Custard Buns and Pig’s Throat

tried and true trams ply the main drag of Hong Kong

Yes, our day began on a fine note. 0ur beloved dim sum restaurant is still here and busier than ever. In typical Hong King style, this place is cavernous, boisterous and a bit of a madhouse. I think that not too many westerners find this place – the staff all looks terrified when we enter and seem a bit unsure of who is going to volunteer to help us.

In the last 4 years the restaurant has made a few changes and modernised a bit. The olympic-sized kitchen is now open for viewing and they have added a bit of English to the menu. But the mysterious things still remain mysterious. We had a grand selection of dumplings – Tao Heung dumplings, braised vegetable dumplings, Chiu Chow dumplings, bamboo shoots roll with oyster sauce, premium siu mei, and of course, my eternally-beloved, soft, fluffy, warm custard buns. Unlike some things in life that we cannot help but revisit (but are then sorry that we did) these simple delicacies are as satisfying and delicious as I remember. Our big success of the yum cha ( dim sum ) was to finally get some tea other than jasmine tea – a Guangdong Swartow oolong, we think.

So fortified, we began our day of tea exploration. I take back what I said yesterday about how the weather in Hong Kong seeming more moderate than what we experienced last weekend in NYC. Today was close to 100% humidity, and dark, stormy skies threatened to lash out with rain at any time. Fortunately, the rains never came, which we learned was a good thing from a young lady named Catherine that we chatted with on one of our stops.

She told us that last weekend Hong Kong experienced ‘Black Rain’ – a quick, torrential downpour that is classified as the worst and most damaging type of rain that the city can have. The result was flooding in the low-lying streets in the Sheung Wan district of the city, where many of the old-fashioned shops that specialize in dried fungus, dried seafood, birds nests, deer horn and other herbal / medicinal stuffs are located. We had walked through this area earlier, and saw that some of the vendors had laid different products out on the sidewalks to air out. And that a great deal of cleanup activity was going on all around. Apparently, the flooding had soaked many of these goods, and the shopkeepers were trying desperately to clean up and salvage whatever merchandise they could.  I have to say that that all those damp goods made for a very strange and unpleasant aroma.

We spent the remainder of the day doing what we love to do in Hong Kong – walking the streets, taking in the atmosphere of the neighborhoods, and looking at tea and teawares. We love finding unique little cups and teapots to add to our teawares collection, and browsing among all of the accessories that are essential to the Chinese tea table – little wooden stands for teapots, brushes for washing the outside of Yixing teapots, wood-charcoal for purifying water and little trays for holding little sipping cups.

We found some new tea shops to visit – Ngan Ki Heung Tea Co. Ltd, where we purchased two exquisite duan ni  or yellow-buff colored clay Yixing teapots from a contemporary teapot artist. At Lam Kie Yuen Tea Co. Ltd, we spied a hand-painted gaiwan decorated with an impish little monkey stealing fruits from a tree on one side and a poem about the fleeting nature of sweetness on the other side.

We treasure time spent talking with the folks in the tea shops about their selections of tea. Tea is such a deep topic in China, and no two stores sell the same tea or teawares. We always learn something new from those we spend time with, and we appreciate having the opportunity to taste teas that we will most likely never see or taste in the US. Today we tasted a PutuoShan Buddha green tea, a WuyiShan TieLoHan oolong, an osmanthus oolong blended in house by the tea master himself, and a first of the 2008 season lightly-oxidized Tieguanyin from Anxi.

I had made dinner reservations at a place called Shui Hu Ju, which sounded like one of those small little places that only the locals know about in a hard-to-find-location. It is tucked away near the top of a dizzingly vertical street ( remember, Hong Kong has as many hills as San Francisco and many places are hard to find even when a map is in hand and the signs in English. Sometimes even 3 Chinese people in on the conversation cannot agree on where a street is when it is only a few blocks away ) and offered no signage to announce that one had arrived. But we’ve encounteded these kinds of places before,  so we chose the most opportunistic doorway and went in.

Apparently so had lots of other Americans, Australians, French, etc. The place was tiny but packed, and abuzz with English speakers. Oh well, the atmosphere was not filled with the Hong Kong literati that I had hopped for, but the interior of the restaurant was dark, artsy and evocative. From the extensive menu of some adventurous sounding dishes we selected: sliced octopus marinated with fresh seaweeds and scallions; jade ( a bulbous Chinese water vegetable ) with shredded ginger; crispy mutton Peking-style; fried pigs throat with scallions and coriander; lotus nuts, lily buds and mixed vegetables.

The dishes were flavorsome, well-balanced, contemporaty and unique but not contrived or over-wrought. The mutton, which featured meltingly tender meat and very, thin, dark crisy skin, was one of the best things that I have eaten in China and the pigs throat was soft, a little chewy like squid, but utterly delicious and playful in texture. The meal was a nice contrast of cool and warm dishes, soft and crunchy textures, with sweet/savory spicing. We passed on dessert so that we could enjoy the lingering flavors of the meal a bit longer.

Tomorrow we are off across the bay to Kowloon and more tea, food and unplanned adventures.

slices of crispy mutton


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