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Category Archives: Culture

Weirdest thing I’ve eaten in HK…tortoise jelly 龟苓膏

The pressure of trying all the delicious foods in Hong Kong finally caught up to my stomach this week. (Perhaps my personal let-no-Chinese-bakery-good-go-unsampled campaign might have contributed to it a bit as well…)

So, naturally, when I started to feel sluggish and not hungry, I began to look for a quick-fix solution.

After consulting with a friend, she recommended that I try 龟苓膏,gui ling gao, which is essentially tortoise jelly.

So what is tortoise jelly?

Gui ling gao is a popular natural dessert with Wuzhou origins,  and is typically made  with  secret  recipes that have been passed on from generation to  generation.  It  is  classified  in  Chinese  medicine as having “cooling” properties that are able to cleanse toxins from the body.

It’s a bitter black jelly that is made from basic ingredients such as the turtle’s plastron, smilax (to fook ling, 土茯苓), honey, ginseng, wolfberries, dried rehmannia (gon di wong, 乾地黃), licorice root (kam cho, 甘草), divaricate saposhniovia (fong fung, 防風), and other ingredients. The turtles used by choice were originally the three-lined box turtle (kam ching qwei 金錢龜) because of its superior medicinal efficiency.

However, this turtle was put under the endangered species protection list a few years back, so now other types of turtles such as the Asian box turtle are used instead.

However strange the main ingredient of tortoise may sound, this dessert does provide a lot of benefits:

  • Reduce fatigue and expel heat for a healthier body with a radiant and clear complexion.
  • Flush away toxins from the body
  • Effective for problems like dry skin, pimples, insomnia, lack of appetite
  • Reduce pimples
  • Improve your metabolism rate

Once I heard that it could both speed up your metabolism and cure lack of appetite, I was determined to try it.

Thus, one day after work, I headed over to this place, upon recommendation of my friend: Hoi Tin Tong

(Address: G/F,157 Hennessy Road, Wanchai)

After forking over 55 HK, I was presented with this:

Since the jelly is pretty bitter on its own (I speak from personal experience) you pour sweetener over it to make it more palatable.

Seeing as how I had the bad judgement to try it au natural, I pretty much doused it in honey.

Even so, there was a very medicinal taste about it that I wasn’t that big a fan of. The honey was unable to mask the herb-y bitterness of the jello. The texture of the jello was also kind of weird; it was very firm and springy while maintaining a watery texture that I also wasn’t the biggest fan of.

Basically, I don’t see how you could justify this as “dessert.”

Dessert is supposed to be sweet and delicious, not something you have to choke down.

However, the hefty price tag made me choke down the entire portion.

And….

It worked! Surprisingly, I woke up the next morning feeling rejuvenated from the best night’s rest that I can recall having in recent weeks.

And my appetite is now back in full swing.

So although I will not enjoying gui ling gao as a regular dessert (I hope to never ever eat it again if I can help it), I will definitely use it as a detox tool if the need ever arises.

But I really do hope that its medicinal powers are strong enough to last me the rest of my trip so I don’t have to eat it again.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Culture, Food

 

No Reservations about Claypot Rice

Would you believe me if I told you that this restaurant was famous among Hong Kong locals as well as celebrities?

What if I told you that the celebrity mentioned above just happened to be this person?

Yep, that would be the one and only Anthony Bourdain, who just happens to be the host of the Emmy Award winning Travel Channel series No Reservations.

[You can watch this clip from Youtube, the segment about this eatery appears around the 3:31 mark]

This celebrity chef went to Hong Kong in 2007 and one of the restaurants that he went to and was on the show was 四季煲仔飯 Four Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant. It’s located on Temple Street, Yaumatei (廟街, 油麻地) Its exact address is 46-58 Arthur Street.

To get there: Take the MTR to the YauMaTei Station and take Exit C. At the exit, take a right at the fruit/juice stall and keep walking until you reach Temple St. When you reach the end of the block, turn left and the restaurant will be on the left hand side.

We knew that the restaurant had to be good when we saw the line to get into the small eating establishment.

There is another famous claypot restaurant in Temple Street called Hing Kee Restaurant that is adjacent to 4 Seasons, but there weren’t that many people inside so we opted to wait in line for 4 Seasons Clay Pot Restaurant. (The length of the line is almost always directly proportional to the quality of food served.The universal test for the quality of food in Hong Kong is to go to a restaurant where there’s along line of people waiting outside. You know the food has to be amazing if people are willing to spend 40 minutes to get into the restaurant.)

While we waited, we chose our selections from the outside menus that were thoughtfully written in both Chinese and English.

We were also able to observe the kitchen, where dozens of claypots emitted the most amazing smells as they cooked away on the hand-fed charcoal grill.

After a surprisingly short 20 minute rate (they had a very efficient system in place) we were ushered into the restaurant where we were seated at a communal table.

We ordered.

The first thing that arrived were the Oyster omelettes (20 HK for a small order, but the order was pretty big)

These were spectacular. The omelette was crisp and crunchy; there was a generous serving of fresh oysters scattered throughout the batter. The handful of fresh spring onions made the dish taste very fresh. Paired with the salty chili sauce, these were a fantastic appetizer.

But of course, what we were really here for was the claypot rice: 煲仔飯 “Bo zai fan” in Cantonese. I ordered the salted fish with chicken (26 HK) and my friend ordered the sparerib claypot.

So what is claypot rice exactly? The rice is cooked in the claypot over a relatively high heat (preferably over a charcoal fire to impart a smoky taste). This cooking method steams the toppings (which can range from eel to chicken) and burns a rich toasty layer of rice onto the bottom of the pot.  It’s nothing fancy and the presentation is not spectacular, but it is a delicious comforting dish that fills you up.

You’er supposed to open the lid of the pot as soon as it is delivered to your table. Then, using a wadded paper towel or another makeshift over mitt, you grasp the knob of the cover (take caution as it will be quite hot). You’re then supposed to take the nearby bottle of soy sauce and pour a generous dollop on top of the rice. Then, quickly mix everything together thoroughly and quickly cover the pot with the lid for a few minutes to let the flavors develop.

After waiting, you then open the pot back up and dig in with a spoon.

Mine

Hers

To be honest, it wasn’t that exciting. There was a generous amount of chicken in my portion and the velvety flavor and robust flavor indicated that it had been well marinated.  The thinly sliced ginger provided a nice contrast against the salted fish and gave it a very good balance.

However, I felt that the salted fish could be cut into tinier bits so that it would be easier to eat. The rice was nicely permeated with the flavor of the toppings, but the flavor just didn’t scream “claypot” to me. It was very good, but not spectacular. However, if time permits, I might have to come back and try their sausage rice; the fat of the sausage might flavor the rice a bit better than the lean fish that I had.

Afterwards, we went to another little shop for dessert.

To get here, walk from 4 Seasons down the small street that slightly veers to the left of the restaurant. A short block later, you should reach Temple St. At Temple St, turn left and keep walking to the end of the block. It will be on your left hand side.

This restaurant specialized in traditional Hong Kong desserts such as dessert soups and doufu fa (tofu pudding). I was pleasantly surprised to find that this menu was both in Simplified Chinese AND in English. After pondering the menu, I got the original tofu pudding (12 HK) and my friend got a Cantonese dessert soup.

Mine

Hers

I really liked this dessert shop. It had a very homey feel to it, but the desserts were simple and refreshing. I might just have to come back and try their delicious-looking black sesame soup to redeem the disappointing one I had at Honeymoon Desserts.

We were hoping to buy some fruits at the famed YauMaTei fruit market, but it doesn’t open until midnight.

And in the words of Anthony Bourdain:

“I lurched away from the table after a few hours feeling like Elvis in Vegas – fat, drugged, and completely out of it.”



 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Culture, Food

 

Hong Kong and China: The comparison

It’s hard to believe that I’m more than halfway through my Hong Kong adventure. It seems a bit unreal that in less than a month, I’ll once again be a full time student in the US.

It’s been rather humid the past few days in addition to sporadic rain. Somehow, this depressing weather has made me crave fruit.

So far on this trip, I have consumed the following items in mass quantities:

5 pounds of baby mangoes (They must be in season because it seems like the price drops every week. Seeing as how I’ve bought them 3 times in an eight day period, this addiction is likely to continue.)

4 pounds of mangosteen (starting to get sick of them)

4 kilos of lychees (I can’t even look at a lychee now, I was officially lychee-d out by week 3 due to overconsumption)

2 lbs of longyan (the ones that I’ve bought haven’t been very sweet, so I don’t think I’ll be buying these again)

4 kilos of wampi (These are deliciously sweet and tart, so I’ve still been devouring them at a shocking rate. I expect to buy a lot more of these, because the last time I had them was 8 years ago. )

Evidently, I am getting my daily recommended intake of Vitamin C.

What can I say? There’s two fruit markets within walking distance of my work and it’s all so fresh. Additionally, the availability of tropical Asian fruit in Arizona is zero to none, so I have to eat all that I can get my hands on over here.

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As some of you know, I have traveled to China and Hong Kong a few times prior to this current 8 week Hong Kong trip.

Although Hong Kong is technically part of China now, I have observed that there are still many differences between Hong Kong and mainland China. Here are my top reasons for why Hong Kong is more civilized than the mainland. (I’ll refer to Hong Kong as “Hong Kong” and mainland China as “China” for the sake of simplicity)

Disclaimer: I love China; these opinions are merely my observations on the differences between the two areas that I found the most interesting.

1. People actually stand in line

China: It’s each man for himself when it comes to standing in line (or queuing up as they call it in Hong Kong). If you patiently stand in line, it is a sad fact that you will never get anywhere on time due to the number of people that will take advantage of your docility and will cut in front of you. Getting off the bus can also be quite difficult because the incoming passengers will not let people exit first before getting on.

Hong Kong: During rush hour in the MTR stations, there are workers with signs who stand in front of the doors and use these STOP signs to stop people from continuing to rush on and preventing the doors from closing. Admittedly, there are always people who will shove their way into an already full train.

While waiting for the MTR, most people stand in line and do not try to barge in. Additionally, I have found that most passengers have the courtesy to let people get off the MTR before getting on.

2. Sanitary environments

Hong Kong is by no means as clean as Disneyland but in comparison to China, it is very clean. Litter on the sidewalks is a rare sight due to hefty fines that can be imposed. Hong Kong also has extremely high standards of cleanliness when it comes to surfaces that people come in contact with on a daily basis (such as elevators and public washrooms).

3. People walk on the correct side of the road

China: there is usually no correct side of the sidewalk or road to walk on. This can be very frustrating when one is trying to get somewhere in a hurry, only to be hindered by a barrier of people walking infuriatingly slowly.

Hong Kong: People in Hong Kong follow the walking etiquette of the UK and keep to the left. Luckily, there are usually signs everywhere to remind people (such as myself) from the “right side” walking parts of the world. This makes rush hour much more manageable.

4. No Spitting!

China: It is very common to hear the sound of someone viciously hawking up a ball of solid phlegm and then shooting it across great distances on the floor. In all honesty, walking down a street in China when there’s a lot of males in the same vicinity as you is akin to walking through a minefield and dodging the globs of hazardous material.

Hong Kong: Spitting is thankfully strictly forbidden and there are signs everywhere to discourage people from partaking in this dirty practice. The hefty fine for spitting at someone’s feet? A 5,000 HK fine!

Well, there you have it; the four biggest differences that I have observed between mainland China and Hong Kong. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish off my mango supply so I have an excuse to buy more tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Culture, Daily life

 

蛋挞Egg-cellence

The Chinese dan ta 蛋挞 is the epitome of balance. When done correctly, it is a thing of beauty. The custardy center has a light silky texture akin to flan. The pastry shell is delicate, yet is sturdy enough to hold its own against the velvety center. There’s just something intoxicatingly perfect about the flaky layers of pastry that shatter and sprinkle the second you bite into them.

Interestingly enough, there are two theories for the origination of these delectable treats.

One theory suggests the Chinese acquired their love for these tarts in the 1930’s or ’40s as a result of British occupation of Hong Kong. They argue that custard tarts with a smooth milky filling in a shortbread crust pastry obviously have all the makings of a classical British dessert.

Another theory suggests that egg tarts are the result of Portuguese influence via the Portuguese colony of Macau. Contenders argue that they evolved from “pastel de nata,” which is a Portuguese custard pastry. These desserts have a custard filling with a creme brulee-like caramelized top and are encased in a fluffy puff pastry crust.

Although Hong Kong egg tarts are a dim sum favorite, there is one place in particular that is especially famous for them: Tai Cheong Bakery. 

The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, is renowned for his love of the Tai Cheong’s egg tarts. In fact, his immense love for the egg tarts earned him the nickname of “Fat Pang”( 肥彭). It is said that he made a point to visit the bakery every time he was in the city after the handover in 1997. He was even know to take international leaders to have a taste at the bakery.

Chris Patten once said to the owner, Mr. Au Yeung, ‘”You are the best baker in the world,” It is said that after the takeover in 1997, former British Governor Chris Patten missed Tai Cheong Bakery’s egg tarts so much, he had them flown to his London flat.[Source] 

After hearing about how famous Tai Cheong’s egg tarts were, I decided to see if they were as good as Chris Patten believed them to be.

(Directions: Take the MTR to the Central station and exit at Exit D2. Go up the Central Mid-levels escalators and you’ll see an “exit” for Lyndhurst Terrace. Tai Cheung Bakery will be situated on the right when you go down the stairs.)

I went to the original location in Central, which is the location that the former Governor enjoyed the treats. (The bakery now has several newer locations, but the one in Central has the best business)

5 HK and 2 seconds later, I found myself gazing at this beauty:

I thought that it was rather good. The egg tart had a soft shortbread crust that was flaky, yet a tad chewy. Interestingly, it was slightly salty which only worked to enhance the egg custard. The custard part of the egg tart was very soft and tender and had a pleasant aroma as well as taste. The filling was really soft and seemed to almost melt in my mouth. , and also eggy and warm. Even though I’m not a big egg tart fan, I would definitely come back to Tai Cheong Bakery for another one of these desserts.

Tai Cheong’s cookie crust egg tarts might be the most famous item sold at the bakery, which is clearly indicated by the nearly 2,800 that they sell every day at their Central location.

However, the Central location sells around 1,000 sugar puffs a day, which is their second biggest seller.

Clearly, a return trip is on the horizon to see what all the hype is about with the sugar puffs.

Tai Cheong Bakery, we shall meet again soon.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Culture, Food

 

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Sunday, July 10th

Today, we went to the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden.

Unfortunately, there was 85% humidity today so it made for a rather sweaty experience.

To get there, take the green MTR line to Diamond Hills station and exit at Exit C2. There are signs that give clear directions to the nunnery.

The Chi Lin Nunnery 志蓮淨苑 is a large Buddhist temple complex that covers a space of more than 33,000 sq meters. The complex includes a nunnery, temple halls, gardens, and a vegetarian restaurant.

The Nunnery was founded in 1934 but was rebuilt in 1990 in the style of traditional Tang Dynasty architecture. Following the architectural techniques from the Tang Dynasty, the buildings were constructed without the use of iron nails. Instead, a special interlocking system is used when cutting the wood to hold all of the pieces in place.

The buildings in the Chi Lin Nunnery are the only ones to be built in this style in modern day Hong Kong.

The beautiful architecture in addition to the gorgeous bonsai trees and lily ponds made the temple a feast for the eyes.

The beauty of the place was a bit unreal, but the backdrop of the tall buildings never let us forget that this place was in the heart of Kowloon.

Across from the Nunnery is the Nan Lian Gardens.

Like the nunnery, the garden is also built in the Tang Dynasty style.

The Garden was built based upon the print of the only Tang landscape garden with an original layout that can still be placed and traced today: Jiangshouju.

The hills, rocks, waters, plants, and timer structures were all built and arranged in accordance with classical Tang dynasty style and rules. These rules are meant to accommodate the local environment.

The architecture and landscaping of Nan Lian Garden was built with the intent of creating an environment of peace and serenity. Its intent is to create a haven for visitors to enjoy a “moment of leisure and peace of mind, whilst reflecting on the profound richness of classical Chinese culture, right in the midst of the urban city hustle and bustle.”

“It is hoped this will help promote the knowledge of and interest in classical Chinese culture.”

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Culture, Travel

 

Hay is for Horses

July 6th, Wednesday

Hong Kong people take life seriously.

They take their cake seriously.

They take their dim sum seriously.

And they take their gambling very seriously. 

Horse racing in Hong Kong is hugely popular because it is the only form of legal gambling in the territory.  Horse racing began in 1841 after British occupation. The Hong Kong Jockey Club was founded in 1884. Due to an increase in illegal bookmaking, the government authorized the HK Hockey Club to operate off-course betting branches to tackle illegal gambling head-on. They currently manage two racecourses (one of them being in Causeway Bay) in addition to a large number of off-track betting stores.

The most interesting thing is how horse racing/gambling is closely entwined into everyday Hong Kong life. In the 1955, the Club decided to donate its yearly surplus to charity and community service. The generous donations from the Club (which total over 1 billion HK each year) help four main sectors:

  • Community Services
  • Education and Training
  • Medical and Health
  • Sports, Recreation and Culture

I suppose you could theoretically reason that losing a bet in Hong Kong is just another way of making a donation to your community?

Racing is usually held at Happy Valley on Wednesday nights. We went to the original racecourse in Causeway Bay.

Directions: Take the MTR and get off at the Causeway Bay Station. Take Exit A. Follow signs to Happy Valley Racecourse. Enter the gate for general admission. 

Be warned that it is a fairly long walk from Hong Kong Times Square (where you exit out of) to the racetrack. Because the racetrack is so large, you have to walk around half of the track to get to the main entrance, a walk that takes about 20 minutes.

Admission is cheap at just 10 HK.

Happy Valley is said to be the most popular racecourse with tourists, due to the location on Hong Kong Island. Once you enter, there are a number of bars serving beers which seemed to be very appealing to the visiting European tourists.

Besides the availability of beer for purchase by the pitcher, there were also some interesting artists at work.

Before I knew it, everyone was clamoring for a seat to watch the start of the fourth race at 8:30.

The horses came by the stands at a fantastic speed.

We had a great view for the second race.

I thought it was an interesting experience, but I am sure that some of the people I was sitting next to were there for more than a cultural experience. At the end of the fourth race, some people were jumping up and down and hugging each other while others were angrily throwing their wager stubs on the ground.

Apparently, in addition to helping the community, the Hong Kong Jockey Club also pays 7% of Hong Kong’s taxes! I didn’t participate in the gambling tonight, but I am aware that there were massive amounts of money exchanging hands tonight.

Yup, Hong Kong takes its racing seriously. Although horse racing isn’t something I’d ever get into, I did find it entertaining to enjoy the fun and being in the company of friends in the sweltering heat.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Culture, Travel

 

Birthday Buddha Visit

Today marked the third sponsored event of the internship. Today also marks my dad’s birthday. Happy birthday dad!

Our outing with Splendid Tours started at 9:30.

We first went to Tai-O Fishing Village.

We didn’t go swimming.

But we did sample delicious food from the small street vendors.

Fresh almond cookies (These were so delicious. I was sorely tempted to buy a box, but I knew that I would never be able to finish it.)

Good things come in small packages

Dried squid (the vendors put sauce on it and then roast it for you after you order)

They were deliciously spicy, chewy, and salty. 

Our next stop was the Po Lin Monestery which is home to the world’s largest outdoor Buddha. The monastery was founded in 1906 by three visiting monks from Jiangsu. The Buddha statue houses a museum that depicts the life of Buddha. The museum also happens to house a real tooth of the original Buddha. Unfortunately, the tooth isn’t very visible because it’s protected in a crystal container, but the shrine that surrounds it is most impressive.

I apologize for the lack of photos of the museum, but no photography is permitted inside.

We bid good-bye to the Buddha.

 

And then we had a vegetarian lunch at the monastery’s canteen.

Tofu and corn soup

Mushroom and vegetable stirfry

Sweet and sour bean curd rolls

Eggrolls

Bell pepper and mock chicken stir fry

Broccoli and creamed corn stir fry

Fried mantou (these were dipped in sweetened condensed milk)

Vegetable fried rice

After lunch, we all wanted to take naps in the shade.

We decided to spend our time more wisely and explore the monastery.

(Those are giant sticks of incense that were available for purchase for worship purposes. We were told that they would be able to keep burning from this afternoon all the way until tomorrow morning. However, the 800+ HK fee discouraged us from buying any)

Next, we went rode the Ngong Ping Cable Cars. During the 25 minute ride, we got a beautiful view of Lantau Island.

Before I go, I just wanted to say:

To the man who taught me that good food should be enjoyed everyday.

To the man I will always call “Daddy” no matter how old I am

爸爸,生日快乐!

Happy birthday Dad!

Thanks for always being there for me!

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2011 in Culture, Sponsored Event, Travel

 
 
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