Friday, 15 October 2010

Foraging for food

People filled me up with this wank that Hong Kong was this totally Western city that somehow wound up next to China. Well, let me tell you, get that right out of your head. This is an Asian city - the premier language is most certainly not English (although the language of business is, and all signs are in English and Cantonese) and many Hongkongers only know a few useful phrases.

The most noticeable Asian aspect of this city, though, is the food. There is a McDonalds somewhere in the city, and the odd Western takeway like Subway, but for the most part it is Chinese. I have eaten more noodles in the last fortnight than I have in the previous 27 years of my life, and I've taught myself to use chopsticks - the excuse of being left-handed which I've used throughout my life doesn't fly here.

Restaurants in Hong Kong are pretty expensive, even by Cape Town standards. Pizza is excessively pricey (you won't find one for under R100, and that will be for a small margherita) as is steak, probably due to the fact that everything in Hong Kong needs to be imported - I cannot fathom where would be enough land for farms. Or even just one cow, to be completely honest. It does mean, though, that groceries are also damn expensive, particularly in the central part of town where we live. The South African rand is about 10% stronger than the Hong Kong dollar, so two pieces of lean chicken breast, costing about HK$50 at a Pick n Pay type of store (called Park n Shop, believe it or not) are about R45. So it's almost worth eating out as much as we do.

Every kind of restaurant you can think of is here. Thai, Italian, British which you can easily browse if you're prepared to pay for it.

Our personal restaurants of choice are what translates to "tea shops", called yum cha in Cantonese, if my Wikipedia browsing is anything to go by. This is where it seems Chinese people eat - I have never seen a non-Chinese patron in one of them, other than the two of us. We started going to them less for tea and more for the amount of money they charge for food - which keeps our bank accounts happy - but the quality of food served is also decent. There are stupidity traps though. The first time we went to a tea shop, we were served tea as we sat down. On our second visit to one of these shops, the waitress plonked two cups of hot water down on the table. In the spirit of trying to be Chinese, we sipped on it, assuming it aided digestion or some such shit, until we saw the table next to us putting their cutlery into it. We very quickly pretended we hadn't been so stupid, and ordered from the menu, which, in these kinds of restaurants, is noodles with a meat or soup prepared in some fashion. I find these tea shops are the best place for chicken dishes, but there is always pork (I think it's the most popular meat here) and beef on the menu, and you're looking at about HK$30 to HK$50 per meal. A lot of meals here are served in soup - like sweet and hot pork with noodles (which could conceivably stand on its own, but is served) in a bowl of soup. I assumed that sweet and hot pork was a mistranslation of sweet and sour, but no, they really meant sweet and hot, as the burning in my mouth testified.

On that note, there is a restaurant which all visitors will be taken to called Chilli Haven (we only noticed the name of it afterwards). We were walking around looking for a spot to eat when we came upon this cute little restaurant with affordable prices. In we innocently went and ordered two Tsingtao's (Chinese beer) while we pondered the menu. The beers were served in bowls, and I'm still unsure as to whether this is some ancient Chinese custom, or the staff were snickering around the corner, watching two morons lap up beer from a vessel ill-suited to the purpose. Our waitress, a seemingly innocent twenty something woman (but was actually a totally psychotic bitch) recommended we order the dumplings, a speciality of the restaurant. We took that, some peri-peri chicken dish and a dose of sweet and sour pork. Well, it tasted like these dumplings were grown in an Indian chilli plantation, cooked in gunpowder and were then pissed on by fire ants, and we put our brave faces on as we schlepped through them, wiping sweat from brow and trying to keep the limpid snot from escaping our noses as tears poured out of our eyes. During this process of trying to remember to breathe, I somehow managed to touch my eye with a sauce-covered finger - it caught fire and melted a little bit before I managed to save it by putting an ice-cube beneath my eyelid. We don't really know what the other food tasted like because our mouths were on fire until the following day, when we were distracted by the pain of, well, let's just say the food was digested in a very heated manner.

The one last and most important adjustment we have been forced to make in a culinary sense, is the staggering price of liquor in bars, compared to in grocery shops. In the 7-11, a beer is about HK$8, so not too far off what we pay in South Africa. However, a beer in a bog-standard bar in Soho will knock you back about HK$60 which is even more than you get schmucked for in a London pub. Wine, oir tipple of choice back in SA, is prohibitively expensive here - the cheapest bottle we can find (so our regular selection) is from Chile and costs about HK$45 - double the cost of a Zesty White. So we've had to revert to the amber drink of men - beer. Yes, glorious beer. In fact I am sipping on one right now while I type this.

And not one menu has had dog or cat on it. I am very disappointed.

ERRATA: In the post I mentioned that Tsingtao was a Japanese beer. It's actually Chinese. It's been changed.


  1. "not one menu has had dog or cat on it."

    You do know that the Cantonese words for 'dog' and 'pork' are the same, don't you?

  2. Beer glorious beer! *black label commercial manly men, doing manly things*

  3. @6000

    Correct. It's so easy to confuse 狗 and 猪.

  4. @Alwill, it counds as if there is a youtube clip somewhere...?

  5. I love these personal experience posts - keep 'em coming