Hong Kong

My Taste of Hong Kong: Passport, check. Moneybag and e-ticket, check.  A pair of fabulous high heels (just in case) and an international adaptor, check.  

Once on the plane with the drama of the packing ritual behind me it hits home that Hong Kong is two gin and tonics, three movies, a nap and two meals away. This frequent flyer is airborne again. 

hong kong

It’s my first experience of Cathay Pacific and the lifestyle choice it anchors with the little luxuries of their premium economy class: the welcoming juice, refreshingly warm facecloth and the handmade vanity pouches handed out with the menu.

I get to choose between traditional Chinese food or a more international meal. Settled in my window seat – with enough legroom not to disturb my my neighbour – I switched on the entertainment system.  

My thoughts drift to the adventure ahead, anticipating the sensory pleasures that will turn my destination into a tapestry of smells, tastes and sights. 

My flights of food imagination had hardly taken me to the streets for dim sum that we landed in Hong Kong at 07:00. First priority – get my octopus travel card, my passport to the underground that sets the standard internationally. 

hong kong

Heading for the subway, masses of people traverse the station like a giant centipede, the legs briskly moving in unison to guide it up and down the escalators. 

At the Wan Chai stop, I step out into an autumn humidity. Shaded by skyscrapers I’m swept up by the people around me. Moving at the same hurried yet orderly pace I became a part of the city. 

The middle class seems affluent, energetically building their own international city. The rise of a sommelier culture is indicative of the influence of brands to reflect human value and status.

It takes shape in glamorous wine and gin bars; Italian bistros and Spanish-like tapas establishments; street food to world renowned Michelin star restaurants.

To save your dollars for these experiences, all the single traveller needs is an affordable, clean hotel. Bookings.com never fails me.

I choose the trendy Que boutique hotel, a mere 10 minute walk from the Wan Chai underground and close to the convention centre, at the time hosting the HKTDC International wine and spirits fair, along with the Cathay Pacific wine and spirits competition.

The stylish, apartment-like room on the 23rd floor where I spent my first night is R1500 per night, which includes access to their business centre and free coffee. Compare this with the rooms at bigger hotels averaging at R4500 per night. 

For R450 a night I could spend the rest of my stay in one of Que boutique hotel’s funky dorm rooms. My pod-like bed with its card controlled locker included all the vanities I could need.

Each room has a little lounge and a beautiful bathroom. It comes highly recommended for friends that travel together and would rather spend their money on exploring the city than on accommodation.  

hong kong

Having booked into my East meets West home, I head off to discover the yin and yang of the city’s food culture. The hotel is just around the corner from Ship Street, renowned for its Michelin star offerings and eateries where you easily spend HK$1000 on a meal. 

I opt for the Temple Street night market to dine with the locals and where the tables are for sharing. Where there’s a gap, you just smile and take a seat. My adventurous palate had me ordering crab (HK$250), squid (HK$38) and handmade noodles (HK$28).

I did well with HK$35 for the local beer, compared to the HK$98 it would cost me at the trendy Wooloomooloo rooftop bar. Granted, the higher cost includes the vistas of the city skyline, the skyscrapers flooded by lights and the spider web of streets winking below.

hong kong

The following morning I continue my culinary escapades with a Sham Sui Po foodie tour, custom designed to appeal to the most dedicated of foodies. Food guide Fiona (Li Mei Sin) is set to introduce me to six authentic culinary delights, some made by generations of the same family.  

“This trail takes you to where you can taste some of Hong Kong’s most beloved treats. Sham Sui Po is a haven for tourists, locals, home chefs and professionals.” 

Around me the density of buildings, people, shops, vendors and market stands forms it own world of aromas.  Walking through the crowds, stopping to touch and smell all that’s new to me, I discover both cultural remnants of Hong Kong’s past and experience the present day working class community. 

First stop is Cha Chang Teng, a Hong Kong style café with a Western twist serving red tea with enormous pineapple buns, named for its uneven skin, not its taste. The chef happily invites me into his kitchen, sharing the secret behind its deliciously sweet crust.

food market

The next stop is a lesson not to ever judge a book by its cover, when it comes to the size, location or the looks of a Chinese restaurant.  Hop Yick Tai is a traditional breakfast shop recently added to the Michelin Guide for its beloved rice rolls, steamed to perfection to create its glutinous texture.

Add Hoisin sauce, hot sauce and toasted sesame. Strangely and absolutely delicious! 

Congee, the rice porridge enjoyed for breakfast with century egg, is another surprise-in-waiting. The strongly flavoured eggs are preserved in a mixture of ash and clay for several weeks, with its gelatine-like texture, greenish yolk and grey-black appearance a mask revealing a surprisingly tasty experience.

hong kong

By 10:00 this charming neighbourhood is a bustling hive of activity. People queuing at the local butcher or bargaining for the freshest fish with their heads still gaping. Here the dried fish bladder with its high collagen content promises longevity, warranting the expense.

Across the street a young man beckons passers by to try his family’s snake soup, believed to assist with blood circulation and to help heal bronchitis or bad knees.

At a soy speciality store where everything is made from scratch I taste freshly made tofu pudding glistening with ginger syrup.

The Braised Goose restaurant is yet another food haven hiding its gems behind a modest façade, serving up an adapted version of Chiuchow cuisine (pig trotters and goose meat) from the Guangdong province.

pudding

Make as many gratifying sounds as you please, as long as you remember its bad manners to touch the bones with your hands. Another lesson learnt is that leaving the bones on the table saves having to clean another dirty bowl.

Taking a short break from savoury, we visit a bakery for the sweetest of cookies before concluding the tour at the Lau Sum Noodles restaurant. This award-winning family run restaurant draws crowds of hungry people at lunch time.

asian noodles

I get to nibble from jars of pickled radish before tucking into the legendary handmade egg noodles, smothered in dry shrimp roe.

Well-fed I headed for the nearest underground – destination Tung Chung. Lantau island is a must-visit to experience the greener heart of the city and the beauty of an authentic fishing village. 

Was it not for the prepaid voucher allowing me priority entry at the Ngong Ping Tung Cable Car, I would have turned around at the sight of the long and winding queue.

How glad I was that I didn’t as the cable car travels over lush mountain valleys until the Big Buddha appears in the distance. The Po Lin Monastery at its feet was founded by three monks in 1906, while the Big Buddha was erected in 1993, looking south in the direction of China out of respect for the motherland.

hong kong cable car

The tour allows for enough leisure time to walk the 260 steps up to the Buddha and explore the surrounds before departing for the Tai O Fishing Village. 

With an hour left before sunset, my camera and I lost ourselves in the tiny corridors of the village with its stray cats and people selling seafood at every corner. 

A small crowd drew me to the villagers playing the ancient card game Fan Tan under the bridge, until I have to leave for the sunset cruise. My camera clings to the quint scenes of fisherman trawling in their boats, others fishing off the deck of their water homes on stilts.  

I keep my one eye on the viewfinder, hoping for a glimpse of a rare pink dolphin. Then again, how much luckier can a girl be in Hong Kong? 

Handy websites

• Cathay Pacific is the preferred airline. Promoting themselves as a lifestyle brand, one can visit their website for accommodation and travel ideas. Go to cathaypacific.com.

• I booked my tours for Hong Kong through discoverhongkong.com and hongkongfoodietours.com

• Have a look at the Cue-hotel – well worth it! cue-hotel.com

story by Samarie Smith

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