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Archive for the ‘hk dining’ Category

Dai Pai Dongs

dai pai dongA few weekends ago we had dinner at a local dai pai dong, situated in an open market above the North Point Wet (fish) market. The place is like a factory floor, with locals drinking, smoking, playing cards, eating noodles. The section we went to serves amazing food, and the owner, Robby, is a hilarious local guy with a mohawk and custom made, white wellington boots. It’s loud and crowded, everyone sits on tiny plastic stools. It’s got some grit to it too (I don’t recommend visiting the bathroom), and the waitresses pour more beer into your bowls after every sip. The owner dances to Michael Jackson and does the moon walk. This was our experience at Tung Po Seafood Restaurant in North Point – yes the one Anthony Bourdain went to.

Dai pai dongs were once very popular in Hong Kong. It basically means open-air food stalls, but some now operate indoors. With the Hong Kong government crack down on food safety standards many dai pai dongs have closed but there are still some areas in Central, TST, Causeway Bay, Sham Shui Po, Temple Street night markets, and Tai Hang where you can find the tell-tale plastic stools, folding tables, and cheap, good food.

tungporobbyOur other favorite dai pai dong is Sister Wah in Tin Hau. The Beef Brisket soup is unbelievable – the meat melts in your mouth. We always opt for the thick rice noodles but the thinner ones are good too. The owner, who spent time in Toronto, and the other staff, including his mother, are friendly and very accommodating to me and the kids. When we go with another family he sets up a folding table and plastic stools for us in the alley because we won’t fit inside the tiny,crowded interior. The owner knows our children likes both the soup and veggie rice, and at this point, he basically takes our order before we even say anything. “Beef soup and veggie rice?” We just nod.

We’ve also had some luck with some of the outdoor street dai pai dong’s in Tai Hang as well – I have no idea what their names are but most we’ve tried with success. Next time you want some cheap, good food give a dai pai dong a chance – it’s likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

(Photo credit: Robby (below) pasted from ChubbyHubby)

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Macau

IMG_1025On one of “Ant” B’s last days, we went to Macau. It was our second time there and our first time really exploring the island, er, city-whatever it is. It’s a great place, we highly recommend it and not for gambling. The thing to do is to go to Largo de Senado square and just walk around. This is where the Portuguese/European influence is the most apparent. Between the architecture, the tiny streets, and the cobblestone squares, you really do feel like you’re walking the alleys of a Medieval European city in certain places.

We walked up to an old cathedral ruin, Sao Paulo (Cathedral of St. Paul), which has a fort next to it and a hiIMG_1033ghly reputable museum on top of the hill. To our disappointment the museum was closed, so we walked back down the hill to a temple. On the way down, F got in trouble because she said to E “Stop talking to me, Mom. You’re really bothering me.” It starts young.

The Na Tcha Temple is a small, stone hut next to Sao Paulo, or the ruins of the Cathedral of St Paul. From there, we walked down a steep alley then onto a narrow side street that sold cool, cheap furniture, ceramics, pottery, and art. This is where we really got the European vibe.

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At the same time, the Chinese culture was also at every turn as we also watched a woman making noodles. Men playing Chinese backgammon. Cars would go by and practically brush against your shoulder.

On the narrow street up to Sao Paulo, half a dozen women held out tooth picks with honey glazed meat stuck through it. They handed out cookies, and other food items. We later learned they do this all over Old Macau, as the glazed meat must be some kind of Portuguese/Chinese/Macau specialty. You can see them barbecuing the stuff right there in the alleys. Even in the rain, the area was packed.

IMG_1054After shopping a bit, we were ready to eat. A walk to the water didn’t got us to two reataurants we wanted but they were closed.  So we hopped in a taxi and headed for Fernando’s, a famous Macau restaurant by the beach. Having never really explored the place before, I thought the place would be a ten minute drive around the corner. Actually, there are 3 parts to Macau, all 3 are basically islands connected by bridges: Macau City, Taipa and Coloane.

From where we were at the southern tip of Macau island, Fernando’s was a 35 minute drive across the other 2 islands. Regardless of the hassle in getting there, I know why the restaurant is famous. The Portuguese food was amazing, the beach nearby, and the Super Bock bottles were served in styrofoam Koozies. The girls were great, though all they really ate was a bit of the chicken and the sweet bread. There was a little farm in the back, and an outdoor washer/dryer where they cleaned the tablecloths.

We could only imagine how packed Fernando’s is on a hot sunny day when the beach is loaded with locals and tourists. The restaurant itself has three parts, including an outdoor bar.

The Macau ferry is always a nice plus, as its a hydrofoil with three blades that allows you to cruise above the waves. It was a great way to end “Ant” B’s trip to China. We loved having her here and can’t wait for her to come back. Next time we’ll head to the Cotai strip in Taipa and win back her airfare at the Craps table

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jumboIt’s “cold” here now, in the 40s, though we had a temperature spike today. While locals act like an arctic freeze is about to cover the city in ice (thick, puffy winter jackets are everywhere now), it’s actually great.  Last Saturday was crisp and clear. We took a taxi up and around near The Peak  to the Police Museum, a stop I was immediately skeptical of. What kind of exhibits are in a police museum, especially one that’s in Hong Kong (China)? The main reason for going to the place was from there it would lead us to a hiking path down to Aberdeen and finally to the famous Jumbo Restaurant. The hike was the goal, the museum was the “carrot.” F thought we were seeing dinosaurs, not because we told her so. She was determined to find them.

The Police Museum was, I suppose, nice to see in terms of satisfying F’s curiousity, but it sucked in terms of timing. T was asleep in the stroller. The museum is on the top of a hill, accessible only be a steep set of switch back steps. F and I scouted it and she really wanted to stay. I told her we’d yell for Mom to come up but F wanted to go down and get her. On the way down, F tripped in her too-small old red sneakers, and fell down the steps. Only a few steps thankfully, but her face hit a stair hard. She was fine. It’s a good thing she didn’t look in the mirror because there is a nice bump and bruise. (New sneakers have been purchased).

The Police Museum, as predicted, is not a place for kids. It’s not bad. F was interested in all the uniforms and the bomb robots. She thought the mock heroin lab was weird (‘I don’t very like the lab-ratory, Dad.”) She liked the guns, though I heard E quickly say that guns are bad. Luckily, she didn’t see the beheaded pirates, though she did see the tiger. She first thought it was a jaguar, but then learned it was a tiger. A pretend tiger, she said. It wasn’t pretend. The animal was the actual beast they found in the New Territories 100 years ago, that attacked several officers and even killed one. I think it was when F started marveling over an M-16 that E said “Okay, time to go.”

Before we headed down the paved path to Aberdeen, I looked out over the tops of trees below us. We were high up, with an amazing view of the valley and ocean. This is the Hong Kong wilderness that everyone talks about. And there are so many other similar, cooler places. The hike, fortunately, is all down hill if you start at the museum. T fell back to sleep in the stroller. F sat on my shoulders. We’d inspect drainage tubes and read the signs identifying trees and plants. Every sign that appeared, I had to read.

aberdeenThere were a few excercise stops too, a sort of “Par Course” I think they’re called. You know, chin up bars, step-up stumps, bars for dips and leg lifts. Of course, everyone of these we passed we had to check out too. Everytime the Aberdeen reservoir came into view, F would yell that she could see the floating restaurant. We’re reading a book to F called “Chopsticks” that takes place at the Jumbo.

The hike down took 45 minutes, exactly as guide books predicted. There’s even a little kid section at the bottom with signs detailing plant and bug life. F: “Ooooh. Look Dad. A Lady Bug. We have lady bug outfits at our house.”
F: “A Skink? I don’t very like a Skink. Can we go to the next sign.”
F: “(whimper). Dad, I’m scared of Daddy Long Legs. Can we go now?”
F: “Ooohh!. Butterflies!!!”

At the end of the paved trail, well-traveled by other walkers and joggers, is a main road that leads directly down into the heart of Aberdeen. Like most Hong Kong mini-cities, Aberdeen is busy. We trusted our instincts and walked straight for what we thought was the ocean. We scooted down tiny side streets, walked past temples and fish markets. Tiny intersections whizzed with busses, cars and taxis. Finally, we saw the ocean and the boats cruising up and down the main Aberdeen waterway.

This is where we scouted for sampans and found them. Sampans are little boats operated by locals. The sampans can be for fishing, logistics, sight-seeing, you name it. If you have HK$50 ($6) on you, they’ll take you anywhere.

img_9156We found an old couple sitting on chairs by the docks. They told us for HK$40, a sampan would take us to the restaurant, which we now could see. I can only imagine what this woman has seen in her decades in the port . She was short with wrinkled skin and a round, rice-paddy hat. If the man next to her was her husband, you could tell she was the one who ran the business. He was a nice, old man, but didn’t say or do much. Tiny tangerines sat on the ground behind their chairs–not lunch, but an offering to the gods for good luck. She smoked a cigarette while we waited.

The sampan came, and we boarded. The driver was another older woman, probably in her 70s. A hot pot of noodles sat near the rudder she steered.

When we got to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant (it’s a giant, two-wing restaurant literally floating in the harbor) we all looked for the dragons in the book. Of course, as soon as we found the dragon-sculpted pilllars F was “scared” and we retreated inside. She’s scared of most things, including Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus.

It was a great, late lunch. The girls were well behaved. Not a lot of running around, in part I think because the Jumbo offers crayons and coloring, and also because the long exposure to fresh air tired them out.

This kind of day–hiking, water-ferrying, eating at a great restaurant, still close to home–is the kind of thing that’s available all the time in and around Hong Kong, and it’s one of the reasons some people stay so long. Many of the UK people we know who have lived here for a long time move from Hong Kong island and live in the New Territories or in  Sai Kung . Or Lantau. It’s quieter there and you get even more of the hiking and greenery.

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img_8545Since moving to Honkey Town in February ’08 we’ve been keeping a fairly consistent blog for family and friends back home. In the course of doing so we’ve realized that there is information, musings, and general reflections from our experiences that we think would be interesting to share publicly. So from here onward we’re unveling our public face for a wider audience. Below are posts we’ve altered for our new public life and we’ll add content as we go. Welcome and we hope you (if there are any you’s out there) enjoy!

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private kitchens

wanchaiOne of the best dining options that Hong Kong has to offer is the private kitchen. Sprinkled throughout this city are family run restaurants located in your typical residential building. They are typically word of mouth places that only seat a certain amount of people per night. The food is excellent and cheap.

We have a favorite Thai place located in the ninth floor of the apartment building across from us. You go in and it’s like being in somebody’s living room, only the bedrooms and side rooms are all filled with people eating.

Last Friday we went to a private kitchen in Wanchai–Sijie Sichuan Dishes (which means four sisters in Mandarin), at Lockard Road. Brian and Eva made the reservation. Jeff and Jennie, Dana and Andrew, a friend of theirs, Joe and Sherry, and this new couple we just met. The place was rowdy, every table packed. Some of us had to wait 10 minutes just to get a chair at our own table. We ended up getting short stools instead. The first dish on the Lazy Susan was pigs ears. I ate one and barely swallowed it down. It’s cartilage with some sauce on it. Tables behind us roared every few minutes, cheering or reacting to something. We quickly learned that the one of the “four sisters” and owner of the restaurant, a 50-something Chinese woman, was challenging people to beer chugging contests. Wearing a white t-shirt and jeans, she’d pour beer in a small glass, do the same thing to a challenger, and beat them with a few gulps. Every time she won or lost, tables would erupt. Arriving at our table, she spoke Mandarin to all of us as if we were fluent. She lost her challenge to Andrew’s friend, but came back again wanting a rematch. When she came back, she looked around our table for anyone who wanted to join. I thought she was going to either raise a glass to toast the table, or do another one of those small glass chugs, either one of which I was game for.

Then she explained in Mandarin and hand gestures that it was a full can of beer chug off she was proposing. I only had a few sips left in mine, and thought I could fudge it. No way. She slid an ice cold can of Tsingtao across the table to me. I thought to myself, “well, I didn’t go to college for nothing.” All eyes were on me, Andrew’s friend, and this crazy lady. I could hear E razzing me in the corner–it was added incentive. The race was on.

As I gulped, I thought the crowd went silent, or groaned, and I immediately took that to mean that somebody had quickly won or something had happened. So I picked up my pace a bit, finished and squeezed the can above my head, facing up at first, then realizing the point is to face it down to show you’ve finished. When I flipped it, I expected the beer to pour down my face, but to my surprise there was nothing left. I won, and the crowd went wild. It didn’t matter who won. The crowd was gonna erupt anyway. It was one of the few times my fraternity years paid off post-college.

The thing is, Sichuan food is so hot that beer is like ice water. You’ll be happy to know the only person struggling from the chug-a-thon was the owner lady. I felt great, actually, though I didn’t expect my third can of beer to go down so fast. The food kept coming, including frog, which I also ate.

The best was this fish stew with noodles. I’m getting so I avoid the really hot stuff. The first time we did Sichuan I broke out into a sweat and I couldn’t feel my mouth for 10 minutes or so. That’s not an exaggeration.

By the end of the night, the owner lady was hugging every one at our table and telling them she wanted to marry them, even though her husband was right there helping to clean up the tables. You have to visual this restaurant. It was one square room with no rugs, cement floors and walls. Five tables, all jammed with people. Eating went from 9pm-11pm. It was a fantastic, filling meal that cost $40 per person, beer included. I left there feeling great. Outside, Wanchai was hopping, as it does every night.

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Two days after a 16 hour flight from New York to Hong Kong, we tried pulling off a birthday party for F. Somehow, it worked. We tried conning F into thinking that her birthday was sometime while we were in NJ and Maine, with the hope of being able to not plan a party for when we got back. She didn’t buy it.

So after a family celebration the night we got back, on Saturday, we got the party started early. It began with a taxi trip to the Pao Yue Kong pool in Aberdeen. It’s a large pool complex with several pools for just about everything. Laps, lounging, kiddie, diving. Then there is a separate wing with an entire kids pool complex, equipped with slides, water fountains, squirter thingies. F, T, E and I went over with a few friends and met more their. The only bummer for me was the surplus of men hanging around the pool, using the fountains as showers. Their speedos were so skimpy, it looked like they were in their underwear. But you know, I think we’d probably get this if we lived in Europe. You sort of have to shrug it off. J, J and their twins eventually joined us too, along with a quick appearance by Tom, Suzanne and their newborn George.

From there we walked down to the docks, and boarded a small boat that took us to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant. It’s literally a 4 story restaurant, built in traditional Chinese style, that bobs in the middle of Aberdeen Harbor. A James Bond movie was filmed there. Our final destination is known as Top Deck at the Jumbo, which of course is the very top floor. It’s a kid friendly venue, with a playroom located in the middle. For some of the adults, the best part wasn’t so much the play room, but the all you can eat and drink champagne brunch. Before you jump to conclusions (Mom) there was only one or two small glasses poured for our table, as the top deck gets busy.

Shortly before arriving at the Top Deck, I realized we had a real problem on our hands. The nine cupcakes, purchased individually at a swanky shopping center for not a cheap price, tipped over on the cab ride over to the pool. Literally every single cupcake was upside down, smooshed. I leveled with F when I realized what had happened. She had changed from her bathing suit into her new Fairy Princess dress, wand and tiara included. Actually, I tried to cover up the situation at first, but she caught me peaking under the cardboard roof of the cupcake disaster. I muttered something to E, then noticed F was paying close attention to the dessert bag.

F: What is it Dad?

Me: Nothing, We’re fine.

F: What did you said to Mom. Dad? Dad?

Me: (busted) Okay, F. Here’s the thing.

F: What thing?

Me: The cupcakes tipped over on the cab ride, and they’re all messy.

F: (lip quivering) But why.

Me: Because the taxi driver drove too fast.

F: (whimper, whimper, tears forming)

Me: Why don’t we order a cake at the restaurant or something.

F: NO DAD!! (Tears, arms folded, hands grabbing elbows).

Me: Okay, Okay. You have two choices. A cake, or messy cupcakes. What’s it gonna be.

F: (Lower lip protruding for effect). Messy cupcakes.

Turns out, the messy cupcakes were a huge hit. Nobody noticed. Edie promptly buried her face in the chocolate mound, coming up for air about 20 seconds later. Luckily, Alyssa opted for the banana nut muffin with white frosting, as there were only two of those. Had she not opted for that one, we’d have had a chocolate shortage, and a potentially bad situation on our hands.

I kept expecting one or a few kids to lose it, collapse, throw a tantrum. We’d had a morning of heavy swimming in the hot sun. And yet, all the kids were well behaved—bless them. As always, the service at this Hong Kong landmark restaurant was superb–over the top excellent!

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our first night out

I’ve been meaning to write this since last weekend. Now that we have our helper we’re actually able to go out Friday night’s – pretty amazing! Last Friday we decided to stay local. As soon as we walked out of our building we heard drumming and so we decided to check it out. A block and a half up we came upon this performance of a chinese dragon. Then we went to a restaurant a half a block away serving Xinjiang style food – which is Muslim style cuisine from China’s largest and most north-westerly province and is influenced by many different ethnic groups and its middle eastern neighbors. Unbeknownst to us they have a dance performance in the middle of dinner and we were front and center for Pasha, the dancer, owner, and restaurant’s namesake. A lot going on in this little neighborhood of ours…

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