-average blood pressure), I was good without it (and it was still delicious!)
Stephen and I each ordered a pizza on the advice of our waiter, though I guess I must have underestimated the size of a 10" pizza in my head because they were huge! I got the Vegetati Grigliati, which had grilled eggplant, zucchini, peppers, mozzarella, parmigiano, and fresh basil, because I am always intrigued by vegetarian food (and usually turned off by cured meats).
As someone who's used to pizza of the delivery or frozen variety, I was a bit taken aback by the tomatoey-ness of the sauce. While I understand it means the pizza is using less artificial ingredients, I think I like the sweetness of canned tomato sauce better *blush*. Otherwise, the pizza was pretty good; the veggies were nicely grilled (though the eggplant still had a little "raw" flavour), and the cheese was nice and soft and melty. The only qualm I have with the pizza was the crust - while the surface was nice and pillowy (it tasted like there were air pockets within the pizza, which I think is a good thing), the underside tasted a bit charred and left grey charcoal marks on my plate.
Stephen decided to get the Pulcinella as soon as he saw the words "buffalo mozzarella". I wasn't sure what the fuss was about, and even after trying a bite of his pizza I still can't figure out what the big deal is. Yes the cheese is made from buffalo's milk, yes the pizza was *covered* in cheese, but not grossly cheesy because it wasn't very strong and salty.
Despite being thin-crust pizzas, they left us stuffed even though he had some leftover and I had half of a pizza to take home. The charred crust was a little disappointing for me but I'd still love to go back, if only to stuff my face with appetizers and desserts, or get spoiled by that French waiter again :)
1147 Kensington Crescent NW
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I hardly ever went for Western food while I was in Hong Kong, let alone a "traditional" Sunday brunch. (Do those sorts of places exist outside of hotels there?) Dim sum is fine and dandy, but after doing that every week I couldn't help but miss home fries, so was elated when my friend Tiffany invited me out to brunch on Sunday at Eat! Eat! in Inglewood, a cute little area just southeast of downtown that I always say I should check out more often, but don't because none of my friends live in the south side of Calgary. Except Tiffany.
Tiffany suggested that we "beat the crowd" by heading over at 10:30 AM, which was smart because as I arrived fashionably late, the 33-seat space looked full, but there was no lineup and Tiffany had already grabbed us a table (which was unfortunately not in the cool-looking couch area.) It wasn't long before I sat down that a waitress came by and asked me if I wanted coffee (Yes.) and I was glad that when a waiter came by later he *asked* before he refilled my coffee cup (I stupidly said yes.) While most diners have 10% creamers and 2% milkers, a dish of 18% creamers (apparently those exist) sat on our table. I didn't want to be a snob and ask for milk, so I tipped less than half of one into my coffee.
The breakfast menu was simple and inexpensive—you can get a one- or two-egg breakfast with toast and home fries, an two- or three-egg omelette with four toppings with toast and home fries, French toast, Eggs Benedict, or steak and eggs, to name a few. I contemplated getting a poached egg—I recently realized that I hate Hollandaise sauce, so no eggs benny for me—with a separate side order of sausages, but then settled on a two-egg omelette with mushrooms, spinach, red pepper, and cheese.
And then we waited.
I have no idea why the food took so long, but at one point during our 20-30 minute wait I looked around and noticed that no one around us was eating. The waitress almost gave our food to the wrong table too, but fortunately the old lady sitting at the table next to us seemed as averse to Tiffany's bacon as I was (ha!)
My omelette was really good and stuffed full of well-cooked vegetables that weren't overwhelmed by the cheese. It was so filling that in the end I had to force myself to finish it and my homefries—my favourite part of brunch, really—and I also had a piece of nicely buttered toast. I feel bad now that I forgot to eat the orange, but I'm not a huge fan of oranges anyway.
Tiffany had a half-order of French toast that came with maple butter (!!!) and runny maple syrup with a side of bacon. That filled her right up too (it looked like there was a thick egg coating on that French toast), despite only being a half-order.
By the time we were finished—and the old ladies beside us still hadn't gotten their food—there was such a huge lineup at the door that we couldn't really sit and chat. Good call on getting us there earlier, Tiff!
Was the food worth the wait? Although I really enjoyed my omelette, there wasn't any special breakfast fare so I don't think I'll go back to Eat! Eat! anytime soon, especially if it means waking up "earlier" (10:30 isn't that bad) on a Sunday. It's a pity, because Inglewood is so cool.
1325 9 Ave SE
The Lantern Festival is no big deal here in Calgary (I guess I should mention I've been home for a week and a half now); no lanterns, no riddles, no couples, just three tangyuan that came from a frozen package in my mom's homemade ginger + Chinese brown sugar sweet syrup.
Mmm... I love black sesame...
Over in Hong Kong, Chinese New Year was a little different. My dad wanted me to get involved with the festivities as much as possible, so I was in charge of buying/hanging the decorations...
...and filling the 全盒 ("chuen hup"), the red, circular box you treat guests with when they come over to visit you on the first two days of Chinese New Year.
The meat stall that I used to pass everyday on the way to work while admiring the giant tail that dangled next to the different cuts of meat moved to a larger shop just down the street some time in December, and the new owners rented out half the shop to a family that sold candy/snacks, I got packs of watermelon seeds (瓜子/"gwa zi")—obscured by the red pocket in the photo—, candy, and candied vegetables/fruit for HKD$10 (less than CAD$2) each. The shop was out of chocolate coins so I went to another one a couple blocks away—the same one I went to when I bought supplies for my grandma's 全盒—and picked up a few handfuls of everything for HKD$16 (~CAD$2) and a ½ lb of pistachios for HKD$20 (~CAD$3). My dad supplied the pink- ("rose") and green-tinted ("green tea") pumpkin seeds. He's a huge fan of pumpkin seeds and has a large box of it in the living room at all times. That's probably not a good thing.
Obviously the Chinese are huge fans of symbolism, so foods for the 全盒 are all have their own meaning. The chocolate coins are obvious (gold and wealth), and I know the melon seeds/pumpkin seeds (both called 瓜子) mean something, but I'm not sure... My favourite is the pistachio, however. In Chinese they're called 開心果 ("hoi sum gwŏ", literally, happy fruit) because the slit in their shells makes it look like they're smiling/laughing :D. Another popular 全盒 choice are candied lotus seeds (蓮子/"leen zi"), because it symbolizes the idea of "giving birth to sons/children again and again" - 連生貴子 ("leen sahng gwai zi").
I didn't pick up any candied lotus seeds, but grabbed another assortment of candied fruits/vegetables instead - lotus root, sweet potato, and coconut. My dad liked pointing it out to all the friends and relatives that came by because apparently it's a "rare" find these days. There were only three candied lotus roots in the bag that I bought, and one of our guests ate two (!!!) and my uncle ate the last one so I didn't get a taste. The candied sweet potato was just sweet, no potato, but I *loved* picking at the strips of candied coconut while everyone was snacking on the pistachios (because nothing else in there was worth eating, really, the chocolate was so cheap it tasted like wax.)
And why would you pick at those silly snacks when there's other *better* traditional New Years foods? We fried up some store-bought turnip cakes for my aunt and uncle, and at other relatives' homes, we were treated to fried glutinous rice balls stuffed with red bean paste, New Year cake, taro cake, and tangyuan. I was unfortunately too busy stuffing my face to snap any photos, but I assure you, despite miraculously not gaining weight while I was in Hong Kong, all the extra fat and sugar plus the decreased activity due to not having to walk to and from the MTR station for work caused me to gain two pounds before I left for Calgary.
Aside from playing the game of visiting a relative, then coming back to your own house to wait for a visiting relative the first two days of Chinese New Year, other traditions are associated with the days as well. On the first day (年初一, "neen chŏ yut"), you are supposed to keep vegetarian and eat special Chinese fake meats (none of this straightforward vegetarian business), something we didn't end up doing as my dad and I were rushing from house to house and couldn't even stop to eat the lunch my grandma prepared! On the second day (年初二, "neen chŏ yi"), most families and companies will gather for 開年飯 ("hoi neen fahn"), a meal which symbolizes the first meal of the year. In Hong Kong, because no one could truly resist closing up shop for three days, many businesses reopen on the second or third day of the Chinese New Year.
On the third day (年初三, "neen chŏ sahm"), no one visits anyone else because the day is referred to as 赤口 ("chek hau", literally, "red mouth"), which means that on this day, people are more likely to get into arguments. That doesn't mean it's time to stay at home and relax! In Hong Kong, many people go to the Che Kung Temple, or to the horse races if they're not the religious type.
I left for Calgary the next day, but I'm sure if I stayed I would've learned about a lot more Chinese New Year traditions (and foods!) As an unmarried and unemployed person though, I think I got what I wanted out of the Chinese New Year... ;)
Sunday, February 08, 2009
A crazy-belated Happy Chinese New Year to you all! YES I know Chinese New Year was almost two weeks ago, but since my CNY posts last year and the year before were both varying degrees of late, I reckon I'm starting a bit of a tradition. Besides, this might just be the perfect time to be posting since tomorrow is the 15th day of the 1st month in the Chinese Lunar calendar, otherwise known as the Lantern Festival (元宵節). While I learned that in Hong Kong the CNY holiday lasts only three days, traditionally the Lantern Festival brought a close to the CNY celebrations. Couples would go out and look at lanterns and try to guess the riddles on them, and families would gather around and eat tangyuan (湯丸).
In four of the past five years, I celebrated Chinese New Year a little willy-nilly without my family in Montreal, so to have it come at me full force in Hong Kong was a huge change. A lot of the traditions leading up to and over the first few days of the Chinese New Year are still practised. I obviously knew about "年廿八，洗邋遢", which means you should clean house on the 28th day of the last month of the Lunar year and about 團年飯 ("tuen neen fahn"), the big family dinner on the last day of the year, but there was *lots* more I didn't know about, like the idea of "收爐" ("sau lo", literally, turning off the stove), which is when businesses ceremoniously finish business for the year. One of my favourite shows in Hong Kong, So Good, had a historian come in and talk about the different traditions for EACH DAY that are mostly out of practice except amongst the older generations.
In addition to 團年飯, a traditional activity on the last day of the year is to go to the Chinese New Year Fair, or to 行年宵 ("haang neen siu", literally "walk the end/last night of the year") after the big supper. The fair is also referred to as 花市 ("fa see"), which literally translates to "flower market". My dad sent me out by myself on the day before to avoid the crushing crowds, and to pick up some pussy willow for the flower arrangement we had in our home.
(Yes, this is *avoiding* crowds)
Despite being called the "flower market", most of the stalls were devoted to *not* selling flowers.
I wasn't about to spend money on plush versions of food when I could get the real thing, and the fair was the perfect place to try some cheap Chinese street foods.
The first snack I tried was "Sugar green onion cake" (糖蔥餅, "tong choong bang"), which is made by cooking up some cane sugar and malt sugar and pulling it into this white mass that looks like corrugated plastic, then topping it with a mix of more sugar and desiccated coconut before wrapping it in a thin flour "tortilla". It was only $10 HKD. (<$2 CAD)
The tortilla cut the sweetness a little bit and the whole concoction was really flaky. Despite having a paper bag to catch the crumbs, I still managed to get it all over myself. It was ok, but not my favourite thing in the world.
It didn't take much more walking around before I decided I wanted something savory and substantial, and at around the same time I found myself in front of a hot food stand that seemed to be calling my name. They sold traditional Hong Kong street foods, like curry fish balls on a stick, BBQ squid on a stick, and bowls of "shark fin" soup.
I opted for a bowl of shiu mai, which were really fish balls wrapped with the yellow rice sheet, and a cone of sweet popcorn. Washed it all down with some Chinese bottled drink that's supposed to be soothing and hydrating or whatever. But of course, it had so much sugar in it that you simply can't believe that sort of thing.
I saved picking up the pussy willow for last because the bunches were very tall and I didn't want the guy to cut it for fear he would cut it too short. On my way out though, I couldn't resist grabbing a bingtang hulu (冰糖葫蘆), which is a skewer of frozen, candied haw and #8 on the list of 100 Chinese Foods to Try Before You Die.
I found a bench outside the grounds to enjoy my treat. While I was buying my individually-wrapped stick a family stood behind me contemplating their choices, and the saleslady advised that the candied strawberry would be sweeter. I was glad that I went with "tradition" because the haw wasn't sour, but gave a nice tartness that contrasted that contrasted with the sweet malt sugar. I'm sure I looked ridic with my bunch of pussy willow resting on the crook of my arm while I was holding the my skewer in the same hand and taking photos with my camera in the other hand. Whatevs.
Jealous? You don't have to go to China, or even Chinatown for that matter. Elyse Sewell (of ANTM fame) teaches you how to make your own candied fruit skewers here.
The Chinese New Year Fair is held every year during the week leading up to Chinese New Year in Victoria Park, which sits between Causeway Bay and Tin Hau MTR stations, in Hong Kong. There's a smaller, more flower-centric one in Mong Kok.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
This is Government House, the official residence of Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. (Wow, aren't we sounding a little like a corporation?) I didn't go there to eat; I took this photo from Club Lusitano, the Portuguese club in Hong Kong. My Uncle Tony (Shirley's husband) is of Portuguese and Chinese descent (both his parents are too, so I can't say what percentage), so he has a membership there that my aunt can use too. They only serve lunch on weekdays, so my aunt made me take a day off work (Rebel!!!) just to join her in their quiet dining room that overlooks Central, Hong Kong's bustling financial district.
It was worth it.
The food looked and tasted as good as the view. Each day features a different lunch set, but you can also order à la carte. Because the club membership is so exclusive (because really, how many Portuguese people are there in Hong Kong?), the kitchen is small and the food is reminiscent of home cooking (though of the upscale kind). Some members of the club lunch there every day and the President came by every table to say hi before sitting down to his own lunch.
Monday's menu consisted of salad, lamb stew, and apple tart. The salad was a colourful assortment of peppers and tomatoes dressed with a light vinaigrette in a shell made out of a spring roll wrapper.
I enjoyed the fact that the salad was iceberg-free, and of course, I have a weakness for any chip-like food.
The lamb stew was really starchy, making it very filling, especially since it was served with a plate of rice and cooked cabbage. I didn't take a photo of the latter because who wants to look at that? The lamb was very tender, but I felt that the stew was missing a certain punch. Perhaps I've had too many Irish-pub renditions of lamb stew.
Though I had to force myself to finish the stew, I still had room for dessert. The apple tart was beautiful, but the crust separated from the filling and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't separate it into bite-sized pieces with my fork. It was really interesting though; different from apple pie in that it tasted like there were ground almonds in it. And of course, who can complain about a lunch that comes with dessert?
Though the meal wasn't perfect, I enjoyed having the opportunity to eat non-Chinese food in such a leisurely environment. Would I go again? Of course - but maybe not on a Monday.
16 Ice House Street
Central, Hong Kong
This is my Aunt Shirley.
After my family left Hong Kong, my aunt took me on a few outings out of pity for the fact that I have few friends in Hong Kong.
The first outing we took started in Mongkok. We met at around lunch time, so she took me to one of the branches of Lok Yuen Beef Ball King (樂園牛丸大王) for lunch. I ordered the signature beef ball noodles because my aunt told me that their mixed ball noodles doesn't have any beef balls (???) while she ordered noodles that had more random beef parts (such as tendon and brisket). The beef balls were flavourful and had a nice, springy texture, and I also liked being able to choose the type of noodles I wanted, as well as the fact that the green onions/cilantro came separately on the spoon (See photos on Open Rice). We also shared a small order of fried fish skin.
We cut through a more southerly part of "Woman's Street" which my mom had never taken me to before (the space between stalls was much narrower and there were more knock-offs and electronics) to get to Langham Place, a big mall in Mongkok. After shopping for a little bit (and not buying anything), we decided to sit down in Match-too café for afternoon tea. Before I get into it though, I should mention that Langham Place is home to a *lot* of other good eats that include a Japanese ramen shop, a Shanghainese dumpling shop, and—get this—a shop in the food court that sells beef on a hot plate! You choose the cut of meat you want, and while the hot plate sizzles, you can cook your beef to the wellness you like before placing it on your bed of rice and veggies.
Anyway, back at Match-too, we didn't order very much, just coffee and cake - I decided to be "adventurous" and try a tofu cheesecake, while she settled for a blueberry cheesecake.
I was a little embarrassed that the one in the display case was not for consumption because it meant that my aunt had to wait. While the presentation was gorgeous and the cake itself was probably healthier than a regular cheesecake, I think I will stick to the New York. The tofu cheesecake was just too mild for my taste.
After a bit more shopping we headed down to Causeway Bay to wander around before we got hungry for supper. We ended up going to Gaia Veggie Shop (大自然素食), which was a real treat. It was a pity there were only the two of us, which kept us from trying a lot of the dishes!
When I first opened the menu, it was a page full of sushi. "Isn't this place vegetarian?" I thought, "I guess this is one of those places that categorizes fish as not meat." (I hate pescetarians who call themselves vegetarians - No, you're not vegetarian! You're eating life! You're eating FISH!) Then, as I flipped through the pages I realized that the chefs at Gaia were experts of fake meat. As you can see in the photos on Open Rice, while the west doesn't seem to have progressed much past soy dogs and soy burgers, the Chinese have figured out how to make fake fish, pork, beef, and chicken with ingredients as diverse as soy, mushrooms, and konjac.
We each started with a bowl of "shark fin" soup. I don't remember what flavour she chose, but since I'm a pumpkin fiend, I chose the Pumpkin "Shark Fin" with "Crab" Soup - much less expensive than the real thing.
I got a bowl of brown rice—to be honest, I'm not a huge fan—to accompany all of our main dishes. The first dish, Sweet & Sour "Fish", ended up being my favourite of the night.
The fact that the "fish" didn't flake properly made it obvious that it wasn't an animal, but otherwise the texture and taste were pretty accurate, especially since any "taste" would be overtaken by the sweet and sour sauce anyway. I also thought the pine nuts were a nice touch. Mmm how I miss pine nuts...
We also went for a more straightforward vegetarian dish of asparagus and fungi. I'm not usually a fan of wood ear, but it was ok here... Ironically it was the asparagus that was a little woody (Ha!) Apologies for the blurry photo - how did that get on Flickr?
We ended our meal with a fairly traditional red bean with Job's Tears (薏米) dessert soup. Again, sorry for the blurry photo; this one did not make it on Flickr.
I've always been a huge fan of vegetarian/hippie food so Gaia definitely didn't disappoint. I can't wait to go back to try more of their fake meat!
Lok Yuen Beef Ball King (樂園牛丸王)
G/F, 11 Fa Yuen St
Mong Kok, Hong Kong
+852 2384 0496
Match-Too Café (簡單廚房)
Shop 403, 4/F, Langham Place
8 Argyle St
Mong Kok, Hong Kong
+852 3514 4168
Gaia Veggie Shop (大自然素食)
502 Hennessy Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
+852 2808 1386
Monday, February 02, 2009
I returned to work on Thursday, Jan. 8 and all my coworkers were surprised to see me there... apparently they'd thought I wasn't coming in until the Friday. Though I was tempted to get up and leave so I could get more rest after my mother's gruelling Asian adventures, I was glad that I didn't when I found out that we would be going to Brasserie Le Fauchon for lunch.
Le Fauchon is a chain of restaurants in Hong Kong (which include Bistrot Le Fauchon and Le Fauchon Colour) that seem to target the business crowd. The Wan Chai location is relatively new and located on the first floor of the J Residence, a swanky new property in this busy inner-city district. If you're feeling lazy enough, you can take the elevator up, but we decided to take the stairs. This particular location had a large outdoor seating area, with one side dominated by white couches, and the other with heavy patio chairs. Propane patio heaters dot the entire area so that you won't feel cold even if eating in "chilly" 15°C weather.
The set lunches were reasonably priced, ranging from $68-$88 (~CAD$11-14). There was also an executive lunch set that was $148 (~CAD$24), where the salad is upgraded to include slices of smoked salmon, and includes three desserts instead of one.
Although the name "Brasserie Le Fauchon" would imply beer and French cuisine, we didn't drink, of course, and the posh office workers around us all drank wine. As for the cuisine, I would say it leaned toward Italian; the salad was basically a Caesar salad with capelin roe on top and risotto and pasta were both choices on the menu.
Backing up a little bit, one thing that must be noted was the butter that came with the bread. Instead of the usual Anchor butter packets you see at most Hong Kong restaurants, we were given two rounds of butter flecked with garlic and herbs. YUMMY.
I guess I could also give the salad a bit more credit and say that we were given a variety of greens (not just a pile of iceberg lettuce) and the capelin roe is a touch that you probably won't find in a lot of restaurants. The salad also came with your traditional Hong Kong choice of "cream" or "borscht", and by borscht they mean tomato soup with some cabbage thrown in.
Since my dining companions already called the risotto and pasta, I decided to try the pork chop with apple gravy. The meat was very tender, but the apple gravy disappointingly didn't taste of any apple at all. It only tasted of fat... and salt, I guess.
The highlight of the meal (aside from dining al fresca), was dessert. The "triple chocolate cake" was a swirl of white chocolate and dark chocolate, and my piece was cut just so that I got a good taste of each. My dining companion who ordered the executive lunch also gave me his crème brûlée, which I thoroughly enjoyed as well.
Reading this review again, it feels like I'm really harping on the restaurant, but while I was there it was a good experience... perhaps because I was growing disenchanted with Chinese food, and having western food of decent quality was a nice change of pace. I was actually looking forward to going again for my farewell/our end of the Chinese year lunch, (so I could snap some pics!) but the restaurant was full :(
Brasserie Le Fauchon (Wan Chai Location)
1/F, Shop 9, J Residence
60 Johnston Rd, Wanchai, Hong Kong
(852) 2528 1286
Sunday, February 01, 2009
Since I'm a giant nerd, I am excessively amused by the point in Google maps where Hong Kong becomes Shenzhen (深圳). Though it sits conveniently at the end of one of Hong Kong's MTR lines, it's a bit of an inconvenience to go there since you need to get a visa if you're not a Hong Kong resident, and a "Return to Homeland Card" (回鄉證) if you are. Thus, before this trip I had only been to Shenzhen once in my life, and even then we just went to the gigantic mall that's right outside the train station.
I'm not even sure whether we would have gone to Shenzhen this time around had my dad not won two free massages at a fancy spa hotel from a draw at the grand opening of my aunt's new office. (Yes, the same aunt who owns the property in Macau.) So unlike other parts of our trip where our goal was to see as many things as we could in a day, our two-day sojourn in Shenzhen was much more relaxing.
After dropping our stuff off at the swanky hotel (which would've been more swanky if they didn't blast hip hop/r&b in the hallways and elevators), we immediately made our way to the spa. Us ladies (my mom, sister, my brother's girlfriend and myself) showered and also chilled (ha!) in the steam room in the ladies' change room before heading to the main lounge, where everyone gets their own La-Z-Boy with a personal TV and unlimited fruit, ice cream, and wonton noodles. After discussing with the salesladies, it was decided that my mom and sister would get the free massages, my brother's girlfriend and I would get two paid full-body massages, and my brother and dad would hang out in the lounge and get foot massages while gorging on fruit.
My shoulder blades have never been subject to so much pain.
Continuing with our unadventurous theme, we had supper at the hotel restaurant (we had coupons for that too.) Here is my dad with their ridiculously large menu.
The meal was good, but nothing extraordinary - if I remember correctly we had fried fish, a sweet/sour/spicy beef dish, and fried mantou (buns) dipped in sweetened condensed milk, among other things.
We closed our meal with complimentary plates of fruit, served with an impossibly small fork.
The next morning, us kids went back down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast (we had meal tickets) while my parents hit up the spa again. We were worried that it was going to be crappy, but it was a good mix of Chinese and Western food, and they even made congee on the spot! (And by "made" I mean, they had a big pot that they would reheat and throw the toppings you want on it.) I wasn't in the mood, and my siblings weren't confident on their Putonghua skills, so no one had any. Completely forgetting about the melamine incident, we ate yogurt, but fortunately none of us seem to have developed any kidney stones.
We met up with my aunt at the mall next to the train station I was telling you about - Luohu Commercial City (羅湖商業城), a six-story mall that sells all sorts of stuff from clothes to books to electronics, with a few hairdressers, manicurists, blind masseuses, and restaurants thrown in for good measure. Almost all the shopkeepers sat on a stool outside their respective shops, and since my brother's girlfriend is Caucasian, all of them would say something along the lines of "Hi Missy, watches, handbags, come looking," as we passed.
I was glad we met up with our aunt for this trip as she impressed the entire family with her haggling skills. After covering a few floors, we decided to rest for a while at Taste (formerly known as BBC), which is also where we went for lunch.
We walked around a little more before it was time for dinner. My aunt and uncle had made reservations at Fei Yang Wang (肥羊王), which is supposedly the predecessor to the popular Little Sheep（小肥羊）hot pot franchise. The cab driver had no idea where it was, and tried to convince us to go to Little Sheep as he swerved through Shenzhen traffic. We insisted that we had reservations, so he dropped us off at the corner of the street that we told him Fei Yang Wang was on, and were left to find our own way.
Instead of serving us regular tea like most restaurants, at each table setting there was a fancy teacup with a cover and inside were the ingredients for Eight Treasures Tea (八寶茶) The waitress came around with a teapot in a long spout to serve each of us. The tea was sweet, but not as sweet as that large clump of sugar (at least that's what I think it is) would imply.
The restaurant was a good recommendation on my aunt's and uncle's part, because the hot pot was delicious. While my favourite part about hot pot restaurants is normally mixing the dipping sauce, there was no need for a dipping sauce here because the broth was just so flavourful. Our pot was split in half with a mala (麻辣) side for my spice-loving aunt, uncle, and brother, and a mild side for everyone else. We ordered so much food—thinly-sliced beef, lamb, beef balls, mushrooms, dumplings, shrimp, vegetables—that my aunt and uncle had to take two or three soup-bowl sized containers home.
I know there's a lot more to see in Shenzhen, and though the Chinese squatting toilets can be a little sketchy, I would love to go back.
Zense Hotel (昇逸酒店)
2 Wenjin Zhong Lu, Luohu District, Shenzhen, China
+(86) 755 8268 1888
Taste Restaurant @ Luohu Commercial City
3/F, Shop 3008
Luohu Train Station, Luohu District, Shenzhen, China
Fei Yang Wang (Futian Branch)/肥羊王 (福田店)
139 Fu Shing Lu, Futian District, Shenzhen, China
+(86) 755 8288 5296