Tag Archives: Homesick

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.

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