Archive | August, 2012

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.

Advertisements

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?

Braving the dark, the pollution and the big flying bugs

4 Aug

Lion Rock is a fairly popular hike among the HK community, as it is within the metropolitan area. It is part of the Lion Rock Country Park, between Kowloon Tong in Kowloon and Tai Wai in the New Territories. It is therefore very easy to access by MTR and most public transportation. It is also pretty short (a 1.5 to 3 hours hike depending on your physical level), making it quite an attractive option for busy Hongkongers.

The picture says it all

While labeled as a short hike, Lion rock is still a good workout as it is fairly steep with a gradual incline the whole way up. When hiking up the trail, it is fascinating to see the abundance of skyscrapers in the distance amongst the green valleys surrounding me. It leaves a picturesque image with a unique combination of modernism and nature. There is just something beautiful about this and it is something I have always liked when hiking or trail running in Hong Kong.

View from Amah Rock, on our way to the top

As part of our MoonTrekker training, a few of us headed to Lion Rock last Friday night after work, in order to test our headlamps and get used to hiking in darkness. It was a nice way to end the working week. It gets so quiet up there. The city feels so close yet so far away. It is a welcome sense of relief and often serves as a quick escape for one, especially after a long day in the office.

(Image: The Office)

It’s been a long week…

While the view in daylight is quite amazing, the scenery is truly stunning at night, with a colorful clutter of lights in the skyline. There had been a typhoon around Taiwan during the week that had affected the wind in Hong Kong. Therefore, the pollution index was very high which made the view a little blurry. From the top of the hill, on a clear day, one can see all the way to Hong Kong island. On Friday night, with the high pollution index, we could barely point out the location of Mong Kok. It was a sort of wake up call for me actually. You always hear about how polluted the city is. I must say being able to see the heavy smog hanging over Hong Kong was slightly disturbing. I mean, I am breathing this air everyday now… What will it be like in a few years?

 View from Amah Rock, at night

 View from the top of Lion Rock

Where is it?

The beginning of the trail is right next to the Tai Wai MTR station and it ends close to Lok Fu MTR station. Very easy to access as you can see.

The good?

Lion Rock is a good option for breaking a sweat if you only have a 3 to 4 hours window, which is something many business travellers are seeking, especially for those staying on the Kowloon side. Lion Rock is short, fairly steep and easily accessible. From East Tsim Sha Tsui to the beginning of the trail, it takes about 40 minutes to get there. Worth a try if you want to exercise but don’t have a lot of time.

The bad?

I am not too fond of the flying and crawling insects. And many of them came out to check up on us that Friday night, most likely because of the light from our headlamps. But in normal conditions, Lion Rock doesn’t present any major drawbacks. Give it a shot!

Anything else?

If you hit Lion Rock early in the morning like we did a few weeks ago, you will cross path with many Chinese elders, exercising and stretching their legs up against a tree. Despite the hot and humid Hong Kong weather, they are walking up the hill, slowly but steadily, with an umbrella in their hand.

Jóusàhn   (早晨)! Jóusàhn (早晨)!” they’ll say, smiling and looking at the sweat dripping off our face. “Very wet! Very wet!”

“Yes, indeed, very humid!” we’ll reply, amazed by the fresh look on their face and their steady breathing.

It is actually pretty impressive to see them working out, some of them being more than twice my age! And at times much more flexible than I am, I must admit… My Pilates instructor would not be proud. While observing them, I tend to make a comparison with the older folks back home in America. How many of them would be able to walk up a similar hill, at 8am on a hot and humid Saturday morning? And I am talking hot and humid in Hong Kong standards (over 30 degrees Celsius with a humidity factor of 95). The high level of fitness of the older generation of Chinese in Hong Kong always makes me wonder… Is it the rice? The tai chi? The genetics? Whatever it is, I hope some of it rubs off on me!

%d bloggers like this: