A great day ...

update: I fixed that link to the waffle post.  Thanks to those who pointed it out. 

What a great day we had yesterday ... the sort of day that made us both sigh in contentment and say, "this is why we moved to Hong Kong." We have lots of days where all we want is to listen to "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" or "Prairie Home Companion" or "This American Life," get out into the countryside, and then have a picnic with good bread, some smoked cheddar and apples.  In other words, replicate exactly our New England life.  And a huge part of what we loved in our Macau vacation last fall?  It didn't feel like Asia.  

But yesterday, we invested a little time and money into being exactly where we are, and we loved it. We started off taking a "Local foods walking tour" through the YWCA.  We've been wanting to sign up for one of these ever since we moved here, but the times just never worked out.  Even though we're pretty adventurous when it comes to food, there's enough food here to be squeamish about that in the absence of English menus or English-speaking waitstaff, we stay away from certain joints.  No longer.  The tour was great--we visited a congee house (congee is a thin rice porridge with various savory toppings. Quite comforting and perfect baby food--Finn loved it), a tea house, a dai pai dong, a street food stall, a vegetarian bakery, and a dessert place. The tour guide was a guy about our age who had grown up here in Hong Kong and attended the school where Matt teaches.  We asked him tons of questions about things we've seen, how to order various items, what characters to look for in order to recognize what a place sells, and learned some useful phrases.  

A few interesting nuggets: 

--The tea houses want to sell tea, obviously enough.  But the good news for us is that they gladly offer samples of anything you might want to buy.  And since some of these teas can run upwards of $7800 HK ($1000 US), this is a good thing. Traditionally, you could buy your tea and then take it to the dim sum shop, where they would store it for you, and prepare it when you came to eat.

--Dai pai dongs are the temporary, covered restaurants found on many streets.  But there aren't many "real" ones left anymore--the government issued licenses to families to run these places after the war, as recompense for losing loved ones. But the licenses had to be handed down through the family, and they don't issue new ones.  So slowly, these licenses are just being lost and places are closing.  We had dim sum at the place we visited, and all of the food items we had tried before, but the drinks! We didn't know what a variety of drinks were on offer--the ubiquitous milk tea, of course (tea with evaporated milk), but also tea and coffee mixed, hot ginger Coke with lemon, cream soda and milk, salty 7up, lemon tea, lemon coke, etc ...   Apparently this is where they make most of their money.  The hot ginger coke was great, and would be a perfect cure for an upset stomach or a little cold. At the end of the meal, a little man comes over to the table with a calculator, and starts adding up the number of plates and cups to determine the bill. Our table was quite covered with dishes, and we had wondered why they hadn't taken some away as we finished them ... but aha.  Now we understood.

--I learned that a wide white thing that I had thought looked vaguely intestinal, or perhaps like some strange seafood, and therefore avoided, is actually a rice noodle called "cheung fun."  This noodle is sold at our favorite take out stand, and since I quite enjoyed it, I'm glad to be able to get it from now on.

--The dessert place we went to is one we visit quite frequently, to get mango and coconut juice, or mango pudding with mixed fruit.  But there are a number of traditional Chinese desserts we've avoided, mainly because we really didn't know what they were.  Things like bird's nest mango pudding--is this a real bird's nest, like in the soup?  Or is it just made to resemble bird's nest? (It's the real thing.) And mango juice with harsmar? This is listed on the menu right before the juice with sago (like tapioca) and juice with glutinous rice balls, so is it just some other form of "bubble" ? (Nope, or maybe yes, depending on how you look at it.  Harsmar are frog ovaries, and are supposed to be good for you.) Turtle soup is also on the menu, along with various preparations of red beans.  I think I'll stick with mango and coconut juice, thank you.

After this amazing food tour, we realized we were in the neighborhood where Matt had been told by a student that he might be able to find a "gai dan sai" maker (the Hong Kong waffle which has stolen his heart. See here for more.) She had said it would be "obvious" what stores to go into, and sure enough, there are blocks of restaurant supply stores here, all carrying a variety of gai dan sai makers. So it's back to our local waffle stand for us, to observe what they use. It's amazing to me 1. how restaurant supply stores are the same all over the world (or at least, in the US, Montreal, Oxford and Hong Kong) and 2. how much I love them!  

Our evening was spent watching a bilingual production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Matt's school.  It was phenomenal.  The school itself is bilingual, with the goal of students being fluent in both Mandarin and English by graduation. Of course this goal is only partially realized, and the reality of what bilingual education looks like, particularly in secondary classrooms, is still being worked out. But these plays, with certain parts translated into Chinese and some parts into a patois of "Chinglish" are just plain fun and impressive on many levels.  We spoke with a Chinese teacher on the way home from the play who said the Chinese itself had been translated very well--maintaining the poetry and lightness of a midsummer night. Both the acting and the direction were clearly executed with the goal of helping those of us who know no Chinese to keep up with what was going on (and knowing the play helped here, of course). The gal who played Nick Bottom just took our breath away--we laughed until we cried, even though a good number of her lines were in Chinese. That's good acting.   

To conclude this perfect Hong Kong day, we went to a new little hot pot place (new to us, that is) in our neighborhood for an after-theater dinner.  Called "Little Fat Cow," this place could easily turn us into little fat cows. You choose the broth (two, in our case, a simple ginger-tofu-cabbage broth and a fire-y Szechuan broth) which sits on a hot plate in the middle of the table, simmering away.  Then order items to cook in the broth: thinly sliced angus beef, seafood, corn on the cob, greens, mushrooms, dumplings, wontons, noodles, etc.

They bring it all out, along with myriad sauces and accompaniments, including salted peanuts, pickled onions, wasabi, soy sauce, fried garlic, scallions, and hot peppers. It's all so good, it's hard to eat slowly, even though it is clearly a meal for savoring. We ordered their beer special--3 large (640 ml) bottles of Asahi  beer for just $20 HK (which is about $2.50 US, making each bottle 80-something cents.  Why is it that we enjoy it more once we calculate exactly how cheap it is?) And whenever our glasses ran low, Asahi-Girl was to the rescue, opening another bottle from our bucket and filling up those glasses. She had on a cute blue outfit, with silver boots and "Asahi" on her shirt, and really did look like a superhero. The whole meal cost $184 HK, and we were more than satiated.

I know that we'll still have those cravings for our New England life and American comforts from time to time, but "Prairie Home Companion" and smoked cheddar be damned, we've got hot ginger coke and Little Fat Cow.


Marcy at Life is Good said...

Can you listen to NPR online? We did that occasionally while in Switzerland.

Sounds like a jam-packed day. Cheers for appreciating being right where you are. =)

Meredith said...

I *loved* reading this...felt almost like I was along for your adventure. Does Finn go to all this with you or do you and Matt get out and about just the two of you? Take it from one New Englander--you are right where you want to be!! Right now it is soppy and brownish gray. Mr. Temperature is unsure of who he wants to be--one day warm and spring-like, one day freezing and blustery.