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Hong Kong

order in chaos.

i need to finish my hong kong travelogue bah.. so my travels took me to macau next. and to be honest, i didn’t enjoy macau’s food much because i was sick for most parts of the macau leg, essentially with the foodie’s nightmare – a nose block and no sense of smell. for people who don’t know yet (count yourself fortunate), our perception of flavor and taste comes from both our sense of smell and taste. you need both to really taste your food. lose your sense of smell, and well.. you seemingly lose that prelude, the mental preparation/imagery of the food you are about to taste (since i assume the smell hits you first) and somehow that really impacts how you perceive your food.

in other words, i was a pretty sad camper in macau.

but thankfully, my second day in macau was slightly better, to which i instantly headed out to search for legendary portuguese egg tarts.

thanks to this website, i narrowed down my choices to the two supposed portuguese egg tarts – Lord Stow’s Bakery and Magaret’s Cafe e Nata. By virtue of location (Lord Stow is on Coloane Island whereas Magaret’s Cafe is right in Macau Island itself), i chose to track down Magaret’s Cafe e Nata. It’s by no means an easy place to find, being tucked away in a small quadrangle that is fenced away by high rise buildings around, but for general bearings, its near the super-ostentatious Grand Lisboa Casino/Hotel.

[a small aside regarding Grand Lisboa Casino, i was really amused by just how ostentatious and gaudy the building and decorations were. everything was decked out in gleaming shiny gold and red carpeting, with copious, overflowing accents of fake, gaudy diamonds lining mirrors, lift doors and the likes. its like a bejewelled factory. and its a little insight perhaps into the predominant psyche of the noveau riche in China nowadays, the prevalent mentality being that of “I’m rich and I want everyone to know I’m rich. I’ll rub it in their faces so hard that they have no doubt they’re dealing with a person of much money“.

my friend gigi also mentioned how the feng shui of Grand Lisboa Casino was masterfully done, such that the building architecture resembled that of a golden arrow pointing downwards into the ground, metaphorically inviting money to be dumped into the casino and also to crush all money dreams of the patrons who enter. (coincidentally, the adjacent Casino Lisboa can be said to be shaped like a bird-cage to trap patrons and their money within.) wowzers.]

ok back to egg-tarts.. FOCUS.

so portuguese egg tarts differ from the common egg tarts mainly due to the filling within the pastry – whilst normal egg tarts have this egg-yolk+milk concoction, portuguese egg tarts have the additional burnt sugar layer, almost as though some one added the additional creme brulee touch to traditional egg tarts. of course, with that, the portuguese egg tarts taste sweeter and crispier that the normal counterparts.

Magarita’s Cafe e Nata egg tart. om nom nom.

The Magarita’s Cafe e Nata egg tart is really something, as evidenced by the long queues stretching out of the shop into the alleyway. the pastry surrounding it is light, crispy and layered whilst the filling has this semi-burnt, sweet, creme brulee flavor that’s really quite irresistible. whilst other places like ko kei also sell egg tarts, magarita’s egg tarts trump over them based on the crispness of the pastry and the creamy goodness of the filling. go try it.

trays and trays of delicious egg tarts (8 MOP for one)

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MACAU PORTUGUESE EGG TARTS

Lord Stow’s Bakery | 1 Rua do Tassara, Coloane Island, Macau

Magarita Cafe E Nata |  Gum Loi Building, Rua Almirante Costa Cabral, Macau Island, Macau

*p.s.: i realised the website suggested you to satisfy your portuguese egg tarts with kfc egg tarts, which made me nearly balk. DO NOT EAT KFC egg tarts – this congealed, oily mess of a confectionery is of no comparison to an actual portuguese egg tart. i had the misfortune of eating one and felt quite ill looking at the amount of oil dripping out.

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sleepless in hong kong.

there’s a myriad of late night activities to fill up the average hong kong-ers free time, ranging from chilling at lux bars, singing karaoke till dawn or mah-jonging riotously. and of course, food. sustenance is just as important in the late hours of the night as it is in the daytime. =) i tagged along with my friends for a late night karaoke session that started at around 10-ish and well.. realised a few unique traits of the hk karaoke experience. for one, karaoke isn’t the main focus. as my friends put it, it’s one of the activities within the room where people rotate between singing, play card games, drinking games, playstation games, chatting, eating and essentially just enjoying each other’s company. for another, the karaoke room that is booked from 10 onwards is booked for the entire night till closing hours @ 6 am. that’s a whopping 8 hours of revelry that i couldn’t afford considering i had touring to do the next day. =(

but yeah.. speaking of sustenance, hk is replete with delicious night snacks to keep you fueled all the way thru’ the night.

“zha leung” – essentially dough fritters wrapped with “cheong fun” skin and dipped with satay sauce and soy sauce 

on our first night at hk we stumbled upon this chain congee shop called ocean empire congee shop and wasted no time getting acquainted with hk cuisine. the porridge i had was alright.. a little soupy and the preponderance of fish bones was a little annoying (i ordered the ocean empire special porridge). but hey, the zha leung brought back fond memories of nice dim sum. its a very curious dish to the onlooker i’d suspect – deep-fried dough fritters wrapped in “cheong fun” skin that makes it almost like a carbs wrapped in another carb. but its actually pretty good and when dipped with soy sauce or satay sauce, it’s even better.

mango pomelo dessert

of course, if cleansing you palette or having something refreshing and cooling is what you desire, then head to the dessert chain store called hui lau shan, which serves ice-cool, refreshing mango desserts that can satisfy any sweet-tooth cravings. my friend, wang yang, swears by this place, having visited it 3 times within her short stay there. methinks its the freshness of the mangoes, coupled by the sweet, refreshing-ness of the accompanying ingredients that makes this so appealing. its not any bit overly syrupy or sickly sweet and neither is it watery bland stuff – its just right! (watch the price though.. its not exactly cheap tbh)

LATE NIGHT SNACKS

ocean empire congee shop | 137 – 139 johnston road, wanchai, hong kong

hui lau shan | 2 – 6 yee wo street, hong kong

australia dairy company | 47 parkes street, kowloon, hong kong – serves a delicious milk pudding as well as yummy scrambled eggs with bread with utter efficiency. i fully expected the bustling waiters to cluck at you impatiently were you to hesitate in your ordering (luckily my hk fren ordered for us).

view from the top

this scene should be pretty familiar, being the iconic “big buddha” on the mountain tops @ lantau island that is often featured in travelogues and even amazing race (fast forward in season 2 for the reality tv fanatics). anyways such tourist attractions are usually over overly-photographed that i was initially struggling to come out with decent shots that were.. well, unique. finally got close up and landed a few shots that resonated with me. so there. =) once photo-satisfied, it was back to central for food.

what’s amazing about the hong kong culinary scene is how even simple fare like maggi mee and french toasts can be masterfully prepared and paired with different ingredients to create delicious meals that are craved by many. what im referring to are dishes prepared at the ubiquitous “cha-can-ting” (translated as tea-houses) which serves essentially the modern day poor man’s food – from simple western-styled dishes like spaghett, scrambled eggs and artery-clogging condensed-milk laden french toasts, to variations to the common theme of maggi mee – be it paired with “sha-cha” (satay) sauce and beef  or pork cutlets and vegetables.

maggi mee – the upgraded version

i would recommend heading to lan fong yuen @ central, hong kong island for some milk tea and nissin noodles with chicken chop (apparently only served after 11am). the milk tea is lauded to be one of the best in hong kong whilst their signature chicken chop noodles is utterly flavorful and satisfying. the stall is tucked along the narrow streets at central and the interior is one crowded congestion of tables and chairs like a typically kopitiam, which kinda adds to the authentic charm? haha.. and yeah, price is of course reasonable at such places. yummy.

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CHA-CAN-TING (HK TEAHOUSES)

lan fong yuen | G/F2 gage street, central, hong kong

tsui wah | 15 – 19 wellington street, central, hong kong – for a cleaner, more updated, chain-store style hk teahouse, head to tsui wah which has quite the extensive menu serving all sorts of interesting cheap-food. a must try is their french-toast drizzled in condensed milk and butter.

mido cafe | 63 temple street, yau ma tei, hong kong – another old-style authentic two-storey tea house that serves awesome pork chop baked rice. i tried the hot coke with lemon and ginger and would it to be quite tasty! (thanks gigi!) its a pretty awesome, hk-only experience to sit at a booth on the second floor and watch the swelling crowds traipsing round temple street. heard from gigi that the cafe is famous also because some tvb serial was filmed here before.

uniformity ftw.

one thing that fascinates me about hong kong is how cramped quarters can get, and how people seem utterly nonchalant and used to such living. its a testament as to how well people adapt to situations. but don’t u think it is interesting how some (many in fact) love to squeeze, jam-packed within a city when there’s much land to spare at the outskirts, what with lolling pastures and the likes. its like human population movement outright defies Brownian motion. (geek alert)

the symmetry of closely cluttered buildings create many photo-ops

whats good and convenient about being so closely packed is the sensation that you are never that far from a night snack if you’re famished, provisions (thanks to 7-eleven) if you’re needy and well.. friends when you are bored. and talking about that night snack..

simply fantastic.

craving for some wonton noodles? one good choice is chain outlet mak’s noodle – with decently priced (HKD$30) wonton noodles and beef brisket noodles that is really quite something. the soup broth is tasty with a slightly sweet tinge and goes splendidly with the light, bouncy noodles and wontons bursting with juicy, fresh prawns. what i find amazing is how a simple, humble dish of broth, noodles and wonton/beef brisket can be so masterfully created and repeatedly created across all the chain outlets. it’s essentially hong kong’s answer to macdonalds and subway.

yummy.

Mak’s Noodle | 77 wellington street , central, hong kong (as well as other locations including at the peak)

check this out for more wonton mee recommendations.

signs galore

one quintessential hong kong experience is to survive a rowdy, noisy, authentic dim sum teahouse and eat awesome, sumptuous, and glistening hot food – what better way than to head to wellington street’s lin heung teahouse – one of the oldest and most authentic dim sum establishments in hong kong. mind you, this is not your typical, watered-down mild-mannered yum cha restaurant with air-conditioning and nice carpeting with nice old ladies pushing trollies of glistening har gaus and the likes. this is the real deal that is quite the intimidating experience.

we entered the restaurant, me kinda (falsely) confident that our cantonese would get us some headway with the waiters. but oh boy.. the teahouse was jam packed and the waiter waved at us to just mill around tables with “potential” finishing-up patrons and grab seats when they became available. now.. that isn’t exactly easy when you have to navigate past narrow spaces between tables, avoiding waiters with scalding hot teapots and baskets of dim sum and try to stare down others who encroach upon your waiting territory. and mind you, those hk aunties can win any staring contest against anymore.

delicious char siew bao – but you’ve got to get seats first, my friend.

i tried the “pitiful-look” route with the waiters initially and gave up and eventually grimly stood by a table to wait it out. took us around 15mins to finally get seats to which the second problem surfaced — yes, the dim sum came in trolleys, but essentially the demand far outstripped the supply. meaning that most carts were empty almost minutes after they got wheeled out. and there wasn’t exactly a system for ordering from the waiters unless you were like long-time customers (yes, i eyed those people with utter envy). so yeah, it came down to a all-out brawl with the other patrons of the restaurant to push you way toward the surroundings of the cart and jab at the dim sum baskets to the auntie to communicate your order. those aunties are pretty awesome to be honest, because they police the cart’s contents pretty well, scolding any stray hands whilst handling the deluge of jabs and orders.

so yeah, it was alot of positioning, aggressiveness, and timing, but we finally got quite a bit of food and mmm.. it’s pretty darn good food to go along with the authentic experience. everything is served really fresh and everything is flavorful, hot and delicious. i’ll let the pictures do the talking.

prawn cheong-fun (steamed rice noodle rolls)

lor mai kai (glutinous rice) – really yummy and steamed just right!

hehe. its quite the experience. go for it. dun chicken out and go to like maxim’s palace. you can do those after you’ve visited lin heung.

-DIM SUM-

lin heung tea house | 160 wellington street, central, hong kong

city hall maxim’s palace chinese restaurant | 3 edinburgh place, hong kong

tim ho wan | 2-20 kwong wa street, mong kok, kowloon (damn.. missed this michelin starred dim sum.. heard you had to queue for an insanely long time)

this is kinda late, but welcome to year 2012.

the night scenery of hong kong is really something that one should not miss –  though it might not be easy to find a nice viewing spot amidst the massive crowds. thanks to local advice, i manage to nab two spectacular views to see the nightscape of hong kong. hong-kongers advice you to head out to tsim sha tsui area to view the skyline of hong kong island, since the buildings at the hong kong side are nicer than the kowloon side.

you can head to one of the rooftop bars/lounges at one of the towers at the kowloon side for a schmaltzy time with friends and a magnificent view. my hk friends brought me to this bar called aqua roma, 1 peking road, tsim sha tsui which apparently serves really good fusion italian-japanese food. we headed there mainly for drinks and i nabbed myself a fruity concoction complete with a gorgonzola stuffed grape which was quite the experience.

a much cheaper (read: free) and equally good experience would be at the rooftop carpark deck at marco polo hong kong hotel, which has splendid obstructed views (where i got the above shot) and seems relatively undiscovered, considering that there was nary a crowd despite there being 2012 celebrations mock-up lighting. this place offers a really pretty view of the hong kong island and you don’t have to jostle with the masses below at the tsim sha tsui pier or at the avenue of stars boardwalk.