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Saturday, 17 December 2011

Eating myself to death in Hong Kong (and Macau)

Hong Kong may well be the food capital of the world. In one week in this utterly mental, wonderful city I’m pretty sure I’ve piled back on the weight I’ve lost over the last three months. There is food everywhere, on every street corner and every other shop. It is easily the most delicious smelling city that I’ve visited in my time abroad, at every turn there’s something new enticing you with a delightful aroma. And the beauty of it is that it’s almost all so cheap.

The view over the city
My time in Hong Kong itself was spent mostly on the mainland area of Kowloon, home of the vast majority of the 7million people who live in the autonomous administrative area of China that makes up Hong Kong and my guesthouse (on the 8th floor of a tower block you learn quickly that towersare just as much streets as regular ground level here). But on my first full day in the city I took a ride down to Hong Kong island and up to The Peak aboard one of the vintage trams that still run the incredibly steep route to the top of the hill that overlooks the city and offers the best views of the region. Unfortunately, the smog that hangs over much of Hong Kong made any long-distance views impossible. Still, the short-distance was impressive enough.

Hong Kong may well be the only city in the world where you can accidentally go for Michelin starred food and not take a wallet-pounding as a result. I was already aware of Tim Ho Wan (the home of the cheapest starred food in the world) and had set myself the task of heading to his restaurant for breakfast one day. Yet in my quest to find a decent-looking and reasonably priced eatery with, and this became a running theme, a menu I could understand I happened upon Din Tai Fung. I got myself a number for the queue and, as there was only me dining, quickly jumped the hour-long queue. Not before I’d taken a look at the various recommendations outside the restaurant and realised it had the aforementioned recommendation from the tyre people. I can confirm the food was delicious and recommend anyone going to try the Xiao Long Bao dumplings.

Tim Ho Wan's buns
The next morning I made it to Tim Ho Wan’s eatery and realised that the reputation is not only well deserved, but also attracts staggering numbers of people. I arrived 20 minutes before opening and the queue was already to the corner of the street. An hour later I finally made it inside and found out why, the restaurant only seats 30 people at a time. However the wait was more than worth it, his pork buns were everything I’d read they were. So much so that I ended up back there on my final morning in Hong Kong for seconds (and an even longer queue).

Wednesday is free museum entry day in HK and I took full advantage, scouring the excellent Museum of History with its incredible recreations of Hong Kong’s past from prehistoric to modern times (Singapore and Hong Kong both excel in these museums that you’d expect to pay ridiculous sums for in the UK) and the Space Museum, a fun and interactive guide through humanity’s fixation with space.

The Grand Lisboa...feeling queasy!
I couldn’t come to this part of the world without catching a ferry to Macau (and not just for the extra stamp it got me in my passport). Described in my guidebook as a “city searching for identity” it’s an incredible mash of Portuguese architecture, Chinese shops and stalls and a scaled-down version of Las Vegas, complete with Wynn and MGM hotels. The Wynn is even styled to be a smaller replica of the grandiose Wynn/Encore complex in the real Vegas. Macau was an easy city to fall in love with; the ruins of the old Portuguese castle looking out over the city, the proliferation of the ubiquitous custard tarts that every bakery seemed to offer and the chance to gamble all your savings away in the space of 2 sq km. Luckily I had to catch a ferry back to HK or I may still be there in the incredible Grand Lisboa (a structure capable of inducing vertigo just by looking at it).

Hong Kong is easily one of the most enjoyable cities I’ve had the privilege of visiting. Some day I will return, if only to pick up more cheap shirts at the night market and to gorge on Tim Ho Wan’s baked buns again.

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