February 1, 2019 | Narrative
a winter break told through food
exploring hong kong’s food scene
Winter break may be over, but the fond memories of the food I ate during it remain. Nearly every winter break, I travel to Hong Kong to visit family and friends, recover from my mental exhaustion, and recuperate with a variety of authentic, delicious foods.
My family lives close to a fresh seafood market (imagine a fresh-out-of-the-ocean smell and many stalls of fish laying on ice beds, shrimp swimming around in their tanks, abalone sitting on small metal plates, and many more seasonal creatures I rarely see). After my dad gets off work, we go there and pick up ingredients to cook dinner at home. We pay for our food at each stall as if each were a miniature grocery store. There are also fresh meat and vegetable stalls in the market, and the convenience and affordability of purchasing quality ingredients from them make eating at home so appealing. However, sometimes we want to treat ourselves to restaurant food or entertain family and friends outside of our home; so this break, I got the opportunity to revisit some of my favorite places to eat and explore new ones, too!
One of my favorite dim sum places in Hong Kong is called Choi Fook Royal Banquet. I am a fan of two of its dishes in particular—the tender chicken feet with abalone sauce and the XO sauce rice noodle rolls, which come in a hot stone pot. I start drooling when I imagine reliving this complete experience: I ate the delicate skin of the chicken feet first and then dipped the sizzling rice noodle rolls in the deliciously sweet and salty abalone sauce, realizing that the two dishes complemented each other perfectly. We also ordered other dim sums, and every dish somehow felt more delicate and flavorful when paired with the restaurant’s bustling energy and lively atmosphere.
I also explored more traditional cuisine, namely Shantou and Beijing dishes, during my first week there. Whenever I go to restaurants that serve Shantou food, I unfailingly order the deep-fried yams for dessert. I always end up burning my tongue, too eager to take a bite into the crispy-yet-fragile sugar crust coating the hot, soft steamed yam. This time was no exception. I savored each sweet, powdery bite and sipped bold Chinese tea in between, treasuring this indulgent way to end the meal. The next night, I decided to try China House Tai Po and its Peking duck wrap dish. I made and easily devoured a couple of these wraps—perfectly crispy-yet-tender slices of duck with just the right amount of fat, dipped in a sugary, thick soy sauce with sliced scallion, all wrapped in an extremely thin pancake. I took a bite, and my senses immediately went into overdrive from the sweet and savory flavors, crunchy and tender textures, and overall perfection of this finger-licking moment.
When I wanted some Canto-Western cuisine and drinks, I ventured out to the Hong Kong-style cafes. My go-to order became the Hong Kong-style milk tea; I could happily sip and relish its smoothness and strong aroma every day. Sometimes, I had it with condensed milk for a sweeter experience or got a mixture of tea and coffee for a hard-to-resist caffeine boost. This was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up along with a plate of mouthwatering Hong Kong-style French toast. Imagine peanut butter sandwiched between two pieces of toast, fried, and served with condensed milk and butter—trust me, this is French toast on another level. Cha chaan tengs, or Hong Kong-style cafes, are really the places to go when you want authentic comfort food and fast, efficient service that reflects Hong Kong’s hectic lifestyle.
In the midst of this industrialized city with endless cultural cuisine offerings, I do not have to worry about finding appealing food choices—take, for example, the velvety smooth matcha ice cream! My favorite place for matcha dessert is called Sweets House Cha Cha, and I made time with my mom to go there three times during the break. I can never decide whether to have just the strong matcha ice cream in a cone, the half-and-half with Hokkaido milk ice cream for a lighter matcha experience, or the dark chocolate for a super rich ride. Choosing between these flavors is nearly impossible because they are all so delicious!
Daydreaming about matcha dessert got me thinking about the variety of French desserts I shared with my family and friends after our amazing French dinner at Scarlett Cafe & Wine Bar. For an appetizer, I tried beef tartare for the first time ever and found the taste of the buttery raw meat not as strong as when it’s cooked, rendering me awestruck. I wouldn’t have minded trying a bigger portion. The soft sourdough bread and crispy potato wedges were great to nibble on before we moved on to the main courses of perfectly roasted prime rib and creamy mashed potatoes, creamy lobster spaghetti, and the unique, tasty egg white ravioli filled with crab meat. We thought we couldn’t stuff ourselves with more delectable food, but somehow, we still managed to order desserts—a tangy lemon meringue tart, hazelnut tart, cream puffs drizzled with smooth chocolate sauce, and chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream. This was one of the best meals I had in Hong Kong: full of fantastic food, wonderful company, and interesting conversations.
For me, winter break was a time spent over tasty food, both at home and in restaurants with friends and family. I want to bottle the revitalizing energy I experienced in Hong Kong to help propel me through this semester. My fellow peers, I hope your break was a period of rest, love, adventures, laughter, and food. Spring semester, we are ready for you!