Hong Kong is a food lover's paradise and for aficionados of Cantonese, Chiu Chow, Hunan, Szechuan, Peking or Shanghainese cuisine, there really is no finer place to indulge your taste buds. I just returned from a quick sojourn to one of my favorite culinary and shopping destinations, but must admit that I had a few hits and misses food wise this time.
Hong Kong locals are a little obsessed with hot pot restaurants, a series of food outlets that let you cook your own food in a huge steaming bowl of liquid placed in the center of your table, but it may take more than this one experience to convince me. I was dining out in the Mong Kok area of Kowloon with a friend who was in town for the annual toy fair. After a brief retail therapy session at the all-consuming Ladies' Market, we were both eager to find a restaurant so we began looking upwards, as you do in Hong Kong, to survey the neon lights and signs that invariably lead to a variety of dining establishments located on the upper floors of buildings (very few restaurants in Hong Kong are situated on the ground level). No one could ever accuse Hong Kong of not having enough restaurants, but in this instance, we were having some trouble. We found a Korean place on the fifth floor of an inconspicuous office building but the 45-minute wait was too long for our grumbling stomachs so chose to look elsewhere. As the elevator doors opened on the third floor, we saw a restaurant full of patrons so opted to get off and investigate.
Our hot pot adventure began here at a place where we were noticeably the only westerners and the single English menu was dragged out of a bottom drawer. My friend Nick prides himself on eating almost anything and I must admit that I can be rather adventurous, but even I was not willing to attempt emptying the plate of chicken skin, entrails and assorted internal organs to the pot of bubbling herbs in the middle of our table. The restaurant staff seemed mildly amused by our refusal to add the main ingredients to our meal and each person that passed our table pointed to the abandoned plate of who knows what and suggested that we pop it in the mix. Instead we opted for the safer noodles, red bean dumplings and assorted vegetables. Suffice to say that we left rather hungry, but supremely amused by our virgin hot pot experience.
Although I wouldn't personally recommend that particular Mong Kok hot pot spot, there are a series of Little Sheep hot pot restaurants that are well regarded and located in various areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island -- the Mong Kok Hot Pot at 16 Kar Lo Street (tel. +852/2396-8816), the Tsuen Wan Hot Pot at City Landmark (tel. +852/2940-7678) Wanchai Hot Pot at Causeway Bay Plaza (tel. +852/2893-8318) and the Tsim Sha Tsui Hot Pot at 26 Kimberley Rd (tel. +852/2722-7633).
I had explained to my three year old daughter that Chinese food, which she loves and eats often, was actually from China, and that we were in effect in China, so I asked her what she would like for lunch. Her answer was pizza -- ironic but somehow amusing. We happened to be at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, on the ground floor, which is home to a large selection of children's stores and ironically a Pizza Hut (+852/2736-2715). Let me preface this by saying that I have never willingly eaten at a Pizza Hut in the U.S. or elsewhere for that matter, and to be honest was not thrilled about doing so here. But this particular Pizza Hut looked more like a designer restaurant that a fast food outlet. Apart from the universally recognizable logo, nothing about this place was remotely like Pizza Hut. Architectural furnishings, mood lighting, funky curve backed chairs, white starched linen napkins, wine glasses and an extensive menu awaited us. The pizza itself was in my humble opinion, completely delicious and so was my baked pasta dish. The meal for two set us back about $25 which I thought was a small price to pay to keep my daughter happy.
I am a huge fan of dumplings, in any shape, format and flavor -- boiled, fried or steamed. I love the idea of eating as little or as much as I like, resting in between 'courses' and sharing tasty food with a group of friends, or even strangers as the case may be when you are seated at a large table with people you don't know. So doing Dim Sum (or as we call it back in Australia -- Yum Cha) seems only natural in Hong Kong, but make sure you go early -- brunch or lunch -- and at the larger restaurants you may be in for a bit of a wait (don't forget to get a number). For a great visual introduction to the whole Dim Sum experience, visit www.chaxiubao.typepad.com/photos/the_sum_of_hong_kong/index.html Cha Xiu Bao's website and get an idea of what you are in store for.
Probably Hong Kong's most famous Dim Sum restaurant, Maxim's (tel. +852/2521-1303), on the second floor at City Hall in Central still serves its Dim Sum from traditional carts, unlike most other restaurants that now opt for the à la carte version. Prices have gone up since I first ate here over a decade ago but a meal is still quite reasonable and certainly delicious. The less expensive Fu Sing Shark Fin Seafood Restaurant (tel. +852/2893-0881) on the first floor of Sunshine Plaza at 353 Lockhart Road in Wanchai also gets top marks for excellent Dim Sum variety and selection.
Spring Deer (tel. +852/2366-4012) at 42 Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui is an old favorite of mine. No marks for decor but the Peking style food is always delicious and the atmosphere is lively, if not utterly chaotic. Again here, I was the only westerner and received more than a few passing stares and glares as I thumbed through my Frommer's Hong Kong guide book, pretending to not care that I was dining alone when other tables were full of groups of ten or more. Try the chili dry fried beef that comes in Chinese-style pita pockets for around $15, plus a plate of Bok Choy for around $8. Both dishes can easily be shared by two people If you have an expense account and fancy Italian-Japanese fusion cuisine, then Aqua (tel. +852/3427-2288; www.aqua.com.hk), located on the top (28th) floor of One Peking Road in Tsim Sha Tsui could be the perfect place for you to grab a drink and snack or light meal while taking in unsurpassed city and harbor views in a stylish setting. Two drinks and a plate of olives was about $35.
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