Lost in Kowloon; Saved by Sichuan Cuisine

 

rainy day in Hong Kong

Today has been a challenging day. We awoke to very hot weather and dark, glowering skies. The rain and wind began as soon as we hit the streets and while we had our dim sum breakfast the weather worsened. Just what Hong Kong does not need, more drenching rain.

I got a little cocky ordering dim sum this morning, which, of course, led to our being presented with an order of chicken feet and fish maw that I did not mean to order. Fortunately, we had custard buns and dumplings to save the day. You can be sure that I won’t make that mistake again !

We had some business appointments across the harbor today in Kowloon. Because of the rain we opted to take the subway rather than the more picturesque ferry across the harbor. Nevertheless, because of all the walking involved, we still arrived wet and disheveled.

I really dislike Kowloon – I find it difficult to navigate, and places are hard to find. Street addresses are chopped up and many businesses are located inside of shopping centers or business centers, all of which are vast and disorienting. We wandered inside of one of these places for nearly 50 minutes and still had not found our destination. Asking for help is useless – even the shop clerks do not know where anything is. Oddly, as we trudged on, we passed hundreds of shops, all laid out by type of business. It began to feel disorienting and right out of a bad movie.

For instance, at one point we were surrounded by upscale childrens stores. A land of fantasy, colors and foo-foo dresses. Then we entered the electronics zone, then the flashy ready-to-wear-designer clothing stores with oversized photographs of overly made-up models looking like they were in pain, then the cell phone floor. When we hit the gifts-that-no-sane-person-needs-zone we fled back into the rain and the oppressive humidity. It was all mad and maddening.

We finally gave up trying to find our destination, but did find a wonderful Thai restaurant where we had a terrific late lunch. Should you find yourself lost in the Harbor City Ocean Terminal, look for a Thai restaurant named Sweet Basil. If you can find it, it dishes up very nicely prepared and delicious food in a very peaceful and restful environment.

We paid a visit to the offices of the Arts of Asia magazine to say hello and to present the publisher, Mrs. Nguyet and her son Robin with a copy of our book for her library. We have subscribed to this gorgeous magazine for several years now, and wished to show our appreciation for all of their efforts and for all that we have learned from them. Then we dashed back to Hong Kong on the ferry.

But not before paying a visit to the Chinese Arts & Crafts Store. These stores have always been a wonderful place to find lovely Chinese silks, etc. But, boy, have times changed ! The rampant inflation and rising prices in China’s new boom economy has made everything soooo expensive here. Table runners that I purchased two years ago in China for 15.00 US were selling here for 200-300.00 US. The gorgeous silk duvet cover that I purchased for 250.00 US back then is now selling for 1,000-2,000 US. And forget any of the Jingedgzhen porcelain items or the hand-made crafts – insane pricing. But, a good dim sum feast can be had for 12.00 US and the trams still only costs HK 2.00 or about 35 cents a ride, so some things still remain a bargain here.

Dinner tonight was at our favorite Hong Kong restaurant – Da Ping Huo– a little place run by a married couple that specializes in homestyle Sichuan cuisine. They have become quite a popular place now, so I made a reservation well in advance. I like returning to familiar places and finding things pretty much the same as I remember. In this case, the couple looked the same, but like us, just a bit older.

There is no menu here – guests arrive at the appointed time and service begins. Everyone in the restaurant is presented with the same dish at the same time – a fantastic succession of 12 palate challenging dishes that have been cooked by the lady of the house. In a small-world kind of experience that seems nearly impossible in a go-go city such as Hong Kong, we were seated at the same table that we sat at the last time we ate dined there. Same people, same table…it was a comfortable moment in a sometimes overwhelming city.

Her cooking is inspired, and the dishes range from lightly spicy to mouth-numbing. The meal is presented in a well orchestrated sequence of dishes, each featuring playful flavors and tastes designed to keep the spicy/hot level from overpowering one’s palate. Hubby runs the front of the house and charmingly appologizes profusely for interrupting every time he arrives with the next course. He also announces the spiciness level as he sets the dish down on the table. Some of the dishes are red, red, red in color, but he is always right – many of them are not as hot as they look. But they are all feature wonderully complex sauces that are playful as well as tasty. Everyone gets excited when the MaPoDofu dish arrive – meltingly tender bean curd in an spicy meat sauce. The meat has been chopped so fine it has the texture of cornmeal – a wonderful counterpoint to the silkiness of the tofu.

At the end of the evening, he brings the chef – his wife – out for everone to meet, and she concludes the evening by singing a tender song for her patrons. It is very touching and sweet – she is a trained Chinese opera singer, and has a lovely voice. We have no idea what she is singing about, but she is smiling the entire time as she modulates her voice and hits those Chinese high notes with near ear-splitting ease.

We are all enthralled, and her husband stands off to the side positivly beaming the entire time. Long after she has finished, and we have returned to our hotel, the sound of her voice is still circling around inside of my head. I fall asleep thinking that her song is a final sweet touch that lingers long after the flavor of the meal has passed. They have much to be proud of and I hope that they will still be there cooking and singing and extending wonderful hospitality the next time we return to Hong Kong.

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