Sunday, November 25, 2007

A short hop to Hong Kong (part 1)

People travel to some places to see the wonders of nature…I still remember the feeling of peace and awe when I first clapped eyes on a local rainforest. I can never even venture to say that I visit Hong Kong to see nature’s wonders, but that doesn’t mean that I look at it with any less awe. After all, aren’t humans one of nature’s greatest wonders? And didn’t humans build the wonder that is Hong Kong?

Hong Kong to me is a concrete and steel Wonderland…and I don’t mean “concrete and steel” in a derogatory way at all. Every time I see it I feel like Alice, seeing this strange yet enticing place, where things are both bigger and smaller than in her own world. Where buildings grow so tall and in such abundance, with a zillion tiny windows all filled with lights, like huge and glorious hives. Where so many things beckon “eat me” from trays and carts and aquarium windows. Where everything seems to move at the speed of light, rushing forward, never stopping. Where roads seem to weave in and around everything, at so many levels, like wild vines – and the cars on them never slowing down, like an army of hyper-active ants. One tiny island really, that seemed to get more than its share of urban fertilizer, and now everything is growing taller, faster, bigger, better, one on top of the other. And underneath it all, that energetic pulse of commerce, beating strong and unapologetically – if there’s a deal to be made, Hong Kong is making it. I can’t help but be blown away by it…like Alice is at once scared but oddly attracted to Wonderland and all it’s interesting customs and inhabitants.

And as I feel its heart in the concrete beneath my feet, I can hear its unrepentant declaration: “I am a City…hear me roar!

Hong Kong also has a more personal place in my heart. My closest female cousin moved there when we were younger (before that we were neighbors), so I would go to visit her. While many of my friends would go to Hong Kong for the weekend to enjoy the shopping, I would stay for a couple of weeks tramping around with A, eating way too much, gossiping and catching up, and our favorite tradition…having afternoon tea at the Peninsula. There we would sit for hours talking about everything and nothing, two chubby white girls in grungy clothes, not exactly the most sophisticated pair in the lobby. Those were good days! Now A lives in Barcelona, but her father (my uncle, also my godfather) is once again based in Hong Kong, and he is who I visited this time around. There was definitely a lot of reminiscing on this trip :)

The main highlight of this trip was seeing my uncle and aunt, hanging out with them and catching up. He reminds me a lot of my dad…they have the same mischievous sense of fun, and both love to cook! No wonder they are such great friends, as are A and I. So this was more a relaxed trip…more kicking back and less racing around.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t tuck into Hong Kong good and proper though ;) Some of the things that made our trip memorable (aside from the wonderful company)…

Dimsum at City Hall
Our first meal in Hong Kong was dim sum at Maxim’s in City Hall (City Hall Maxim's Palace at the 2/F, not Maxim's Restaurant on the 1/F which looks more European than Chinese). I love dim sum and I love this place – dim sum carts racing around a huge hall, big crystal chandelier hanging above your head, wonderfully noisy din surrounding you, lots of red and gold everywhere, and a beautiful view of the water. Everything I like eating in a Chinese restaurant to be :) The dim sum was fantastic especially the shrimp dumplings and the ones filled with garlic chives. My only regret is they were out of taro puffs…ah well, next time! :) City Hall Maxim's Palace - 2/F, the City Hall Low Block, Tel - +852 2521-1303.

Dinner on Lamma Island
For dinner on our first night we took a junk (Chinese sailing boat) to Lamma Island, a small fishing village just off Hong Kong Island. Here the dock is lined with seafood restaurants…the type where you choose your dinner from aquariums full of live seafood, so everything is very fresh. After some wine on the junk, we all landed with burgeoning appetites. After much pointing and discussing by the aquariums, we had steamed prawns, clams in black bean sauce, deep fried cuttlefish with sweet chili sauce, mantis shrimp (also known as alupihan dagat over here -- a crustacean I have had a long and entwined history with...perhaps I will recount one day) fried with heaps of garlic and black pepper, scallops with spring onion and rice vermicelli, bamboo clams (also known as razor clams or navajas in Spain) with black bean sauce, and a garoupa (grouper or lapu-lapu) steamed with ginger, soy, sesame oil, and spring onions. We also had an excellent Chinese-style crispy fried chicken and sautéed dao mui (snow pea shoots/sprouts…we were lucky they were in season...they are delicious!) with garlic. And chao fan (fried rice). This was an amazing dinner and C still firmly states was the best of the trip. Everything was incredibly fresh and cooked perfectly. I thought that they were going to have to roll us all back in the boat! Typically though, there was still room for dessert as we all sat scrunched together at the front of the junk, the wind in our faces, clutching our wineglasses and delicious tarts from Cova, and watching the brilliant Hong Kong skyline approach. Fu Kee Restaurant, Lamma Island, Hong Kong (it’s right on the dock), you can take a ferry from Aberdeen Marina.

Spoon by Alain Ducasse
Another thrill for me was trying Alain Ducasse’s food for the first time (in my life!) at his restaurant Spoon, at the InterContinental Hong Kong. After only hearing and reading about this famous French master chef I was finally going to sample his goods! Because of the restaurant’s popularity, we could only book at table for 9pm, so my aunt told them that we would be sitting in the lobby in case an earlier slot opens up. Perfect excuse for pre-dinner cocktails and Hong Kong light show viewing :) So we sipped our drinks and watched the dazzling display of lights that the Hong Kong skyscrapers put on, while chatting away the time. Before we knew it they called us in for our dinner. I enjoyed my meal from start to finish! Everything seemed to be a beautifully orchestrated show put on for me (yes, they do make you feel special). I don’t know if it was from the glow of good wine, the warmth of good company, or the pleasure of good food (and did I mention the view?), but all my senses were sated. I started with the steamed foie gras, served with a pear chutney and Sichuan pepper, with an herb salad on the side. This was my favorite dish – the foie was perfectly tender and with the tang of the chutney, the spice of the pepper, and the sharp greenness of the herbs, it was a masterful flavor combination. My main was a lamb fillet with a tomato marmalade, served with potato stuffed with bacon and herds – another delicious dish. The lamb was cooked a perfect rare (just as I like it) and worked well with the tomato marmalade…although my foie would continue to be my favorite throughout the meal. For dessert I had the Noir de Noir 2007, which is a plate of four different, intensely chocolate, desserts – a chocolate sorbet with chocolate crumble, a molten chocolate cake, a chocolate custard, and their version of a brownie. I have to say that I always enjoy regular homemade style brownies much better, but this was an exception. The brownie layer was exactly how I like my “regular homemade style brownies” to be like (dark and moist, with walnuts too!). This was topped with a dark chocolate ganache, and then a sheet of hardened dark chocolate. Oohlala Alain! Now I just have to figure out how to translate that into homemade :) I liked the molten chocolate cake the best though, but only because I have a natural propensity towards molten chocolate things…and it went brilliantly paired with the chocolate sorbet, as suggested by our super-charming server, who was so cutely attentive I was considering if he would fit into my luggage so I could drag him home and have him explain to me everyday what exactly I was eating! Spoon by Alain Ducasse: InterContinental, Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Tel - +852 2313-2256.

Again, I was planning to place everything in one post, it was just a weekend afterall and how may things could I write about, yes? Once again I had underestimated: 1. How many things I actually did (even leaving certain things like cute-undies-shopping at H&M out!), and 2. My ability to just babble on like it’s going out of style! Is this why I have been receiving fewer invitations lately? I wonder!

Anyhoo, like it or not, I’ll be back with a bit more of Hong Kong soon :)


Manggy said...

"... super-charming server, who was so cutely attentive..."

Naku Joey ha. Hee hee :) Attentively cute? Anyway. I wonder what Maxim has to do with our Maxim's? I wish I had been more worldly when I went to Hong Kong in college. I was still hung up on senseless teenage stuff.

Me want more!

Dhanggit said...

I feel the same excitement you have about this trip..its always amazing to see our best friend or relative living in another country..i havent been to Hongkong yet but this write up you made convinced husband doesnt like to go there.. this time my task would be easier i'll just tell him to read your blog and wait for the part 2 :-)...he is gourmet like me for sure he would love it

wysgal said...

Maxim's is always a must ... but since they don't take reservations it's best to arrive SUPER early. Lamma I've been to as well (nice and touristy), but Spoon I haven't. I love Hong Kong! So much so that I'm thinking of ditching the US and going straight there to work post grad school!

katrina said...

Your meals all sound delicious, and I am SO envious of your dinner at Spoon!

Just keep babbling, Joey, I love reading your travelogues. :-)

P said...

I wonder, it takes a certain type of personality to actually live and thrive there. Would you, y'think?

ChichaJo said...

Hi Manggy! Heeeheehee :) There is a lot to be said about good service! Anyhoo, I don't know if there is any connection with our local Maxim's, aside from the fact that they both serve dim sum :)

Hi Dhanggit! I agree...It's so fun to see the people you love flourish in a new environment :) Hong Kong has a lot to offer food-wise I think...Glad you are enjoying the posts and I hope your husband does too :)

Hi Wysgal! Or go to Maxim's late, like we did, so it was easy for us to get a table :) I think Hong Kong would definitely be a very exciting place to work! So much energy...just like you...a good match! :)

Hi Katrina! My waist is definitely feeling the hit from these past two trips! But good food is always worth it in my book :) Thanks Katrina...I'm happy to know that you are enjoying my babbling!

Hi P! Perhaps it uncle LOVES can tell by how he talks about the city :) I can definitely see the attraction...there is an electricity in the air :)

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Again a great trip to a wonderful place! You are making me dream...



veron said...

Hay naku Joey, how I cherish my memories in Hong kong. I did think we ate at Maxims when we were was quite the food orgy. Wonderful pictures!

canDIshhh said...

I miss HK... Love love their food!! Dimsum overload! Maxim's is definitely a MUST!

Crystal Jade is a good place to eat too! And also this resto at the end of Shueng Wan (i forgot the name)- where they serve THE best shark's fin soup! :) I wonder though if Movenpick at the Peak is still open - they serve the best (for me ah!) buffet!! :)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Rosa! Happy you enjoyed it :)

Hi Veron! Glad I was able to bring back some happy memories :)

Hi Candishhh! Thanks for the tips...will remember that for next time :)

Bearbrick Lover: said...

Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in the world – if only for the shopping and the food! But I have yet to try your recommendations – thanks for the tips! :-)

oggi said...

Lamma Island was a regular food destination for my and 7 other Filipino families and we always had the braised baby lobsters, super fresh and yummy.
Hong Kong (Island side) is IMHO one of the the best and safest places to live in, and yes, even if you have young children. One big shopping mall, glorious food, and countless places to explore!:)

ChichaJo said...

Hi BBL! I like it's vibe too :) I'll make sure to ask you for tips as well next time I go!

Hi Oggi! Braised lobster...yum!!! I would not mind at all living there :) While we were there we went to this bazaar composed of lots of was outside the center of town in a place with a big grassy area, strewn with foam tubes and balls and tons of kids playing...looked like they didn't mind at all living there :)

Rasa Malaysia said...

I love going to Hong Kong and have been there so many times, but I must say that the best Chinese foods are now found in Shanghai...even Hong Kongers go to Shanghai now for the foods. ;)

Shalimar said...

hmm joey its almost midnight here in florida and am craving for asian food.... i cant wait to tell my captain i want 2 months off fr work so i can travel