Friday, April 6, 2012

Hong Kong: Day 5

Feeling refreshed after a quieter day previously, we set out to explore Hong Kong island. Our first stop for the day was Causeway Bay, including Times Square and immediate surrounds. We had great fun exploring the shops within the mall (which has a much more affordable selection of shops than IFC or Elements - two thumbs up!), as well as the local surrounds.

We particularly enjoyed an exhibition of Wong Tin Yan's work and couldn't resist purchasing a little piece after meeting him.

It was then time for lunch at Mak's Noodle, which had been recommended by our friends earlier in the week.

Evidently, they weren't the only ones to recommend the place - Anthony Bourdain has sung praise for the establishment, as well as some more "local" food writers.

We ordered bowls of wonton noodle soup and were delighted by the "bite" of the noodles, the delicate flavour of the soup and the simplicity of the wontons. Some people complain that the bowls are too small, but I found the quantity to be just right and was satisfied, but not stuffed after our meal. The food was on the pricier side fpr local dining in Hong Kong, at around $4AUD per bowl. Well worth it in my opinion!

The afternoon was filled with more walking and more shopping...oh, and a little more eating too - check out this baby from a street vendor - egg waffle, made from eggs, flour, sugar and evaporated milk. YUM!

Then came the rain...and boy, did it rain! We quickly found some cheap umbrellas at a local store and were on our way back to our hotel to rest our legs for the evening.

The rain, coupled with our laziness gave us the perfect excuse to indulge, for the first time, in the hotel's buffet dinner. I was most excited about the dessert buffet, where I must have sampled at least 15 different treats.

Bellies full, we made it back to our room just in time for some trashy broadcasting and an early night.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hong Kong: Day 4

After a big buffet breakfast, we set out to Mong Kok - the most populated place in the world according to the Guinness World Records. We were there to spend some time at the Langham Place, the ladies market and the various themed streets that the area is famous for. Our plan was foiled after about 30 minutes, when I suddenly became extremely nauseous. I'm not exactly sure of the cause (although one shop keeper did suggest that I was pregnant...ummm, no!). It may have been something that I'd eaten, but Mum has eaten everything that I have for the past five days. As such, I'm putting it down to a virus. In any case, said virus meant that we had to head back to our hotel for a lie down. A few hours of sleep made a huge difference - even though I still wasn't 100% better, the urge to projectile vomit had subsided and I gingerly made my way out again.

This time, we stuck to the local area and found ourselves inside local Chinese department store - Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium. The place is full of jade, tea, Chinese furniture and some things that I have never seen before. It was a great place to stock up on some gifts...even one for myself - a pair of beautiful Chinese jade earrings.

As evening fell, I felt strong enough to stomach some dinner and we headed to one of the many little cafés that Hong Kong is famous for. These small, family-run establishments adorn virtually every street in Hong Kong and serve cheap and cheerful options for locals and tourists alike. Many do not have English menus (we lucked out), but that doesn't matter - who doesn't like a bit of pointing and mime?!

We kept our order pretty simple - some bok choy with oyster sauce and rice, and a couple of pieces of turnip cake.

We couldn't resist a dessert - sago pudding with taro paste - yum!

We worked off our dinner with another stroll around the night markets...

...then opted for an early night.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hong Kong: Day 3

We started our third day full day in Hong Kong with a bang - an egg custard tart bang to be specific. Not far from our hotel is a little bakery that makes a fresh, warm batch every morning.

We purchased four for 140HKD or approximately $1.70AUD and swung past a convenience store for the rest of our breakfast provisions.

Check out these babies - perfectly flaky pastry with rich, decadent custard.

The tarts, plus a drink and yoghurt came to around $2AUD each - not bad, in my humble opinion!

Bellies full, we set off to explore one of Hong Kong's newest mall - Elements, which sits atop Kowloon station. While we picked up some cheap basics from Zara and H&M, the rest of the stores were not really our cup of tea - too many luxury/designer shops with inflated prices.

After a few hours of walking (working off our tarts, perhaps?), we headed to Lei Garden - a more upmarket yum cha chain, with approximately 10 restaurants throughout Hong Kong. There, we enjoyed a fantastic selection of dumplings, some sticky rice and an eggplant dish. The highlight for me were the dumplings - the wrappers were so delicate with a gorgeous translucent quality, and the fillings were so full of flavour that no additional condiments were required.

After lunch, we caught the MTR across to Central to visit IFC. Unfortunately, we found ourselves in the same predicament - too many luxury brands and not enough good quality, middle of the road options.

Back at our hotel, we decided to indulge in a 100 minute spa treatment, involving a full body massage and a Chinese foot treatment. The latter was fabulous and much needed after all our walking. The rest of our evening was low key - a quick wander around the nearby night markets, a very simple dinner picked up from a bakery and an early night - lovely!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hong Kong: Day 2

Our second day in Hong Kong was packed to the brim with activities and excitement. The day commenced with an MTR trip out to Causeway Bay. Specifically, to Japanese department store Sogo, where we were meeting some friends with local knowledge. We arrived a tad early and decided to fill our time with (what else?!) shopping. As much as I adore shopping in Hong Kong, my pet peeve is shoe shopping. For some reason, stores are willing to embrace larger western figures (I have no problem finding clothes to fit my nearly 6 foot, medium-sized frame), but shoes? Forget about it! This is my fourth trip to Hong Kong and I've never managed to pick up a pair (the exception being unisex shoes, such as Converse) - the largest size sold typically being a European 39. Any local business people reading: do yourself a favour and stock 40s and 41s - you'll be a hit with the tourist and expat communities and make an absolute mint.

I digress! After an hour of browsing, we met our delightful friends and guides for the day who took us to their favourite sticky rice shop, just 30 seconds walk from Sogo. This place is a bit of a local institution and it's not hard to see why. The rice was sticky, but not gluggy and the filling of (what I think was) Rousong and freshly cooked Youtiao (Chinese donut) was just delicious. Washed down with a glass of fresh soy milk, I was one happy camper!

We were then shown a couple of nearby restaurants (to which we will return later in the week) and taken on a quick tour of Causeway Bay - one of the most popular areas of Hong Kong, with great shopping, food and a really "buzzy" atmosphere. I couldn't resist a shot of these air conditioning units and construction site, only seconds from luxurious Times Square - the contrasts of Hong Kong are incredibly vivid!

From Causeway Bay, our party of seven set off in a minibus to Stanley - one of the most picturesque parts of Hong Kong.

We enjoyed a stroll around the scenic area, which has been significantly developed since our last visit to Hong Kong in 2008. A visit to Stanley Market was, of course, necessary. The vibe at this market is much more relaxed than at other local markets. There is far less pushiness on the part of shop keepers, but also less scope to bargain for prospective customers. We finished our shopping trip and time with our friends with an ice-cream - coconut and pandan for yours truly and green tea for Mum.

Back at the hotel, we gussied ourselves up for a special birthday dinner for Mum at the Langham's renowned T'ang Court. I had booked the meal in a few weeks ago, knowing well its reputation for excellent Cantonese fare. A word of warning: there are two Langham hotels in Hong Kong. Don't be an idiot (like yours truly) and drag your guest to the wrong hotel first! For the record, T'ang Court is located in the Langham at Tsim Sha Tsui - not Mon Kok.

Thankfully, I'm quite the confident navigator of Hong Kong and managed to take us from one Langham to the other in around 15 minutes. Once seated at the restaurant, we were overwhelmed by the old world Chinese charm of the place and the extremely courteous and warm service. I had booked the dinner via email, briefly noting that it was a special birthday dinner for my mother. The staff were aware of this and each one wished mum a "happy birthday and long life". The chef even prepared some complementary "long life" buns (i.e. lotus seed buns) on the house - an incredibly sweet gesture!

But first things first, we decided to splurge on some wine (one of the few real splurges in Hong Kong, because it is expensive - around $45 for a half bottle of white!) and settled on the "set menu for two".

We started our banquet with a baked crab shell stuffed with beautifully tender crab meat and onion, accompanied by a slightly sour sauce. This was honestly one of the most delicious flavour combinations I have tried. An excellent start to the evening.

Next on the menu was mixed seafood in a hot and sour soup. Subtly balanced flavours and silky tofu: flawless!

Our third course consisted of two golden prawns, with sweet and sour sauce (sauce not pictured below). The prawns were bursting full of flavour and the crispy crunch of the deep fried exterior was the perfect complement for the sweet meat within.

Next on the menu was a lamb chop, cooked in garlic and red wine - tender and flavoursome.

Our final savoury dish was a duck and chicken friend rice, wrapped in a lotus leaf. This was the only dish of the evening that we felt could have done with some extra flavour. Thankfully, the assorted condiments on the table provided a quick solution. We added a few spoons of chilli, which elevated the dish to a whole new level.

For dessert, we were presented with three dishes: a chilled mango pudding, a fresh fruit selection and the aforementioned "long life" buns. The mango pudding was a particular highlight, with its succulent slivers of fresh mango and perfect consistency.

What a wonderful evening to celebrate the birthday of a wonderful woman! Thank you to the staff at T'ang Court for making the occasion so memorable.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hong Kong: the first 24...

Greetings from vibrant Hong Kong! I've splurged on a wifi package (well, at this exchange rate, nothing seems like a splurge!), so can update everyone on our daily activities from the comfort of our hotel room.

We had a rather uneventful direct flight to Hong Kong - just the way I like my flights! There was, however, one "interesting" incident involving my mother and an over-chilled mango Weis Bar. Mum was quick to demonstrate my family's innate (possibly hereditary?) ability to hurt oneself by losing half her lip to the fruity bar in question. Two words: Face. Palm.

We arrived at our hotel after 11pm (2pm Australian time) and were thrilled to put our heads down for the night. After a hearty breakfast and a quick "how are the cats?" catch up (you'll be thrilled to know, they're fine), we set out on our first day of shopping.

Okay, so there may have been photographic evidence to prove that they're okay...

We opted to visit Citygate Outlets - a mall full of mid- to high-end brands at discounted prices. It's a fairly comfortable way of gently reacquainting oneself with the often chaotic environment of Hong Kong. After a couple of short MTR (subway) rides, we were at the mall and ready to shop until we dropped. At over 65, Mum's ability to shop puts me to shame. My beloved is often shocked at my accomplished stamina and love of the sport (let's face it - it is a sport...just a very expensive one!), but by golly, my mum could easily vie for an Olympic medal!

We did particularly well (read: bought lots!) at a number of stores in the centre. The DKNY/CK outlet was a particular highlight and I picked up a beautiful coat for winter, as well as a couple of dresses and tops (five items for around $300AUD - did I mention I love this exchange rate?!). Other purchases of the day included a new wallet for mum; some cheap and cheerful bits and pieces from the MANGO outlet; an oversized wooly cardigan; and a surprise or two for my beloved.

We began to feel a wee bit peckish and, upon checking the time, realised it was 3pm (or 5pm Australian time). Clearly the one thing that makes me forget about eating is shopping! We headed straight to the food court for a comforting bowl of wonton noodle soup. I expected a rather lacklustre food court experience, but was pleasantly surprised by the flavoursome dumplings and broth.

The watermelon milk (yes, milk!) and kiwi fruit juice weren't all that impressive, but for around $10AUD for two soups and drinks, I'm not complaining (N.B. this is extremely inflated food court pricing and is not representative of eating locally/authentically in Hong Kong).

Back at the hotel room, we rested our legs for half an hour before stepping out for a bite of dinner. As mum was craving some south east Asian flavours, dinner was at cheap and cheerful Singaporean chain, Toast Box. While waiting for our meals to be served, we were amused by this sign:

Kickapoo joy juice anyone? ;)

Mum's beef rendang was not particularly memorable, but my char kway teow was a tad sweet, but decent.

We worked off our dinner with a walk around the local area, including a quick stroll through the Temple Street night markets. The neon lights of Hong Kong remind me so very much of the film, Bladerunner. Do you agree?

Because we *clearly* hadn't eaten enough for the day, we swung by Chinese department store, Wing On, and picked up these:

The verdict? Okay, but nothing to write home about.

We also popped into Seven Eleven and purchased what Mum referred to as an unappetizing dish cloth (with such strong words how could I not?!).

The dishcloth was good. Very good, in fact. Sponge cake spread with buttery peanut goodness, all for under AUD 50 cents - what's not to like?

And this brings me to now - bed time. Time to dream about all our exciting plans for tomorrow - I see sticky rice, a seaside stroll and Michelin starred dining in my future...g'night, all.