It’s all about the food

It probably does or not make sense, that although I visit Hong Kong fairly frequently, counting once or twice per year, there is a habit that I realised I have formed. When I enjoy something, I will have this tendency to revisit the eatery whenever I go to Hong Kong. The rationale is that since I like it, it is something that draws me back, right? Yet, in a city like Hong Kong, not unlike Singapore, where possibly many new eateries open all the time, I should be checking out new places, or at least recommended places that I have not yet tried. This was the case with say, Yee Shun Milk Company, which I used to visit without fail in the past, just to have their steamed milk pudding. Another one was Mak’s Noodles, and I always go to the outlet at Wellington Street, because it is always not crowded whenever I pop in and I find the staff relatively friendly (because they are not busy then I guess). I have since stopped going to Yee Shun or Mak’s, because I think I have had enough of the milk pudding which I find a tad too sweet for my liking now, and because I don’t generally eat much rice/noodles these days… going to Mak’s just for the wanton is not really that worth it for me.

But one place that I still go to without fail, at least for the last few times, would be Lin Heung. One of go-to dim sum places in the past was Luk Yu Tea House along Stanley Street. They are more tourist-friendly and probably pricier too (I can’t be totally sure) because of its restaurant-style setting. It’s much like our dim sum places in Singapore like Crystal Jade or the likes where you sit down and someone comes to take your order, which you do using a sheet of paper that only has Chinese names of the dim sum dishes. Each time I go, I would order the same wrong dish that I end up not eating, because I kept thinking that is something I want, but it turns out to be some innards dish that I don’t dare to eat. Haha!

Once, on a trip to Hong Kong, my friend and I checked out Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street, and I was quite sold. It’s so full of local flavour, even if there are many tourists who are easily recognisable, some even coming with their luggage cases in tow. You can see the uncles and aunties out for their morning yum cha, toting newspapers while sipping on a cup of Chinese tea, slowing taking bites of their ma-lai-gao or the lotus-leaf-wrapped glutinous rice.

The last few times, I have gone to Lin Heung at Sheung Wan instead, and it was on of the past trips that I discovered the goodness of their egg tarts! These are the flak-crust variety that are what I would consider bite-size. It’s not as custard-y or eggy like how some egg tarts tend to be, and its size ensures that you don’t get overwhelmed by it!My friend ordered this deep-fried yam pastry that was also pretty delicious. I like all these yams, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and the likes, even if I seldom or rather, never order this because yes it is deep-fried and usually the other people I go to Lin Heung with don’t seem to be fond of ordering deep-fried items too. But its crispiness was assured since they are only pushed out on the carts when they are ready! That’s why I am always on a hit-or-miss expedition of sorts to Lin Heung because there are times when I go there and don’t get to have anything that I really wanted!
Char siew bun, which again, is something that is seldom on my order list because it’s too much carbo that fills up precious stomach space. Char siew in Hong Kong really tastes quite different from Singapore, even in the buns. Theirs is juicier, I think, and sweeter. Which reminds me of how sweet the char siew bun of Tin Ho Wan is.  And this item always attracts almost all the patrons to the push carts once the auntie exits from the kitchen! Everyone would just rush to the cart and when they realise it’s siew mai, somehow the steamers just get snapped up really fast in record time!
On the whole, I don’t find Lin Heung to be extremely affordable or cheap, and the dim sum isn’t intricate, in the sense that they don’t look exquisite. But then again, dim sum to me, is about the taste, which I think is decent, and the experience, which is quite fun! Imagine me chasing after the aunties grabbing at the dim sum steamers while clutching the order sheet in my hand, jostling with tourists and locals to make sure I get the siew mai. That’s quite a rare sight I would think.

That same day, or rather morning, we decided to pop into Tsui Wah, the newly-renovated and reopened outlet along Wellington Street. It’s definitely newer and cleaner now as compared to its previous self, but I think service wise, it seems to have slipped loads. I have only been to this Tsui Wah a few times but they always are quite prompt, but this time, we had to wait really long just to get our orders taken, and then for the drinks and food to be served (even though we only ordered the condensed milk bun), it took forever as well. Needless to say, the bill took its time to come too.
Their famed condensed milk bun on wholegrain bread which I thought was quite cool (and healthy perhaps?) but my friend lamented the measly amount of butter and condensed milk spread on the bread, which was supposed to be the main attraction of the bun!

I ordered a yuan-yang that I thought was not too bad and had both the flavours of tea and coffee evident. It probably boils down to individual preferences as my friend prefers that the coffee flavour is not so strong that it seemed to overpower the tea taste. Perhaps it’s because I am generally a coffee drinker so I would prefer that the coffee taste is distinct.
Close-up of the bun that disappointed my friend. LOL.  So then we went over to Kowloon for some shopping after all that eating, and I think Kowloon and me just don’t gel. I get a headache while being in Kowloon, even though Hong Kong is on the whole, crowded everywhere. After a couple of hours, I just needed to find a place to chill and relax, but then again cafes are pretty scarce in this part of Hong Kong, and we hard a really hard time trying to find seats! Finally, we managed to snag a seat each at this small but open Starbucks at Harbour City, and ordered a Chestnut cheesecake for our tea/coffee break. 🙂

all that yummy goodness

Just before I left Hong Kong last December, my friend and I stopped by Tin Ho Wan at the Airport Express station (Hong Kong Station) for me to get my fix of the famed char siew baos. Well, in Singapore the craze is probably not over yet judging from what I hear about the queues and also what I see at Plaza Singapura. I haven’t personally visited the other outlets yet but they are probably the same. And this is the only thing that interests me.

20140127-231516.jpgThe takeaway is so much faster, even though there is also some waiting involved. But where I’d stood in line a couple of years back at the then-Yau Ma Tei outlet for a couple of hours I think, this time it was probably approximately 20 minutes that I waited for these three buns. They still taste as good as I remembered, nice and warm and the char siew inside so delicious and juicy. Although it feels a little weird standing along the glass panels next to the escalators eating them out of the styrofoam takeaway box, there were many others doing the same, with most even setting up a small picnic area with their friends or family after having packed lots of different types of dim sum.

20140127-231522.jpgMy friend and I had one each and she took the remaining one back to her office to reward herself subsequently for heading back to work on a Saturday afternoon. But it’s good to share this way, works to my benefit since I only wanted one anyway. As long as she doesn’t mind it.

That was about all that I had from Tin Ho Wan, but I had dim sum on two other days, at another tea house called Lin Heung. Apparently they have a newer outlet somewhere in the Western District. I’d been to the original outlet located along Wellington Street few years ago and was really fascinated by the very traditional setting and also local yum-cha crowd. At this newer outlet or maybe even possibly due to its popularity it has somehow become inundated with tourists like myself. We visited Lin Heung twice, and each time there was always a long wait for the kinds of food that we wanted. That’s perhaps the spirit of yum-cha, where you can sit for a long time sipping tea and poring through the morning papers as you wait for the freshly-made dim sum, ordering and savouring them wicker basket by basket and not have them all at the same time buffet-style.

20140127-231529.jpgThis came in a set of threes, where you had to choose three items, so clockwise from left, there was the carrot cake, the yam cake and i think the dark brown was the nian gao. I liked the carrot cake because it was pan-fried to just the right degree for me, not too hard or soft, even though well these aren’t the healthiest choices of food that we can have. But the tea should go well with it in cleansing away the greasiness?

20140127-231535.jpgThe first time that we were there, we managed just two or maybe three items because the wait was just too long and we decided to give up waiting for the right things to appear in the push carts. So we returned on another day, and the moment the siew mai (and some other stuff) came out, everyone just rushed to the push carts instead of waiting for them to come around. If you are slower, then you’ll either have to wait for the next round that could be another long wait or just pass on having it. These were pretty ordinary, not bad but none too special if I could recall.

20140127-231540.jpgAnd of course, to us, or at least to a Singaporean like me, staple dim sum fare always means siew mai and har gao. I don’t usually order char siew bao because it fills up half of my stomach and it’s just not worth it. Unless it’s THW’s char siew baos of course.

And I found something else that probably might also fall into this same category. The mini egg tarts of Lin Heung. These were freshly made and the egg custard part was still very warm and fragrant, slightly soft and runny, and the pastry beneath was flaky but not falling apart. I really loved these when I sank my teeth into them, and made a mental note that the next time I visit Hong Kong, I would try to make it a point to go to Lin Heung for dim sum, if not just for them!

20140127-231546.jpgBut I was told that the standards aren’t always consistent, as my friend went back on another occasion and found that they don’t taste as good as that time when we visited. Hmm, I hope I don’t get disappointed!

tired but happy

We thought we’d start the day early and catch the ferry to Macau, but before that made a trip to this breakfast place my friend found online. It took us sometime to locate it, and when we finally got there, this was what greeted us. It isn’t your run-of-the-mill dim sum restaurant with spiffy wait-staff dressed in glitzy Chinese resturant uniforms that so often boast brocade and oriental patterns. This was where having morning tea with dim sum mattered more than the facade of serving food to customers, so it was a self-service type of laissez faire. The “servers”, for want of a better word to describe them, pushed the trolleys around and you basically just go after them and open up the baskets to find out what’s within. If it suits your palate, then you just tell the person which one you want, then she will affix a stamp for the size of basket (for pricing purposes) ordered, then you just take it back to your seat. It was a rather stressful affair particularly since I don’t understand much Cantonese, but somehow we managed to grab some food amidst all that chattering in the small crowded place.

It was an interesting and novel experience for us, and although I found that the food wasn’t made to delicate proportions like what a lot of us are used to, the taste was pretty decent, and we spent HKD74 in total.

Seeing as to how the sky didn’t seem too agreeable we decided to postpone the ferry ride to Macau and I went for my usual latte at a nearby Starbucks. Hehe. From there, it was just shopping and eating for the rest of the day, which got me pretty tired due to the long hours of walking and especially jostling or rather avoiding people on the streets with no sense of situational awareness. That is a tiring affair indeed.

On the last trip in April 2009, I was pretty upset that I couldn’t find this noodle shop that I had been frequenting in all the past visits. I chanced upon this place years ago that sells fried instant noodles (CQYD) that I absolutely adore, and since then each time I visit I would bring whoever was with me to the shop. Oddly though, the recommended dish is as pictured, fried noodles with chicken wings, but I have never ordered that personally because being the lazy person that I am, I didn’t want to have to grapple with the bones. But I have tried the wings before, and they are good.

The noodles are not overcooked and still retain the elasticity and bounciness, although they are a tad oily. Somehow where these noodles are concerned, the oil factor don’t seem to bother me, so there, I have double standards. This to me, is by far one of the best fried instant mee that I ever had, so I was happy to be able to find the other outlet online that I went today; the one that I used to visit had closed down. The chicken wings, according to my friend who had it, was crispy on the outside with tender meat on the inside; I think that is not something easy because most times chicken wings tend to be either over or under-cooked. Nevertheless, I had a great lunch albeit a rather late one at 530pm, after dessert, and then we went for more dessert when we were done with the noodles.

The walking today has sort of gotten to me so I may be typing incoherently at this point. I thought we ate quite a lot today, but sporadically over the 12 hours that we were out, and check out what we bought over these couple of days. I say retail therapy can be a tiring activity but it is totally satisfying.