I’d love to tell you that on our three-day stop in Hong Kong, we hit all the major tourist attractions and checked them off one-by-one. Alas, that would be a lie.
We did not go to Victoria’s Peak, or Lantau Island. We did not gaze in wonder at the mid-level escalators, or pose for photos in front of the Clock Tower. We did not say hi to the Big Buddha or peak into the Po Lin monastery. We did not go to Disneyland or even the Museum of History.
We ate. And ate. And then ate some more.
We barely even visited the Jade Market, and when we did, it was because we were killing time before our next scheduled feeding.
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight. We wanted to taste everything that Hong Kong had to offer, and I think we did a pretty fair job. From milk tea and tomato noodle soup at one of the city’s last dai pai dong to dim sum at the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant (the pork buns were the standout) to elegant Cantonese specialties at the Ritz Carlton and inventive Japanese fusion fare at one of the city’s hottest restaurants, we tried a lot of stuff. And then some more stuff.
(Except shark fin soup, even though it was on every damn menu and sold as an ingredient in every damn market).
We weren’t alone on this quest. While we did find and book a couple of restaurants on our own, we also booked two days with Daisann of Little Adventures in Hong Kong before we left home.
Daisann (her name is actually a combination of Daisy and Ann) is the founder of the company and an expat from New York who has lived in Hong Kong for 12 years. With her hands waiving excitedly and her excellent grasp of the Cantonese language, her enthusiasm for Hong Kong and its food scene is completely contagious.
By the second day, I really felt like we were just walking around the city with a good friend who just happened to be a local. My favorite thing was when she would bust out in Cantonese with the shop owners or at the market stalls. Her face would become more animated, her tone would become more forceful, and the looks of respect she got from the locals was priceless. I would really, really highly recommend her services.
So, without further ado, here are the most memorable things we ate on our trip to Hong Kong.
Drinks at 001
This place is not easy to find. Especially at night, which it was (you can’t tell from my overly exposed collage above.) Luckily, I had my personal GPS/master navigator XFE to lead the way, and he found it no problem, despite having never even set foot in Hong Kong. At that point, we had actually only been in the city for approximately 2 hours and this was literally our first time out of the hotel. He amazes me.
Anyway, down a whole bunch of small twisty streets, and behind a dull dark gray door with absolutely no signage sits 001, a very swanky speakeasy with delicious cool drinks, plush sink-your-butt seating, and an atmosphere so dark, you can barely see the drinks menu. We had a couple of rounds of drinks, trying the Earl Grey martini, an Old Cuban and a Godfather Smash (can’t remember the fourth cocktail, not surprisingly). Also, the calamari was tasty.
(True story: about five minutes after we got there, a gregarious young guy came in, announced to the bartenders that he had a test tomorrow and needed to try a whole bunch of spirits. He proceeded to order a taste of just about everything in the place, from pisco to grappa to tequila to all kinds of other stuff. It was pretty fun to watch him work his way through all of it, using his spit cup obviously.)
Dinner at Ronin – well…..most of it
Following our drinks at 001, we decided to complete the Aziz AnsariEsquire’s “The Getaway” tour of Hong Kong (“treat yo’ sefl”) with dinner at Ronin. After again searching for a totally nondescript entrance, we went up a narrow flight of stairs and were ensconced in a tiny, dark hipster heaven full of waiters with facial hair and artisanal drinks involving oddly shaped ice cubes. (HA – I just noticed how the word “artisanal” contains the word “anal” in it.)
We had been smart enough to reserve one of the 14 or so bar seats. Walk ins are welcome, but are made to stand along a bar lining the back wall.
Anyway, the food was very cool, very inventive. The menu was divided into Raw, Smaller and Bigger. The descriptions were a bit befuddling. Here’s one dish, for example, “Kisu. Shiso. Tempura. Mandarin Salt.” Not having a clue what the hell such a dish might be, we defaulted and just did the tasting menu which got us about 13 dishes. (by the way, one of those dishes was that Kisu/shiso/dealio and I still have no recollection of exactly what it was.) But I do remember feeling very cool and just enjoying the vibe and overall flavor profiles, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what I was eating.
That is, I was enjoying it until a fairly large crowd showed up towards the end of our meal. And by large, I mean around 6-8 people, but in that space, it was a mob. Then the service and attentiveness slowed down and almost came to a halt as the staff scrambled to get the group a round of drinks. It threw off the timing of our meal completely, and just left us bummed. As XFE put it, with a tasting menu, there has to be really good pacing, because if there’s a lag, then my stomach catches up to my tongue and realizes that it’s full and doesn’t want anymore food. This is basically what happened to us at Ronin.
I do remember one standout dish — it was the Kagoshima beef – some mostly raw-ish thin slices of fatty beef topped with shitake mushrooms, fried garlic chips and raw egg yolk. I’m not usually one for anything raw (I like my eggs annihilated and my beef burnt. Hell, I even prefer my oysters Rockefellered), but the mix of everything together was so decadent and delicious, I couldn’t stop eating it. Unfortunately, my stomach didn’t agree and I had a rumbly tummy for the next couple of days. Not food poisoning or anything like that, but I definitely regretted stepping so far out of my comfort zone.
Hey, you know what’s good for a tummy that hates you? Snake wine. Actually, I’m not sure that’s true. But it didn’t make me feel any worse, so why the hell not?
Daisann took us to this quaint little shop, full of decrepit, antique wooden boxes holding live specimens who could have probably flicked their tales and broken their boxes apart. In the back were some tables and stools and lots of people partaking in snake soup, I think. We stayed near the front and had a sample from tiny Chinese ceramic cups. And yes, there was a snake in the bottle. I remember it tasting a bit medicine-y, with a definite heat on it as it went down your throat. So, basically like any regular bar shot.
It’s supposed to be medicinal, or an aphrodisiac because, let’s face it, the Chinese are OBSESSED with things that might make their men more viral.
Gai daan tsai (I think it was in North Point, but I’m not sure)
I’m actually convinced that Hong Kong’s famous egg waffles are much more of an aphrodisiac than snake wine. I attacked these. They were made fresh in minutes in these jerryrigged Frankenstein-esque waffle irons with all kinds of yellow and blue coated wires coming out from their handles. Definitely not something you’d find at Williams-Sonoma. The final product was hot and just a touch sweet and totally delicious. No sauce needed.
This place, in the Ritz-Carlton, is swanky. Like, two sets of chopsticks swanky. Which we had to ask about – apparently one set is for eating from your actual plate and one set is for retrieving items from any shared plates. So, if you have an appetizer that you’re sharing, you’re supposed to use one set of chopsticks to retrieve an item, say, a shrimp toast, put it on your plate, and then use the other set to actually eat it. Now, that’s really fancy.
The thing is: this place had the nicest waiters you’ll ever come across. They were so wonderful and helpful! They treated you like you were a guest in their house, even shooing you aside so they could serve you from your dish. This became very important because fancy chopsticks are a lot more lacquered and therefore slippery than just regular ol’ chopsticks. We were definitely struggling, despite doing pretty well for the majority of our trip. (That’s ok, they served dessert with forks and the Chinese girls at the table next to us were dropping their custards and pie all over the place.)
We had a lot of really great food at Tin Lung Heen (including Iberian pork with honey) but our favorite was the humble deep fried shrimp toast. It was so buttery and savory and light. I’ve never had shrimp toast like that. Ethereal. Angels must have kissed the before they were brought to the table.
Our last day in Hong Kong was perfect. Daisann had taken us to a couple of old Chinese neighborhoods, Shau Kei Wan and Lei Yue Mun, which was basically a very old, sort of frozen-in-time fishing village right across the channel with stunning views of Hong Kong Island. It was crazy to go from the commercial bustle of Central Hong Kong to basically a place stuck in time.
The day ran a bit long and we were really just planning to order room service and do our favorite travel thing, hotel room-bed picnic. But the lure of the Peking duck was too great, and Kowloon Tang was in the same ginormous mega-mall-hotel-office building multiplex structure called the Elements. Which meant we didn’t actually have to go outside and brave any drizzly, slightly cold March elements to get to it.
Kowloon Tang was exactly what you’d expect an old school Peking Duck place to be. The service was white glove, right down to the table side carving of the guest of honor, the decor was slightly Chinese baroque, and the duck was crispy, succulent perfection. To quote this blogger, that duck was kray. I will say, we have quite the amazing Peking duck place here in Northern Virginia that I would put up against Kowloon Tang’s any day of the week. It’d be a pretty fair and even fight, I think. But, if you’re in Hong Kong, you definitely have to have Peking duck and this is a great place to do that. Just be sure to call ahead to reserve your duck. No joke. You don’t get to name it, but you do need to reserve it.