My First Taste of Hong Kong

Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

I’m back! Well, not exactly…I’m still on another continent, but I’m back in Hong Kong which means I’m reconnected to the world! Little did I know when I left Hong Kong last Monday to travel into mainland China it would be my last chance for mass communication with all of you.

The reason? The Chinese government completely blocks Facebook, Twitter, and my own blog! Can you imagine?

I’ve taken over 700 photos and 9 notebook pages of notes so far, so prepare for an outpouring of information and photos from me this week. Right now it’s late here (after midnight) and I’m exhausted, so for now I’m just going to touch on some highlights of my arrival day in Hong Kong last Sunday.

After 23 hours of travel (Nashville to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver, and finally the 13 hour flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong) I arrived at my hotel around 8 a.m. HK time. Amazingly, I was feeling pretty well rested from the sleep I got on my flight, so I hit the ground running with my unofficial tour guides, Samuel and Eric.

I guess I should explain that Samuel and Eric are Hong Kong natives and work for the sourcing company we use to do business in China. They have been my travel buddies all week and there is absolutely no way I could have made it through this trip without them. What better way to explore a new city/country than with the locals?!

Our first stop of the day was the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. Before climbing the 260+ steps to the big Buddha, we dropped into one of the vegetarian canteens on site for my first local meal.

Our meal: Soup made of mushrooms, bean curds and clear bean noodles; spring rolls; Chinese lettuce with mushrooms; fried tofu with citrus sauce; and my favorite, the mixed vegetable plate shown above. Asparagus, snap peas, mushrooms, peppers and cashews–yum!

Then we climbed.

Tian Tan Buddha (and me)

Next we visited Tai O fishing village. With houses built on stilts over the river and narrow lanes filled with vendors selling fresh and dried fish and many other foods, I got to see traditional Chinese living first hand.

As we wound through the streets, I sampled some bbq pork that was outstanding and shared a little snack of egg balls with the guys. Yes, I know, they don’t sound tasty, but as you can see from this sign, they ARE tasty.

Not at all what you would probably envision when you hear “egg balls”, they are actually similar to pancakes or waffles. They have a hint of coconut flavor- not too sweet, and very pillowy.

Egg Balls

After our excursion to Lantau Island, we made our way back into the Kowloon area of Hong Kong for dinner. I am not exaggerating when I say that it could not have been a more authentic, local experience. We followed a girl who didn’t speak English across a street, down an alley, through a dark hallway and storage area into a dining room that was bare bones in decor, but packed with locals of all ages.

Samuel and Eric washed our bowls, chopsticks, and spoon with hot tea explaining that although it should be clean, it is traditional to do this. Since they hadn’t done it at lunch when we were in a real restaurant, I was a tab bit apprehensive. Turns out I’m still alive and no strange stomach illnesses, so I guess there really was nothing to fear after all.

As to be expected given the environment, the menu was only in Chinese, so Samuel did all the choosing. The rundown of our meal:

Green vegetable in shrimp sauce (looked like green onion but didn’t taste like it)- this one was a bit too fishy tasting for me

Fried Octopus- Very Good!!

Oysters with ginger and green onion. My love for ginger continues with this dish, the best thing I’d eaten since arriving.

Sweet and Sour Pork with red and green peppers and pineapple. This one had alot of bone in it, and was pretty hard to eat. (More to come in later posts about the bone situation….)

After our dinner in what I’ll refer to as the “back alley restaurant”, we stopped into a tiny little shop where again there were no English translations anywhere to be found on the menu. The guys were really making sure I got the full local experience and I loved it!

Even after my protestations of being completely stuffed, Samuel ordered 4 desserts: Chesnut Paste, a thick, soup-like substance that was okay, but too thick for me to eat much of; a mango soup that was quite refreshing; what I think was a tofu pudding that I liked quite alot (congealed dish that looked like it had been made with a jello mold) , and then the one that I certainly hope I never try again, the Durian Pancake.

Durian pancakes have fresh cream and durian fruit wrapped in a glutinous rice “skin.” If you aren’t familiar with durian, don’t feel bad. I wasn’t either. Apparently it’s a fruit that smells something like sweaty socks. Some love it, many hate it. Hate is a strong word, but I have to say, I definitely don’t fall into the love category.

Durian Fruit

They didn’t tell me what I was tasting before I took a bite, instead making me guess. It tasted sweet and creamy, but something about it was a bit off. The only thing that came to mind was onions…but what dessert has onions in it? Well of course I was wrong. That strange taste was durian. As you can see from the photo below, I’m still smiling after experiencing it for the first time, so it couldn’t have been too terrible, just nothing I care to try again.

Now that I think about it, perhaps my smile was because I was silly tired at that point! No matter what, I wasn’t going to let one yucky dessert slow me down from tasting all that Hong Kong and China had to offer….