Travel: Hungry in Hong Kong
How do you decide where to go on holiday? I have the most quirky ways to decide my destination choices and I bully the rest of my family to go along. Once, I took this quiz on Facebook, which asked me to write the kind of things I liked. Facebook decided that the place I would enjoy the most was sunny Barcelona. And while I’ve never really been that active on the social media site, I decided to interpret it as a sign and went that very year to Barcelona. There was nothing to regret – Gaudí and great food.
In an equally whimsical manner this summer, I decided I wanted to go to Hong Kong. I had been toying with the idea ever since I watched a Wong Kar-wai movie a decade or more ago. The Christopher Doyle cinematography left a lasting impression and I wanted to discover Chungking Express (1994) myself. There were other reasons too. You don’t need to pay for a visa to Hong Kong – you just have to register online and it’s instant. And it’s just a five-hour flight away so it was perfect for the five days that I had away from work.
What I didn’t bargain for was that just three weeks before I was to leave, Hong Kong witnessed dramatic protests that hit world headlines. The tickets were booked, my hotel was already paid for and non-refundable and Hongkongers were refusing to lie low against the extradition law even when their chief executive, Carrie Lam, decided to withdraw it. “It’ll cool down,” we told each other while we booked tickets to Disneyland as the only concession to our nine-year- old. As international journalists headed to Hong Kong to file long-form stories about what the protests meant for China, I wondered how insane we were to drag a kid in the middle of it. “You’ll be fine if you stay away from the areas of protest,” said a friend. But being a reporter, I made sure I had my hands-free kit ready in case I was caught in the middle of some drama and needed to capture it live.
Fortunately for the family, the only threat to us was the weather. The friend who had warned us to stay away from the riot-hit areas had also warned us that it was hot and humid. Compared to Delhi’s 47 degrees, though, a high of 32 degrees we could handle. And so we landed in the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong Island. I know there are those that like to stay in quaint neighbourhoods, but because I have really short holidays, I like to be at the thick of things. Sheung Wan, with Hong Kong Central station a 20-minute walk away, and its own train station around the corner, was the perfect place to discover the island. Many of the places that Lonely Planet and Time Out recommended for eating were around the corner or a short taxi ride away and that’s just how I like it. Why go on holiday and have an average meal? So it’s the one thing I like to do – scope out all the places that have been written about and then hunt them down.
For instance this tiny breakfast place called Lan Fong Yuen. Now, I don’t know why but most of the mid-range hotels in the city didn’t really have a breakfast deal. Usually, Asian cities like Singapore and Bangkok really put out a spread, which I love to sample at the start of the day but of late, and because of the growing popularity of AirBnB, I’ve started appreciating not taking a breakfast deal. The best reason to opt out of it is that you don’t stuff yourself. Now, I don’t know about you but as a good Indian middle-class girl, I always overeat whenever I see a buffet. It’s like I can’t say no to so many things that they dish out. Eggs? Yes, please. With bacon and sausages? Yes, please. And the noodle soup with fish balls? How can you be in South-East Asia and say no? So, to not go that way and to make sure you don’t go back home with a muffin top, it’s best to go without a breakfast deal.
And Lan Fong Yuen was wonderful for our breakfast needs. My son opted for the egg and sausage suspended in noodle soup while his father had milky tea and toast. I always go very local and started my day with seafood vermicelli which was heaven. At the other tables were locals grabbing some dim sums before work and eating with them made me very, very happy. It’s like you really experience something genuine instead of touristy, you know?
Bring on the custard
Most of my holidays are about eating and between meals we walk it off. The best way to walk it off in Hong Kong is to try the trek to Victoria Peak. There is a tram that helps you navigate the steep climb, called (what else) the Peak Tram, but unfortunately, it’s shut for a couple of months and in any case, sees a huge rush of tourists. But we took a bus that leaves from Central Station which gives you an hour of breathtaking views of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers in the midst of the hills, as well as the harbour. It’s hard to believe, as you rise to the top of the hill, that such a crowded, cramped city has a completely quiet, almost hill-station in its midst. There’s a nice restaurant there overlooking the views and a 45 minute trek gives you various angles to Hong Kong’s skyline.
After drinks at the peak, we came down to the city and had dinner at another legendary place called Tim Ho Wan. The reason it’s legendary, according to guide books, is because it was one of the cheapest restaurants to get a Michelin star. They have several outlets across the city, so we went to the one at Hong Kong station.
I can’t rave about their food enough. It’s where I discovered the magical pork-stuffed buns. The dimsums are expectedly amazing, but what I’d tell you to eat apart from the buns are the desserts. They have these sesame balls filled with custard which seemed like something my aunt from Assam should have thought of. Sankranti and Bihu are so big on sesame seed preparations, how come they didn’t think of stuffing them with custard? Well, Hong Kong did, and they are bloody amazing.
I could go on and on about Hong Kong food (including the discovery of a Japanese place called Ronin, which is also in Sheung Wan and made my head spin with its baby crabs and cocktails), but I had a bit of an a-ha moment on this trip. See, I’m one of those parents that don’t take children on holiday abroad because I think it’s a waste of money and they don’t appreciate it as much. I don’t want my son to be entitled and boast about Disneyland when he’s perfectly happy playing with the neighbourhood kids at his Gran’s in Gurgaon.
However, I made an exception this time because I was only having one break in the summer and if I didn’t take him to Hong Kong, I couldn’t hang out with him at all. And so, after a day of Disneyland, we did all the things we usually do on holidays. We walked up to 10 kilometres or more daily, ate strange food, went to bars and we also went to a jazz place called Peel Fresco Music Lounge. Basically, we did adult things. The realisation I had, which I want to share with other parents, is that kids adapt to things if you look like you’re loving it. We entered the jazz club early, before 8pm, and when we got up to leave almost at midnight, the singer was thrilled to see our son. “Thanks for coming,” he said into the mike, “Especially the youngster.”
The youngster had been a bit bored after the first couple of hours, but he stuck around. Here’s to Hong Kong and new adventures – may there be many more, not always with kids.
Author bio: Sunetra Choudhury is the national political editor at Hindustan Times
From HT Brunch, August 25, 2019
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