MoonTrekker 2012: A step towards my 2013 objectives

17 Jan

MoonTrekker happened three months ago but I have not gotten the chance or time to go over and share my story. With a new job that started one week after the event (happy dance!), I ended up focusing much more on my new workload than on the blog. But now, with almost three months into my new position and a few weeks of holiday in my hometown of Quebec, I have had time to regroup and put my thoughts into words.

I had initially planned on preparing a well-detailed race report with pictures and crunchy details. However, with this unfortunate three months delay, the anecdotes faded out. Preparing a race report was turning out to be a chore rather than a fun blogging experience, so I took some time off and decided to just sit back and get inspired by what this ambitious challenge had been like.

As expected, MoonTrekker ended up being an amazing experience for me. I loved every single part of it. From the moment I bought my energy gels for the night, until my hot shower on the Sunday morning before climbing into bed and getting some well-deserved rest. Here are some of the lows and highs we experienced:

My lows:

  • Seeing two of my teammates suffering from hip and knee injuries. Kudos to both of them for not giving up and finishing up the race in a more than impressive time.
  • Feeling as if that last 2km on concrete was never going to end. Feeling so close yet so far from the finish line…
  • Sitting on the floor of the MTR on my way home, dreaming of a hot shower and a delicious breakfast. Bacon had been on my mind since at least 4am!

My highs:

  • Feeling in top shape during and after the race. All these early morning hikes and late ascents of Lion Rock had paid off.
  • Eating some delicious pumpkin soup at CP3. Speaking of checkpoints, I have to add that all the MoonTrekker volunteers truly outdid themselves. They definitely made each checkpoint a relaxing and very enjoyable place to rest.
  • Reaching Lantau Peak earlier than expected. I had assumed that we were going to witness the sunrise from the top of the peak but ended up there at 5am. It was cold and windy so we decided to just head back down right away. On the way down, it was great to see Lantau Island slowly waking up. It gave us the unique opportunity to see the cavorting colors in the sky from the rising morning sun, combined with the contestants’ headlights piercing through the skyline, almost like a little light show.

Lantau Peak in the morning

Lantau Island waking up

Sunrise over Cheung Sha beach

After witnessing such a beautiful sunrise, we attempted to run (read fast walk) down to the finish line. We hugged. Some of us laughed, some of us cried… We quickly ate a more-than-average hot dog and then we went home. What did I do that weekend? I slept, I ate, I relaxed. It was simple but was much needed. It was finally over.

And now? What happens afterwards? What are my plans post-MoonTrekker? What do I have in mind for 2013? Well, I do have many ideas and objectives for the coming year… I definitely want to become more involved in similar events: trail running, hiking, mountain biking. And I will. Here is a quick overview:

First of all, I want to help. After MoonTrekker, I started to volunteer at a few outdoors events and races in Hong Kong. I was so impressed by the volunteers’ work ethic and passion. For example, in Moontrekker, they supported us all night. And I mean all night, in the October cold (HK standards of course! I’m from Quebec after all). Without them, the experience would have been totally different. So I want to help out as well. Thus, it is a good way for me to understand better how races work. This coming weekend, I will be volunteering for the Vibram Hong Kong 100, one of the most intense events in Hong Kong in my opinion. I look forward to it.

Secondly, I want to race. I want to get better at running so I registered for my next event, the Hong Kong Standard Chartered half-marathon. It’s not on the trails but it will definitely be a good way to test my running endurance. It will take place at the end of February. I must admit that I am slightly nervous, having never run such distance before. But I like challenges.

Finally, I want to join a trail running club and improve my running skills while training with like-minded passionate people. It does intimidate me but it will be good for me and will push me. There are so many trails to discover out there and I think I need some partners in crime.

In a nutshell, my objective for 2013 is to keep exploring Hong Kong (and some other regions of South-East Asia) on my two feet, whether it is by volunteering at races, racing, or training for these specific events. Who doesn’t love a little adventure every now and then? While training for MoonTrekker, I really got the opportunity to explore fascinating parts of Lantau Island that definitely evoked memories from my past outdoor adventures abroad. While volunteering at a few events over the past few weeks, I discovered new trails that I am quite curious to tackle. After my half-marathon in February, I have some new projects in mind. A little too early to disclose, but I have ideas….

Since the event, I have been back on the trails only once when a former Moonshine team member and I hit Lion Rock one night after work. I have been running a lot, but on concrete more than anything else. Writing this post is giving me the hitch nonetheless. It is time to plan my next visit to the mountains. I am back from cold, artic Canada and ready to hit the trails this season!

 

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Back to basics: Egg sandwich from the Australia Dairy Company

9 Nov

MoonTrekker 2012 is officially over. It happened over three weeks ago and was an exhilarating experience. Despite a few injuries and setbacks, the race went really well. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates. We finished beyond our expectations, reaching Lantau Peak before sunrise and finishing 3rd in the all girls team category for the Sunrise race (42km route). Of course, a full post will be dedicated to my first MoonTrekker experience. But for now, I feel like talking about food.

After a long Friday night of hiking through the forest and mountains of Lantau Island into the wee hours of Saturday morning, I sure was tired. Exhausted. Hungry. At the same time, I felt a sense of relief and self-fulfillment. Not much was accomplished that Saturday after the race. After a sleepless night on the trails, most of the next day was dedicated to snoozing, sitting on the couch and eating leftovers. I was definitely content on being lazy. I deserved it. When I woke up on Sunday morning, I felt much better but was also left famished. And what can fill you up after having been through such an experience? I had just finished my first trail race – in the dark may I add – so I felt like I needed something special for breakfast. What did I want? What did I need? Where to go?

Chinese boyfriend must have seen my distress as he immediately came to my aid and made arrangements for breakfast. I decided to follow his lead. I felt rather gutsy that morning, knowing that he sometimes has some rather special gastronomic tastes, in my humble opinion.

His answer to my need turned out to be fairly simple. Back to basics was his motto for the day. No need for a champagne brunch or an all-you-can-eat buffet. For my post-race day breakfast, my boyfriend treated me to… (drumroll!)… an egg sandwich. Yes, an egg sandwich. Simplicity.

My first reaction was of bewilderment. I have always associated egg sandwiches to two thin slices of white bread filled with cold egg salad, which reminded me of my lunch box during my high-school days. Why did he speak of this egg sandwich in such high regard?! But I shall not be fooled, as the egg sandwich from the Australia Dairy Company restaurant is not your average sandwich. Far from it!

I knew the food was going be good when I saw a long queue of about 25 salivating, hungry locals waiting to be seated. But I didn’t mind waiting that day, having a 42 km night race tale to share with my breakfast buddy. We actually ended up waiting for only 10 minutes. I was surprised by the short wait but was about to discover why fairly soon.

We sat at a small table with two other ladies, which is something very common in local restaurants/cafés in HK. In Hong Kong, space is scarce and time is precious. You must sit where there is an empty chair. The restaurant, which has been in business for over 50 years, has kept its authenticity: bright, no frills, filled with small tables and little plastic benches. The menus are all in Chinese, plastered on the walls or taped to the tables. All the servers are men, wearing white traditional uniforms, making their way efficiently and fluidly through the many small tables that were strategically added to cater to their growing business.  I really love how they kept almost all of the interior decor as it was when they first opened.

My boyfriend and I both ordered a simple scrambled egg and ham sandwich with a hot Chinese milk tea. Although I have had better milk tea in Hong Kong before (stay tuned for a future post on my favorite Chinese milk tea place in town), the egg sandwich was just divine! Divine… A word I had never expected to use when describing an egg sandwich. The crust less white bread was thick and toasted to perfection: crispy yet moist on the inside. The scrambled eggs were fresh, tasty, creamy, buttery and slightly salted. A simple heavenly egg mixture with fresh milk, a thin slice of ham, and two buttered pieces of white bread, and you get yourself a perfect egg sandwich for only HK$17 (US$2).

From the moment we sat at the table until we paid our bill to the cashier, no more than 20 minutes had went by. Everything is fast-paced at the Australia Dairy Company. They quickly take your order and the food is on your table before you even know it. They expect you to eat as soon as possible and to leave the premises right after. It seems to be an unwritten rule and I sure remember the intense gaze we got from one of the managers there when we started chatting at the table, even after the sandwich and the milk tea had been consumed.  It was as if he was motioning us to leave. We sure got the message and quickly left, feeling a little uneasy from such bad customer service. I understood why we didn’t have to wait that long before getting a seat. Eat and go, that’s how they roll. However, I must admit that such feeling vanishes rather quickly as you soon find yourself salivating for more of that good old egg sandwich.

Where is it?

Australia Dairy Company is located on Kowloon side in Jordan, a 2 minute walk from Jordan MTR station. It is actually right next to my favorite shrimp wonton soup restaurant. That street sure seems to be a hot spot for food lovers. The exact address is 47 Parkes St., Jordan.

The good?

The food is amazing. Everything on the menu is dairy-based as it is their specialty: milk tea, eggs with butter, porridge with milk, milk and egg puddings, etc. Service is efficient (read not friendly at all as I explained previously) but when you feel hungry, quickness and yummy food often overcomes friendliness.

The bad?

Customer service is horrendous. I went there with my Cantonese-speaking boyfriend but I still wonder how foreigners can communicate with the unfriendly servers.

The place is really popular among locals. There is always an endless line-up of people outside the restaurant. While waiting in line, an employee was dispatching the customers on the tables, in a fairly rude manner. I couldn’t understand what was being said but I could definitely sense the annoyance of the locals being treated this way. But in the end, the food is just so delicious that most people often forget this upon the conclusion of their meal.

Anything else?

Since that unforgettable egg sandwich feast on the Sunday after the race, I went back to the Australia Dairy Company on two consecutive days, as well as the following week. The great taste of the egg sandwich has been constant. I decided to ignore the servers’ bad attitude and simply enjoy the food. For someone who worked for years in the F&B industry, it was not an easy decision for me. That’s how good the food is.

I suggest you also try out their milk or egg based pudding. Another definite double thumbs up.

 

Lantau Peak and I

14 Oct

As part of my training for the MoonTrekker event, I have been spending a lot of time on Lantau Peak lately. This race involves a lot of uphill training. Being 934 meters above sea level, the mountain serves as a great training ground. I have been going up and down Lantau Peak as much as my busy schedule would allow me. During my frequent hikes up there (which always occur either very early in the morning or fairly late in the evening), I am bombarded with mixed emotions about it.

With the night race happening in less than a week, (the countdown has begun), I have decided to take a few minutes to regroup and analyze my thoughts.

Lantau Peak: I seem to have a hate-love relationship with you as you make my life so difficult at times by pushing me on the verge of exhaustion, while still constantly bringing the best out of me.

1-

You make me get up way too early when we have our Saturday morning encounters. It is even worst when sleepy Chinese boyfriend looks so comfortable underneath the blankets.

On the other hand, I get to witness this colorful sky shooting through the morning mist, while sitting on the Star ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central Pier 6.

And I get to enjoy the calmness and serenity of the night when hitting the trails after dark.

2-

You make my legs hurt. Really hurt. For a few days…

On the bright side, I am getting great muscular legs that are definitely making the boyfriend happy. A good little ego booster I might add! You are also a great excuse for a foot massage afterwards. Hello Chiba House!

3-

You are steep and challenging. You sometimes scare me when I look at you from afar especially after already having quite a few kilometers of hiking under my belt. I now know what to expect and I am fully aware that reaching the top is not going to be a brisk walk.

On the other hand, I am lucky enough to enjoy such breathtaking sceneries throughout the entire journey. Amazing panoramas I had no idea existed in a crowded and congested city like Hong Kong.

4-

Even though the more I hike, the easier it gets, you sometimes get so intense that I just want to give up and head back down. On certain occasions, you even make me doubt about my decision of enrolling in this 40km night race…

But in the end…

I get to enjoy all of this with three other great girls: the fried chicken dreamer/mantra repeater, the fit mother of one/insatiable skittles eater, and the proud wearer of the famous white visor/spider hater.

Most of all, I forget about my stress and my unhappy moments every time I hike up your steep rocky path. I am often left with this feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment as I head back home afterwards.

These last months of training have sometimes been quite intense. I had to make some sacrifices here and there to fit in the training sessions into my busy schedule. But in the end, let’s face it. My regular hikes up Lantau Peak have made me want to push myself a little bit further and definitely encouraged me to get involved in similar adventure events, which occur regularly throughout the year in Hong Kong. I secretly hope Team Moonshine will join me in my new aspirations!

This is my humble take on Lantau Peak. Is the hike up the peak worth a try? Definitely! Whether it is as a training session or as a weekend excursion, the journey offers incredible sceneries and needless to say that you will get a great workout out of it. It might be difficult to get a view from the top of Lantau Peak, as it often gets cloudy and hazy, but the way up and the stroll down will still be rewarding. Just be aware that this is not a walk in the park. Be prepared.

Where is it?

There are two ways to reach Lantau Peak. I have tried both hikes and each way has its ups and downs (no pun intended)!

Option 1: This path, also known as Stage 3 of the Lantau trail, will take you from Pak Kung Au to Ngong Ping via Lantau Peak. From Pak Kung Au, head straight up. Once you reach the peak, you go down the stone steps that will take you all the way to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha, where there is food and places to rest. From there, you can catch a bus back to the Tung Chung MTR station. Or you can splurge and treat yourself to a one-way ticket, going down in the cable car. After such a hike, it is well deserved I reckon.

Option 2: This section goes from Pak Kung Au to Ngong Ping via Tei Tong Tsai (CP3 to CP4 as seen on the map of the MoonTrekker race course). This section (partly in the woods, partly on a concrete path) passes by the Po Lam Zen Monastery. Once you reach the Wisdom path in Ngong Ping (Ngong Ping campsite), keep going until you reach the base of Lantau Peak. From the base, it’s straight up.

Reaching Lantau Peak from there is shorter (a final push of 500m), but also much steeper. Once you reach the top, head back down in the direction of Pak Kung Au.

Anything else?

The actual race will be in a few days. Our objective is to make it to the top of Lantau Peak before sunrise. This means reaching the summit before 6:20am. Will we beat the sun? I really hope so. Hopefully all this training up Lantau Peak has paid off. Will keep you guys posted.

 

 

Rediscovering Lantau Island

28 Sep

Airport and Ngong Ping 360: two places that had become synonymous with Lantau Island. And this is what I thought Lantau was all about, up until only a few months ago when I started training for the MoonTrekker adventure race. I know… It’s a real shame. I had been to Lantau many times since my arrival in HK but only associated the island with the below:

  1. Going to and coming back from the airport;
  2. Visiting Ngong Ping 360 and its Big Buddha, a tourist attraction where I would often bring visiting friends and family members.

I deeply apologize to all the Lantau people out there. I had been an ignorant Hongkonger… But it was all about to change.

Yes, those days in the dark about Lantau are now over as I have been spending a lot of time on the island lately. No complaints. Lantau is a lovely place that offers an array of outdoor activities, especially in the hiking trails department. I have been hiking there a lot over the past months and it is nice to get a different perspective on the island. But little did I know that I would come to enjoy it so much and that it would become a regular playground and serve as a great escape from the city.

A few weeks ago, on a beautiful sunny (and very early) Saturday morning, our team, Team Moonshine, decided to train on Stage 2 of the Lantau trail (Nam Shan to Pak Kung Au), which entailed hiking from CP2 to CP3, as seen on the MoonTrekker race course map. We were not expecting something too difficult. We mostly wanted to get familiar with that 7km section of the route, which was where our team would be able to walk at a faster pace and gain some time before reaching the steepest part of the course. Therefore, it was going to be a nice Saturday morning hike, with great weather (the possibility of getting a subtle tan was definitely an incentive for us) and new areas to discover.

As we started the hike, I expected to witness similar panoramic views to what the Chi Ma Wan country trail had offered us recently. However, I was happily surprised to experience something totally different. While the Chi Ma Wan country trail looped around the peninsula, giving us the option of walking along a breathtaking coastal path, Stage 2 of Lantau trail presented us a distinct perspective of Lantau Island. The trail was higher up so we got to see all the way to Hong Kong Island which was quite something considering the smog that often clouds the city skyline. It was impressive to look at the urban scenery from so far away. The city almost looked like a mirage, as if it didn’t really existed. As I stated in a previous post, while hiking in Hong Kong, it is always intriguing to see the stark contrasts between the rapid urbanization and the natural environment.

On the other hand, when walking through the forest, we felt as if we were in a tropical jungle. With gigantic spiders, snakes and all. I repeat: gigantic spiders and snakes!

Half way through the trail, as we were resting and snapping a few pictures, we looked down and saw the town of Pui O. The sky was blue, but dark clouds were floating over the small urban area. It contrasted quite dramatically with the rest of the blue canvas. It suddenly started raining over Pui O. It was sunny everywhere else, except over the town. It was a rather odd sight. We silently wished that the cloud would follow its course opposite to where we were heading. Unfortunately, it ended up right above our heads, and for a good 20 minutes, we walked under some heavy, torrential rain. Oh well! What can we do…

After this beautiful 7km hike, we debated on whether we would keep hiking or head home. One of our teammate had a previous afternoon engagement so she caught a bus back to Mui Wo. But the rest of us decided to keep on training and headed for another section of the Lantau trail (Pak Kung Au to Ngong Ping via Lantau peak). It was a difficult section, especially under the midday sun, but it turned out to be very rewarding in the end. One who chooses this route will be richly rewarded by the experience, as while the path can be very rocky and steep, the beautiful landscape that the difficult trail passes through is undeniable. This section of the Lantau trail definitely deserves a post of its own. Coming soon on The Kina Chronicles!

Where is it?

From Central Pier 6, you must take the ferry to Mui Wo. As you can see on the schedule, there are two options: slow ferry (1 hour trip) or fast ferry (about 30 minutes trip).

It is possible to walk from Mui Wo to Nam Shan. However that morning, we got a little lazy and ended up catching a bus to the beginning of the trail. The bus station is right in front of the ferry terminal. Just look for a bus going to Pui O. Make sure you get off before reaching the top of the hill heading towards Pui O. You will see the Lantau trail sign on the right hand side of the road.

When you finish Stage 2, you will have three options:

  1. Take the bus towards Mui Wo and catch a ferry back to Hong Kong
  2. Take the bus towards Tung Chung and ride the MTR to Hong Kong
  3. But if you still have some energy left, I strongly suggest you continue the hike and hit Lantau peak.

As stated previously, I will tell you more about Lantau peak in an upcoming post. But until then, here is a little teaser of the view you will get from up there. After that first Lantau peak escapade, our team has been doing that hike at least once a week (yes, that’s what I call motivation!) and the panorama still amazes me every single time.

The good?

Stage 2 of the Lantau trail is not too difficult physically, and it rewards one with breathtaking views. It is actually a hike I will most likely do again after the MoonTrekker event, when I feel like clearing my head in HK’s natural retreat.

Anything else?

At the beginning of the trail, you have the option to head towards Pak Kung Au or hike up to Sunset peak. I have never been to Sunset peak, but this is definitely on my to-do list for the upcoming months. I will keep you posted on that as well.

The Chi Ma Wan country trail: By day, by night

5 Sep

It was already late in the afternoon when Team Moonshine boarded the ferry from Central to Mui Wo. The weather had been good so far, but a menacing typhoon called Tembin had been hovering around Hong Kong’s shores and we didn’t know what to expect. We had been debating all day: hike or no hike tonight?

Thankfully, at 17h30 the sky was rather clear and we could still see the sun in the near horizon. It looked like luck was on our side. Today’s objective: the Chi Ma Wan country trail from Mui Wo to Pui O, an 18 km loop within the Chi Ma Wan peninsula. Being a segment of the MoonTrekker 40km race course (from Start point to Check Point 1, via the Chi Ma Wan peninsula), we had decided it would be better for us to hike at night this time around to best prepare ourselves for the strenuous event. We were hoping to shave some minutes off from our last training session’s time, which had occurred a week ago, under a blazing morning sun. Deep down, I believed we were just hoping to finish today’s hike before any thunderstorm could hit us.

On the ferry, overcome with my usual anticipation, I kept envisioning what the scenery at night would bring us. In the daylight, this trail has some stunning views. During last week’s training hike, I couldn’t help but constantly stop to take pictures of the amazing panorama, with its different shades of blue and green. My photo sessions might have slightly slowed us down, but there was no way I was going to miss taking these breathtaking shots. The trail is only a 30 minutes ferry ride away from Hong Kong and yet, we feel so far from the bustling city. Once in a while, you will see a ferry passing by. Other than that, it is just you and the natural landscape with its panoramic ocean views.

Isn’t it beautiful?

As much as I like my new city of adoption, Hong Kong can be quite overwhelming at times. Crowds of people, lights, noises, long office hours… I have been going through a lot of stress lately and these moments spent on the mountain and out in nature with my teammates are what have been really keeping me together. The great outdoors have that calming effect on me. Being in nature has always been a key component to me finding my balance. And right now, more than ever, I need a place where I can think, breathe some fresh air and break out a good sweat, all at once.

We finally arrived to the Mui Wo ferry terminal a little after 18h00. It was still sunny out but darkness was just around the corner so we took out our headlamps and headed towards the trail. Mui Wo is an outdoorsy hub so hikers with headlamps are quite common around here. But as I passed by a group of foreigners having drinks at the local bar, I must say I felt kind of goofy, with that big lamp on my forehead. Headlamps are just plain unsexy, and I will have to get use to this unflattering look. The army of dragonflies hovering over our heads was a clear warning that it would probably be raining fairly soon. Hiking in the rain doesn’t really bother me, but I was dreading the ferry ride back home, in my wet clothes, with the heavy dose of intense air-conditioning on the boat, something so typical to Hong Kong.

The night hike went well. We reduced our time by at least thirty minutes, which was probably due to the cooler weather, making it much easier to maintain a faster pace. Thankfully, it only started raining as we got off the bus bringing us back from Pui O to Mui Wo. It looks like Typhoon Tembin had decided not to venture towards Hong Kong this time around, much to my liking.

It was time for us to head back home. Sitting on the uncomfortable wooden chairs of the slow-moving ferry, I experienced a mixture of emotions. I was happy that Team Moonshine had done a personal best in time that night. I was tired from the 18km hike in the dark woods. But overall, I felt in peace with myself, the way I always feel after a good workout outside. I had a big week ahead of me but I was now ready to tackle in on with full force.

Where is it?

From Central Pier 6, you must take the ferry to Mui Wo. As you can see on the schedule, there are two options: slow ferry (1 hour trip) or fast ferry (about 30 minutes trip).

As you get off the ferry, turn right (towards McDonalds) and follow the waterfront. Keep walking in direction of the forest. A trail sign will be on the right-hand side of the road. From the ferry to the beginning of the trail, it is no more than a five minutes walk. On the trail, just follow the signs leading you to Pui O.

From Pui O, it will be easy to catch a bus back to the ferry terminal.

Anything else?

While hiking on that trail the past few times, we crossed paths with some mountain bikers. Mountain biking? Really? Great news for me! I had been wondering where mountain bikers were getting their fix around Hong Kong as I am an avid one myself. I did some more in-depth research afterwards and found out on the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association website that Chi Ma Wan country trail is a great single track, with just the right amount of technicality and not too much hill climbing. Must try it as soon as possible.

On my next visit to my motherland of Quebec, my beloved mountain bike, which has been hibernating in my parents’ basement for the past year or so, will be dusted off and traveling back with me to Asia. This is definite. I am looking forward to rediscover this trail, this time on two wheels.

Shrimp wonton soup: My cure for homesickness

24 Aug

Let’s go back in time. It is all about being nostalgic today.

June of 2011.

It is hot and humid in Hong Kong. Nothing abnormal. A typical summer day on the island I guess. But my Canadian body is having a hard time adjusting to this harsh weather. After a three years stint living on the equator (literally, as I lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador), one would think that I could acclimate to humid environments. But as I was starting my new life in Hong Kong, I quickly realized that I had no idea what “hot and humid” really meant. In a city where tall buildings often dominate the skyline, the gentlest of winds tend to be scarce and therefore one can often suffocate from the intense humidity.

I am sweaty and tired, my curly mane is spiraling out of control, and a headache is slowly creeping its way up towards my forehead. On top of it all, I am missing home today. I usually take great pride in calling myself an experienced world-traveller whom can easily adapt anywhere. But somehow, here I am, feeling homesick after a mere three weeks in Hong Kong. What is happening to me? Am I getting too old? Too sensitive? I see my reflection in the window of a store on Kimberley Road. Oh God! I really need to do something with this hair of mine! Must find a way to reduce frizz! (Sigh)

I am heading towards Jordan to meet a friend for lunch. I am hungry and looking forward to try a new place. My friend, a local from Hong Kong, is taking me to a small restaurant renown for its wonton soup, which they have been serving for many years. Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop is even more famous after being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s television show “No reservation”. Let’s hope they have air conditioning.

It is lunchtime and the place is crowded. I am not sure if I can deal with people right now.

“Do you like shrimps?” my friend asks as we enter the premises. “Do you like wonton soup?” The smell of fresh food, combined with the idea of eating noodle soup at an old school authentic Chinese restaurant, just seems too enticing to pass up.

“Yes, yes, I do!” I reply to both of his questions, already salivating. The place smells good, my stomach is growling and my taste buds are starting to get aroused. Seeing the locals queuing up outside and waiting for seats overcomes any reservations I have.

Only one table is available so we quickly slip into this small wooden booth. My friend orders the food for us. Excellent! Today I just don’t have the energy to look through a menu written in Chinese and pick something to eat. I just want someone to make a decision for me.

Fairly quickly, the food is served: a fuming, enticing bowl of yellow noodles, with four big wonton floating in the broth. As I start eating, I know right away that I will come back for more in the very near future. It is love at first bite. I am no food critic, but having been a shrimp-lover for as long as I can remember, I do have a certain culinary knowledge when comes the time to rate the quality of those little crustaceans. And this is definitely a keeper. The shrimp is meaty and juicy, with a firm texture. Its flesh is flavorful and sweet. Just the way I like it.

I am struggling with a hanging noodle, trying to gracefully slurp it back into my mouth when a middle-aged Chinese couple suddenly decides to sit into the same booth as us. I find it quite odd. The booth is really not THAT big. I am feeling slightly annoyed (I later find out that this kind of open seating is quite a common practice amongst old school Chinese restaurants). They place their order (shrimp wonton soup and sweet spicy shredded pork noodles) and the man politely asks me in impeccable English where I am from. “Canada” I say as I sip the tasty soup. Well, isn’t it a small world! My booth companion happens to have lived in Vancouver for a few years (as many other Hongkongers have as I will soon realize), so we both have something in common. This small detail makes me feel so much closer to home. Okay, my hometown of Quebec is quite far away from the Pacific coastal city of Vancouver. But let’s not obsess over a few kilometers people! For the next 30 minutes, the Chinese man and I swap stories about Vancouver (my favorite Canadian city) and Quebec city (a place he visited twice during his stay in Canada). We talk about politics and poutine. I tell him how much I miss winter sometimes. He tells me why he really doesn’t. All in the while of enjoying our savory bowls of noodles.

I went home that afternoon with a full belly and a happier mind. I realized later on that all I needed was a friendly conversation about my home country over a bowl of fresh shrimp wonton noodle soup. For a ridiculously low price of HK$29, I was cured. My homesickness had vanished and I was back to my normal free-spirited self.

Since that unforgettable day of what I like to call “wonton soup therapy”, which occurred over a year ago, I have visited the famous restaurant in Jordan many times. True to myself, I keep ordering the same savory dish. When I feel stressed from work, sad or homesick, the shrimp wonton soup from Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop is still therapeutic. On my list of favorite comfort food, this local dish is right up there, a close second to a plate of mac & cheese.

Where is it?

The restaurant is located in Jordan, on Kowloon side: 51 Parkes Street, G/F. (www.makmankee.com)

The good?

The noodle shop has a long history and it is one of the few original shrimp wonton soup restaurants in Kowloon. The place is clean, the food is fresh and the service is fast and efficient. It is a perfect place to go for lunch. Although I do prefer going at the end of my work day, as it is more quiet… and you are likely to get your own booth.

The setting itself is not grand or cute, nor is it intimate or romantic. It can be loud, bright, crowded and the decoration is, well… inexistent. It is a typical, local Chinese restaurant. But part of me likes that. It’s all part of the game.

Anything else?

A little bird told me that the shop serves a mean bowl of pig feet noodles. I believe him. And do try the dish if you feel tempted by it. As adventurous as I am, I just haven’t been able to muster up the courage to try this Chinese delicacy. The idea of eating feet, let alone the feet of a pig, just doesn’t quite do it for me. Again, probably just my sensitivity to words as it is apparently quite tasty. Will I ever try it? “Never say never” my parents used to tell me when I was being fussy about food. In this specific situation, I’ll respond “Not for a while”. To be continued.

When the waffle craving hits

12 Aug

I am a big fan of waffles. I have a sweet tooth and waffles are definitely up there on my list of favorite sugary snacks. Therefore, when I discovered a local Hong Kong delicacy with that waffle flavor I liked so much, I was over the moon. I now have a Plan B when my craving creeps up. Plan B is called egg balls.

The smell of waffles always brings me right back to my parents’ place in Quebec, when my dad used to prepare breakfast for us. It definitely evokes vivid memories of L cooking up a storm in the kitchen for our family brunch on Sundays. Pancakes, French toasts, omelette, fruit salad and of course waffles were always signature breakfast dishes at our house. I unfortunately believe that my dad’s passion and talent for cooking have been passed on mostly to my brother, leaving very little for me. Therefore, nowadays, such mouth-watering homemade breakfasts only occur on very rare occasions (read barely never). Sorry boyfriend.

A few weeks into my big move to Hong Kong, I experienced my first strong waffle withdrawal. Therefore, that delicious scent of sweet, crispy dough grabbed my attention right away as I walked past a little shop in Tsim Sha Tsui. I was slightly disappointed when I found out what this fragrant delicacy was called… Known as Gai Daan Jai (雞蛋仔), its English translation is actually egg balls. Egg balls… Really? Egg balls? I am not particularly fond of the name. Keep reading my posts and as you get to know me better, you will notice that words always play a critical role for me when comes the time to choose what to eat on a menu or pick a nail polish color for my pedicure. If I like the name, I buy. My ex-roommate and partner in crime from back home would know exactly what I mean, as she is even more word sensitive then I am. But let’s get back to our egg balls.

Fortunately, I decided to overcome the name issue and I bought the pastry. Needless to say, it hit the spot. The concept is in fact pretty simple: a mixture of eggs, sugar, flour and evaporated milk poured into a mold and voilà! The result: an amalgam of little waffle balls, the size of a big olive. The taste: perfection. The doughy balls are crispy yet chewy, and truly addictive. No need to add syrup or any other condiments. It is simplicity at its best.

 In order to get my weekly fix, I visited various “egg balls specialists” around Kowloon side. All of them pretty much offer a similar version of the tasty snack, with some variations in the flavor department. I like my egg balls the basic way, but other popular flavors are coconut or taro, to name a few.

However, my favorite egg ball spot is this small stand called LKK. It is located on Nathan road between Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui, and the waffle scent will hit you from one block away. It is a tiny joint and one can often see it crowded with locals and tourists queuing up in front of the shop, waiting for their number to be called. There is no place to sit. It is a “buy and go” concept. And their egg balls are simply divine! It is definitely a must try when visiting Hong Kong.

Where is it?

Look for Shop E, Nathan Road 178, on the corner of Nathan and Hillwood road, in Tsim Sha Tsui. I could tell you to simply stroll along Nathan road, between the Jordan and the TST MTR station until you smell the waffles and see a crowd of people, patiently waiting for their order. But to make it simpler, just have a look at the map. They have other shops around HK but their Tsim Sha Tsui shop is simply more convenient for me.

The good?

Other then the amazing waffle flavor, I would say the price is the next best thing. HK$15 (HK$28 for 2) and your waffle craving will be immediately satisfied.

The bad?

I guess having to wait in line to place your order and pick up the food goes into this category. But waiting for something in Hong Kong never really takes THAT long, this city being on “fast forward” pretty much all the time. On a Friday night, 5 minutes is the usual waiting time. Not bad at all.

Anything else?

The place has quite the notoriety within the HK community. The walls are plastered with pictures of local celebs, famous politicians and newspaper clips reviewing the place. Besides egg balls, the shop sells a lot of other yummy snacks, another famous one being fish balls. When I stop at LKK, I always end up ordering the egg balls. For those interested in trying their other snacks, this place also has more to offer as well. Maybe you can try them and give me a feedback on it?

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