Back in Hong Kong and ready for breakfast! Finally got up the nerve to try the little congee house across the street from my hotel. I was worried about the language barrier but something about me must have screamed tourist (the giant camera in hand, perhaps?). An English menu was plopped promptly down on my table.
My usual congee of choice includes duck or chicken. This time, I risked trying a bowl of “salty meat” (they insist it is just pork) and century egg, which is typically duck egg preserved in soot for 100 days. If you’ve never tried century egg before, the visual is a little off-putting. It looks like a slice of egg that has been gelatinously petrified and stained with black shoe polish. Tasted great: salty egg with a slight Jell-o mouthfeel. Downed the congee with relish as well as the shrimp rice roll that the combo came with. All for only $27 HKD–that hotel buffet was a total rip-off at $75 HKD!
As with the Shanghainese cafe from Tuesday, I shared the tiny booth with total strangers. It was a little boy and his mother today, who ordered what practically everyone else at the restaurant ordered for breakfast: macaroni soup with bits of ham plus a butter and egg sandwich on white bread, crusts removed. Would have taken a photo but I don’t think they would have appreciated such an invasion of privacy…
I saw this same meal being enjoyed by other cafe dwellers on the way to work. Even arrived at the desk to find Alan eating it one morning. Was somewhat curious about the ubiquitousness of the meal but was not curious enough to ingest Wonderbread while abroad.
Lunch was at a nearby lahksa house with Johnny and Winnie. Had the roasted duck lahksa, spice level #1 of 4, as Winnie warned us of the exponential increase in heat. Neither of my lunch companions were as into spicy food as I was so I took her warning with a grain of salt. Sure enough, my broth was super mild. Winnie called the server back to give me a side of level 2 broth after boasting that I should have gotten a level 3 soup. When the broth arrived, I took one tiny sip and went beet red from the heat. Johnny was thoroughly entertained. I added a couple of spoonfuls of the new broth into my soup bowl, hid my tail between my legs, and enjoyed the best of both worlds.
Alan played chauffeur the rest of the evening to Lisa, Winnie, Johnny, and I. First stop was to Shatin in the New Territories. It is a 20-minute drive across the harbour and north of Kowloon. Winnie kept a running commentary on the points of interest that we passed (coincidentally, most had shopping centres attached to them!).
Dinner in Shatin was at Jun Jun, a local favourite that I was privileged enough to be taken to. I am not even sure if Jun Jun has a proper interior: we sat at the end of a long curvy patio with a low tarped ceiling. The place is famous for its Shatin chicken congee and its many incarnations of pigeon. While Winnie decided what to order for the table, I taped Johnny sterilizing our dishes and chopsticks with hot tea (a common ritual at dodgier restaurants, he says).
Tonight’s menu: crispy pigeon with shrimp crackers; oyster pancake; Shatin chicken congee; vegetable and scallop stir-fry; chicken “soft bones” with deep-fried tofu. Downed with copious amounts of tea and a bottle of Hong Kong beer called Blue Girl. The pigeon looked and tasted like a leaner version of peking duck, so I quite enjoyed it (unlike the duck in the lahksa, which looked and tasted like Oscar Meyer weiner. Cringe.). Johnny plopped the pigeon’s head into my bowl at the end of the meal. Er, yum? Unfortunately, I was much too full by then to try eating it (darn).
My favourite dish was the chicken soft bones. Alan explained that it was, in fact, the cartilage from chicken feet that has been softened, battered, and deep-fried with a variety of spices. I am a huge fan of tendon as evidenced by our regular pho outings, so I suppose chicken knuckles are not a very far cry from that.
Dinner was accompanied by a sudden and vicious summer thunderstorm. We were well protected by the tarp above our heads–no worries there. But it was a real delight for me to sit there, outdoors in the pouring rain as the thunder and lightning played, experiencing exotic food, taking in the colourful restaurant scenery, and enjoying the company of a terrific group of people.
On the way back to the parking lot, Winnie and I took a quick pit stop into the KFC and McDonald’s inside the Shatin Galleria. She pointed out the differences between the North American and Asian menu offerings. You can order a side of corn with your McDonald’s combo or eat chicken curry at KFC. The Happy Meal toy selection advertised a Hello Kitty plushy, which I attempted to get for Kookie: unfortunately, Hello Kitty wasn’t available for another week yet. Another souvenir procurement foiled. Curses!
We took a different scenic route back to Kowloon and up the winding path to Victoria Peak. Conversation up the mountain included a small lesson on how to say bubble gum in Cantonese–nothing else was taught, I swear 😉
The best views from the Peak are to be had on the massive two-tiered roof of the newly constructed observation building. One has to scale several sets of floating glass elevators to reach the top. Had to fight the onset of vertigo and my fear of heights throughout the ascent and descent, but it was well worth the panic attack and the jests of my colleagues. Winnie was even nice enough to anchor me on her arm during the worst parts. Such great hosts =)
Hong Kong at night is dazzling. My non-DSLR camera and lack of travel tripod cannot adequately convey the blaze of lights that we observed up there on that windy deck. Victoria Peak is a must-see at night, despite the crowds of tourists and the off-chance of fog / smog. The folks let me wander around to take photo and video until my battery warning started to blink. Below are the highlights of this outing:
Got back to the hotel with just enough time for a quick change into salsa dancing apparel and a hail to a cab for my one night of dancing in Hong Kong. Tonight’s venue was a bar called Swindlers in the Wan Chai district. It’s one of the seedier neighbourhoods this side of Hong Kong Island but that night, I didn’t notice it. Swindlers itself is a narrow and intimate bar with a 15×15′ dance floor, a hallway of hardwood flooring cleared of its usual tables, and an open entranceway to the street. You could hear the enticing percussions emanating from the place from almost a block away. Getting excited!
The crowd was a mix of locals, ex-pats from Europe and Asia, and a good smattering of visiting dancers from abroad. I was warned that the scene in Hong Kong was rather small, so I didn’t expect a lot of quality dancing, but was I ever mistaken! Even the worst dancer at Swindlers was better than the average dancer you come across in Vancouver. Danced LA- and casino-style salsa with people from Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and even another Vancouverite (what a small world). Had the best salsa dance of my life with a Peruvian instructor by the name of Gino Mayaute, who now lives and teaches out of the US. Everyone should get the chance to watch this guy at work–he really is beautiful to watch, whether he is leading or following. Also happy to see that bachata is alive and well in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, my camera was already kaput from Victoria Peak so had to rely on those of my new salsa connections for a couple of snaps of the evening.
Got back to the hotel by 2am, thinking with a happy sigh that this was one of the best days of the trip thus far.