Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Last Views and Meals Kowloon. Sham Shui Po and Claypot Rice.


We spent our last afternoon in Hong Kong back in Kowloon. I have decided that Kowloon offers up more of the iconic "Cantonese" lifestyle experiences that I am interested in.  I love its crammed neighborhoods, filled with semi dilapidated high rise buildings, streets lined with shops selling all things Chinese and people....lots and lots of people.  So many people that Bro is now beginning to yet revise HIS version of the child policy.  He is now at one child per four families 😁

It was Bro's idea to spend the afternoon exploring the Sham Shui Po neighborhood which is located just a short distance northwest from the Goldfish and Flower markets and the Po Yuen Bird Garden.  Conveniently, there is an MTR stop.

So, from Lamma Island, we made our way back to Central, Hong Kong via ferry.  The ferry ride back from Sok Kwu Wan was just a tad longer than the ride from Central to Yung Shue Wan.  Just as comfortable a ride though this time, we shared the cabin with a bunch of noisy (and older) Chinese tourists.




Back at the ferry terminal, we walked the short distance to reach the Central Elevated Walkway.  We are now pros at using the public transportation system in Hong Kong and I have to say, it is a remarkably practical, efficient and very cost effective way of getting around town!  If I lived here, I would not bother having a car.  No need.

The only thing that we have not yet conquered is getting from Point A to Point B within the elevated walkway system. To me, the signage is confusing.  But, with patience and perseverance, we always ended up where we needed to be.  In this case, it was back to the Central MTR.



Bro's guidebook had mentioned something about a market at Sham Shui Po that is worth visiting and that's what initially attracted Bro to want to come here.  We both love markets.  In reality, all of Kowloon is one big market!

Once we exited the Sham Shui Po MTR, we had no idea which way to go to reach the market.  Google Maps was once again proving to be useless as far as navigation was concerned so we had to walk to another intersection to get oriented.  This place is hopping with activity.  It was lunch time and that may have something to do with the fact that so many people were out and about.


Somehow, we also ended up walking to Apliu Street which is packed with shops and street vendors that hawk all things electronic.  If not for the fact that Bro had already bought the stuff he needed, we would have shopped here.




We eventually found the market which is housed in a multi storey building.  You can buy all your food here - meat, poulty, seafood, fruits, vegetables, dried goods.  If it can be eaten, it's likely you'll find it here. I will forever be astonished at the volume and variety of both fresh and cooked food that is available in Hong Kong.  Cantonese love to eat but even I'm taken aback.....not complaining though as I have been happily eating here.



While it was interesting walking around to see what food items were being sold, Bro was on a mission to find the food hall. Apparently, he had read that there was one here.  So, we went in search and after a quick walk around the first floor, realized it had to be on one of the upper floors.  Instinct told me it would be on the top floor.  Next was to find a way up.  I'm sure there were signs pointing the way but being lame Chinese who cannot read the language, we didn't spot them.  So, it took some asking for directions but eventually we got pointed to a set of escalators that take you to the upper floors.  The second floor was pretty filled with more food vendors....not the food hall.  The third floor is it!  It's one large space with the food vendors lining 3 of the 4 walls.  Surprisingly, many of them were not open for business despite the fact that it was only around 2p when we arrived.  Even the majority of the tables were empty of any patrons.  Perhaps that's already too late.  Or else the food here is really bad. 


Of the people who were seated at the tables, the majority were older men who had come together to eat and chat.  Some were playing cards.  It was very reminiscent of the scene at Lin Heung Tea House.  I guess the women are busy with other activities like food shopping and probably taking care of their domestic activities at home.  Someone has to clean the house, do the laundry, take care of the kids....the usual hard work that is left in the domain of the woman.  Yeah, it's true.



In any case, we were hungry so checked out the vendors who were open for business and ended up settling for a place dishing up Thai cuisine.   We both love Thai food and it was an acceptable change from the Cantonese food we might have otherwise had.


You can't go wrong with Pad Thai.  The woman who tended to us spoke perfect Cantonese so we suspected she is Thai but of Cantonese origins.  Her version of Pad Thai turned out to be quite delicious.  We also ordered a bowl of coconut curry shrimp noodle soup that was also quite tasty.  Eating our lunch gave me flashbacks to our trip to Thailand which was all too short - we have to go back and do a longer visit.  Soon.


While we cleared every bit of food from our plates and probably could've eaten a bit more, Bro and I are seemingly, while not having openly discussed the matter, agreed to not overeat.  So we left the table with happy taste buds.  I think the woman who served us, who I think is also the owner, had a big smile on her face when she cleared our empty dishes. As a cook, I know how satisfying it feels when people enjoy your cooking so much that they don't leave even an ant sized crumb on the plate.

After we ate, we headed down to the second floor and roamed around, checking out what was for sale.  I did spot one vendor selling dried morels which are incredibly difficult to find at home and being the morel lover that I am, I was interested in at least finding out the cost.  But unfortunately, no one was manning the stall.  That shows you just how honest people are here.  This person could leave their stand completely unattended and not worry that any one would steal from them.  I did find a vendor selling dried longan and after having that lovely drink at Yung Kee that was made with them, I bought a small bag's worth.  I know I can buy this same stuff at my Chinese supermarket at home but I just had to buy something, a souvenir if you will, from Hong Kong and this was it.


The second floor does have some veggie and fruit sellers but it's mainly dried foods.  The fresh stuff is sold on the ground floor.



The one person you won't find in a western fresh fruit market is the tofu vendor.  Similarly, you won't find a cheese vendor in a Chinese market.  Here, people buy their tofu freshly made....not sold, days if not weeks old, in a plastic container.


Chinese also love hotpot meals and an integral component of hotpot are seafood balls - fish, shrimp, squid, and cuttle fish are the most common seafood ball ingredients.   Buying pre-made balls is popular to do because of the convenience.  But you do sacrifice on taste and quality.   The ones below are all obviously factory produced and for some reason, the Chinese really love the freakish yellow and neon orange colors - all artificial stuff.  In fact, I think most of these balls are made with fillers and contain just small amounts of seafood or else have been flavored with seafood.  Don't buy this stuff!

Mixed in with this lot are also some meat balls - pork and beef are the most common ones. Again, a lot of flavor, not so much meat.  Avoid.

Better to make your own, especially if you live in Kowloon as the raw ingredients are readily available and fresh!


Cantonese love, love, love fish!  I am a lazy eater so I don't like anything with bones.  Fish with bones.  No.  Filets with bones.  No.  Fish balls and anything made with fish paste.  Yes.  Now you know what to serve me when it comes to fish.


In Hong Kong, homeopathic medicines are still very popular even though I did not spot as many traditional Chinese medicine clinics and shops as I had expected to see.  It may be that Western medicine is more popular with the younger generation.  In any case, I had to take this photo of all the different types of ointments you can buy.  I have no idea what each of them is good for so I'm guessing that at least one or more are to relieve muscle pain.


We walked the streets of Sham Shui Po for a bit longer, I think mainly to lose a few of the calories we gained over lunch.  When we were ready to leave, we just took the MTR back to Yau Ma Tei and from there, walked back to the apartment.  We had some time to chill out and in my case, repack my suitcase as we leave tomorrow for Shanghai.  I cannot believe that the first leg of our trip will soon be over.  So sad to be leaving Hong Kong.  I could easily just hang out in the city for another week.

For our last night, I had picked another long standing, venerable restaurant for dinner - a place called Four Seasons that specializes in claypot rice.  Claypot rice is like so much of Cantonese cuisine - it's comfort food.  Hong Kong is known for it so I figured we had to give it a try since we're here.

Four Seasons is located just a short walk from our apartment so we just made our way there on foot.  I had read that there can be long lines waiting to get inside Four Seasons so I set Bro's expectations that there could be a wait.  Indeed, when we got there, there was a line but not a long one.  Bro did make note of the fact that he and I were probably the two oldest people waiting to get inside Four Seasons.  What's your point? 😁


It must have been our lucky night because the people ahead of us were in groups of four.  So, when the server came out offering spots for two, we immediately raised our hands.  We got bumped to the head of the line.  Sorry.  Not sorry to the twenty somethings who had been in line ahead of us.  Age won out and it helps if there are only two of you.

Inside the small room were tables, set one end to the other.  Here, you eat communal style which is common in Hong Kong.  No one ever minds sharing a table.


There is no printed menu.  It's posted on the wall.  The waiters don't speak English so if you need to, just take a photo of the menu wall and point to the item you want. 


Like many small Hong Kong eateries, Four Seasons not only specializes in one dish but it only offers up a few options.  They are known for their cured duck leg (lap gnap), eel and frog clay pot rice. I loved preserved duck leg even though it has bones - thankfully, bones are big enough that I can easily work my around them.  Cantonese style preserved duck is fresh duck that has been seasoned with spices, wine, and salted, and then air-dried for days. Similar to cured ham or sausages, the duck becomes quite salty and has a high fat content which gives off an intense duck flavor when cooked in the clay pot with the rice.  It's like the duck version of prosciutto.

Other clay pot specials include chicken feet, liver sausage and salted fish. Being of Cantonese heritage an all, I could do with any of the claypot offerings here except for perhaps the eel.....it's that bone thing that would turn me off of the eel.  But if preserved duck is the specialty here, then I had to order it.  I convinced Bro to do the same.  We ordered a plate of sauteed water spinach to share.

Tonight, we not only knew what we wanted but we new how to say it in Cantonese!  Given the crowd of people, it's common for the waiter to be standing at the end of the communal table while you're seated somewhere towards the middle.  You just shout out your order.  Simple but effective means of ordering and because the menu is not an extensive one, the waiter does not need to even write down the order.  You can trust he or she will get it right.

The claypot rice at Four Seasons is special because it's cooked over charcoal flame.  Done right, the bottom layer of rice should be slightly charred.  So many cuisines around the world have arrived at the same conclusion - a bit of charring creates a crispy bottom layer of rice that makes it all taste so much better!

Our pots of rice came fast!  It was a generous serving not only of rice but also of the duck.  There was at least a full leg and then some.

The proper way to eat this is to douse the rice with dark soy sauce but to me, that overpowers the flavor of everything, especially the duck.  Not to mention that the duck is already salty and to add more salt to the dish is taking the seasoning out of balance....at least for me.  

So, I go it plain to start with and then add dribbles of the soy as I eat off a layer of rice.  That works better for my taste buds.

The duck was divine. I have to figure out how to make preserved duck when I get home.  The rice, which appeared to be a medium grain rice, was nice and fluffy.  There must be a special ratio of water to grain to not get this rice to cook up as compacted as most Chinese style cooked rice is.  I immediately dug my spoon all the way down to the bottom and found the crispy layer of slightly charred rice.  It was perfect!   The claypot was a tad too much rice for me as I was still slightly full from lunch.  So, I ate the duck and as delicious as it was, reluctantly left behind some of the rice.  I was raised to not waste food so I always hate leaving food behind but this was just a bit too much for me.


After dinner, we took a stroll back to our apartment.  Temple Street is so named because it's where the Tin Hau Temple, in Yau Ma Tei, is located.  As many times as we have walked by the temple complex, we had not stepped foot inside.  Tonight was no exception.  We simply strolled through the small park that is located adjacent to the temple.  So bad.  We are not good tourists.  In my defense, I have been to so many Chinese Buddhist temples that I have very little interest in seeing any more of them....unless they are noteworthy. 

Just around the corner from Temple Street, we happened upon a very unusual sight.  It was a row of fortune tellers, each occupying their own stall.  These were all *pop up* fortune tellers, if you will.  They only set up for operation after the store fronts, that they are now blocking, are closed for the day. 


Chinese are very superstitious and fortune telling is very popular.  I remember my grandmother taking me to see one, to have my fortune read, when I was a child.  I don't remember what the fortune teller told my grandmother.  Hopefully, it was that I was going to have a bright future and good health along the way.  In any case, the fortune tellers were not all that busy tonight but I did see one or two with customers.


On another street, make shift tents served as venues for karaoke performances.  Only in Hong Kong??


It amazed me not only to see the pop up karaoke places but to see them side by side.   I don't know how the performers can hear themselves with music and bad singing blaring out from the tent next door.  No....there was no one singing that was good enough for me to want to stop and listen.  We walked on by.


You can't miss Temple Street.  Just look for the archway and beyond that, a gazillion vendors selling everything under the sun.  It's a lively place and one that I think I will miss once I leave Hong Kong. 


We didn't stay out late tonight.  We needed time to pack up our stuff and get ready for our trip to Shanghai tomorrow.   I also need to follow up with our Airbnb host to let them know of our departure time.  Additionally, all day today, I've been trading Wechat messages with our Airbnb host and my cousin SK who will also be arriving in to Shanghai tomorrow.  SK's flight lands around 8a and unfortunately, our check in time at our Airbnb is not until 3p.  I had been hoping that no one had booked the place today so SK could check in early but pretty much at the last minute, someone booked the place for the night.  Check out is by noon and I've been trying to convince Anna to let SK check in early as she will be tired from her long flight from London.  Fingers crossed I can get this to happen because from a timing perspective, we will literally be on the plane at the same time that SK is making her way from the airport to the apartment.  The joys of being the trip coordinator. 😟

Well, it's time for me to catch a quick shower and finish up the tasks I have to do before I can call it a night.

My last goodnight from Hong Kong!