Saturday, March 24, 2018

Starting Off Our Day, the Cantonese Way....With Congee.

Waiting for our bowls of congee at Sun Kee Congee.

We kicked off our first full day in Hong Kong by getting up bright and early!  When I checked the time on my phone, it was barely 6:30a.  I looked over at Bro's bed and while there was no sign of him rustling around, I decided that we had at least 7 hours of sleep and well, that should be enough to get over jet lag.  Basically, there would be no jet lag for us!  Since I was up, I decided to hit the shower first.

It was barely 40 minutes later when we were both ready to leave for the day.  While Bro finished getting ready, I took a few photos of our incredibly small Airbnb apartment which for $85 a night is a steal by Hong Kong standards.  Thankfully, we don't spend much time in the apartments we rent so teeny weeny is fine by us as long as it meets our basic requirements (kitchen, washer, WiFi, aircon, and good location).




Our apartment is tucked into a nook at the end of a short corridor.  I think there were only 3 other apartments.  Our hallway looks like a prisona hall.  😁


Our apartment is on the second floor and yes, we could walk down the one flight but for some reason, we got into the habit of taking the elevator.


The entrance to the apartment building is very non-descript.  If you don't pay attention to the small address plaque, you can easily miss it!


Today, we got to see Temple Street in the day time.  It looks very different than at night.  Amazing how the vendors come to set up in the late afternoon and by the early morning hours, the spots they had occupied are now filled with parked cars!



From the moment we decided we were coming to Hong Kong, we already knew that our first breakfast would be a classic meal of Cantonese congee aka rice porridge.  Congee is comfort food for Chinese but for the Cantonese, it's comfort breakfast food too.  Bro plays tennis with a couple of men from Hong Kong so I asked him to ask them for a recommendation on where we could go for a good bowl of congee.  His friend passed along a photo of the place which had the name of the place written in Chinese.

 I don't read Chinese.  So as far as I was concerned, I had no name to go by, just a photo.  But no congee lover with, especially a greedy one, would be deterred.  So, with that photo and only that photo, I set about to try and figure the name of the place and location.  It took some detective work along with Google and Google Images but I found the place!  Sun Kee Congee, located in the Hung Hom neighborhood of Kowloon!  I also discovered China's version of Yelp, called OpenRice.  You can read reviews of Sun Kee Congee on OpenRice.

Once I had the address information from OpenRice, it was easy to figure out how to get there.  All we had to do was take the subway, aka the MTR,  to the Whampoa station and from there, walk the short distance to the restaurant.

Our apartment is located between the Yau Ma Tei and Jordan stations which are both on the red line.  Whampoa is on the green line and just so happens that Yau Ma Tei is an exchange point with the green line.  From our apartment, it's about a 5 minute walk to Nathan Road and from there, I would say about a 10-15 minute walk to the Yau Ma Tei MTR station.

It's early Saturday morning and the streets were really quiet. Pretty much the only establishments open were those serving breakfast.


The one thing you quickly realize when you are in Hong Kong is that pretty much everybody uses some form of public transportation here.  The buses, which are all double decker, are very modern and efficient.  The red and yellow bus in the photo below is the A21 bus heading to the airport.  That's the bus that our Airbnb host recommended we take but thanks to Bro's due diligence with researching options, it turned out that the A22 bus which dropped us off on Jordan Road, was actually a better option.


As modern and efficient as the buses are, so is the MTR. 

At this time of day, there are few riders.  We just used our Octopus card to get past the turnstile and then found the platform for the line heading to Whampoa which is one end of the green line.


When we got out of the metro, we were lost so I fired up Google Maps figuring that Ms. Google would get us to the restaurant.  But as we soon learned, after a few false turns, Google Maps doesn't work all that well here if you are relying on it for voice direction.  If you simply use the map, you are okay.  We figured that out the hard way.  Also, it pays to look at the maps inside each station because it's important which exit you take.  We never paid any attention and exited to a spot that put is in the wrong walking direction.  Oh well.  Lesson learned....or not. 😁

We were lost but convinced we were at least heading in the right direction.  The signs of a local market and people shopping distracted us.


Yum!!

I had kept an image of the restaurant on my phone and would occasionally stop passersby to ask them if they knew where the place was.  I have to admit, my Cantonese is extremely rusty so I was actually proud of the fact that I could not only ask for directions but more importantly, I understood the response.

We actually walked past the place when I asked for directions so we doubled back.  When what I was seeing in front of me matched the photo I had, I knew we had arrived.  Yay!  Major challenge for me and Bro, teeny weeny step for mankind! 😁


There was a light flow of people going in and coming out.  We joined the line and soon enough, found ourselves standing inside a very small restaurant.  Reminds me of many places I've eaten at in Southeast Asia. 


When it comes to food, the two most important things, to Chinese, are that the food is made with fresh ingredients (nothing frozen!!) and it is cooked fresh.  Except for baked items, cooked food is never left to sit out before it is served.

To the left of the entrance was one woman who was frying up the Chinese crullers - yau char kway as we call them in Cantonese or youtiao as they are known as in Mandarin. 


Across the entrance way from the woman frying up the yau char kway was another woman making fresh rice noodles.  When you wrap a piece of the yau char kway inside a sheet of the rice noodle, you create a food item called zhaliang.  Zhaliang is a common dim sum food here and it's also commonly as an accompaniment to congee. 


At Sun Kee as inside many small Hong Kong eateries, you sit at a communal table.  There is no one to seat you.  Spot the places at a table and call them yours.  Though it's a Saturday morning and we are in the prime breakfast period, we were able to find two seats without having to way.  Yay!!

Cantonese congee, or jook as it is called in Cantonese, is basically a very soupy rice porridge.  You order it with whatever fillings you want.  You just shout out what you want to the waitress and if they have it, you get it.  Here, their specialty is supposedly crap congee (hai jook).  But,   tere are some classic congees.  For example my favorite is salted lean pork with thousand year old egg (sau yook peidan jook).  My brother loves fish (you pein).  That's my bowl below.

I swear the piping hot bowls of congee were delivered to us less than five minutes after we ordered them. I don't think you can get a warm bowl of food any faster!

I like to joke that classic Chinese congee is four grains of rice cooked in a cup of liquid.  It tends to be a bit on the soupy side and the rice is so well cooked that you can no longer see individual grains....just bits of rice.  Often, congee is just cooked in plain water.   Here, the water base was seasoned with a bit of ginger giving it a little bit more flavor than just water.  I like it with ginger.


Along with our congee, we also ordered a plate of the zhaliang which at Sun Kee comes doused with soy sauce.  I like zhaliang but Bro was a bit lukewarm to it.  He says it takes away the crispiness from the yau char kway that it's wrapped around.  I thought the fresh rice noodle was very well made.  Not too stiff, not too soft so it's overly soggy.  Just perfect.  It's obvious the two women who made the individual components are very skilled. 



You can season your congee as you wish.  Some people like a splash of Chinese black vinegar.  Like Bro, I like a sprinkling of pepper which for Chinese is always white pepper.


The congee was hot but so delicious.  There's no lingering in a place like Sun Kee.  It's eat and go and so the moment we were done, we paid the bill and left.  Breakfast cost less that $1.50 each!

By now, more of the world had come out to play.  Sun Kee was located in the heart of a commercial area so we decided to take a very leisurely walk back to the MTR - we're on vacation and in no big rush to go anywhere.  Might as well take in the sights, sounds, and smells of a local neighborhood while we have the chance.  These are the travel moments that I really enjoy.

As if we hadn't already had enough for breakfast, there was a bakery a few shops down from Sun Kee.  You can't come to Hong Kong and not have a Cantonese egg tart....especially considering they are fresh out of the oven!  I sent Bro to get two.  You can see him standing inside the shop, queuing up to pay.


Then, we came across the noodle shop.  Why buy dried noodles when you can get the fresh stuff and it's so cheap to boot!


The Cantonese diet is full of veggies.


We saw a lot of tropical fruits for sale, most likely all imported.  Bro had his eyes on the mulberries which he has a thing for.



The sight of roast ducks and Chinese barbecue pork for sale stopped me in my tracks.  For a second I debated whether or not to get the duck.  We have a kitchen.  We have a pot.  We can buy rice.  I can cook it up.  White rice and roast duck.  What's wrong with that?  Then I woke up.  Oh yeah, I'm in Hong Kong.  I can pretty much eat 24 hours a day here.  No need to buy.  I can easily stuff my face with other delicious foods.


One roast meat vendor after another.  Soon I had to leave or else a duck would be coming home with us.


It was barely 9a when we decided to leave the 'hood behind.  We have a full day ahead of us.

When I was planning our time in Hong Kong, I had it in my brain that we would actually be arriving today instead of yesterday.  It wasn't until I was actually doing a final check of the itinerary and printing out the Airbnb apartment info that I realized we were actually going to be arriving one day earlier.  So, at the very, very last minute....the 11th hour, I had to quickly adjust our itinerary.  Originally, we were going to be spending our first day over on Hong Kong Island and our second day exploring Kowloon.  Instead, we're moving Kowloon up a day.  For Kowloon, the original plan was to spend the morning on Lantau Island and the afternoon exploring the markets in Kowloon.  We're now flipping that and doing the markets (fish, flower and bird)  in the morning.   You gotta go with the flow.

So, it was back to the Whampoa MTR to make our way to the Prince Edward MTR station and from there, make our way to the markets.  This time, we managed to get back to the Whampoa MTR without getting lost. We're improving!

On to the markets we go!