I arrived in Hong Kong late Monday evening, my limbs aching from the 16 hour flight and my vision blurry from my in-flight Oscar nominations marathon. My mom had sprung an impromptu trip at the end of my sister’s visit to Japan and I simply refused to be left out. I expected some major jet lag with the 12 time difference, but upon touch down I was too excited to care. It was my first time in what is often hailed as one of the best cities in the world, and with one of the best food scenes at that! I may or may have not flown across the world just for the food… my mouth was watering before I even got on the airport shuttle. For those of you that may not know, Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China, which means that its not part of the mainland China but it still falls under its sovereignty (it was under British control under about the mid ’90s.) So it has its own currency — the colorful Hong Kong dollars — and also a lot of Western influence. The other special administrative region is Macau, which we’ll get to later.
Hong Kong indeed is pretty impressive. I was surprised at the sheer number of skyscrapers, both commercial and residential, that were packed into such a small section of land. Perhaps I’m too used to NYC’s skyscrapers to notice them anymore, but HK seemed much more dense at first glance. And of course, let’s not forget about all the millions of people out and about, which may explain why the culture includes walking fast and cutting others off when necessary. Ahh, I feel more at home already. Oh, can I just comment on the absurd number of shopping malls everywhere? At least it helps me better understand where China gets its obsession with luxury goods. Too bad the prices are far more expensive than back home. ::sigh::
While I’m super excited to get to the local cuisine, I will hold off (briefly) to point out some awesome sights to check out if you find yourself in HK for a few days. While we stayed in one of the more touristy parts of town on the Kowloon side, we managed to cover quite a bit of ground all over:
The Big Buddha on Lantau Island: This was probably my favorite non-foodie part of the trip. It includes a cable car (spring for the glass bottom one) that takes you up into the hills. The big tourist attraction there is the Big Buddha, but there are tons of hiking trails and you can also take buses to Tai O, Hong Kong’s oldest fishing village (see below for one of its storefronts.) The view from the cable car is pretty cool, too. Tip: If you decide to go, purchase cable car tickets online in advance. We were able to cut the line with ours, which probably saved us a good two hours of waiting.
The Markets: If you are a street vendor type of person (I’m talking to you, Noelle!) you would find paradise within Hong Kong’s many markets. There’s the Ladies Market, the Fa Yuen Street Market, the Goldfish Market, the Flower Market… let’s just say you have options. Some of these markets have pop up booths while others are actual stores, and I personally found that the Goldfish Market or Flower Market to be more interesting than others.
Victoria’s Peak: Victoria’s Peak is on the Hong Kong island side and is reachable by bus, gondola or good ‘ol fashioned taxi. We actually went for the hiking, although we soon found that the actual “trail” was more of a flat path. That being said, the walk provided some amazing views of Hong Kong from above as well as some exotic trees and plants on the walk for all you nature lovers. The area up top also has some stores (shocker) and a few look out points closer to where the buses drop you off.
Sky bar at the Ritz Carlton: Perfect for ending a day of sightseeing with a cocktail and a view. I hear the Four Seasons also has a great view from its dim sum restaurant. Tip: Stay on the bottom floor at the Ritz if you want to catch a great view of the sunset as the view from the rooftop is blocked.
Other mentionables worth checking out: Chi Lin Nunnery (Buddhist temple), Avenue of the Stars boardwalk, the Star Ferry and Dragon’s Back hiking trail. I’m sure I am missing so many other nuggets, which will have to wait for next time!
Ok, now for the other part of Hong Kong’s amazing culture: The Food! It was definitely a dim sum party for the Mony’s during our week there, but we also made time for other delectables like soup dumplings, peking duck, and even some tea time. My tummy was the happiest it’s ever been — here’s the low down on where to go:
Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan: The most talked about and arguably best dim sum in Hong Kong, this Michelin-star restaurant chain doles out the most amazing pork buns I’ve ever had in my life. You would never realize its high rating though at first glance; not only is it a no-frills type of place but each plate of dim sum is about $2 each. The secret is definitely out though since many of its locations come with an hour (or two) wait, but we went to the Sham Shui Po location which is in a less touristy area and got seated right away. Note: I should also mention that there was some discrepancy as to if all the locations had Michelin stars or only some, but this one definitely does (if anyone knows this btw, please share!) That being said, if you want a fix before hopping on a flight out of HK (or maybe first thing upon arrival) there’s a restaurant right next to the airport shuttle at the IFC mall in Central.
Soup Dumplings at Crystal Jade: My sister and I are big fans of xiaolongbao, aka soup dumplings, and so we did our research to find this place. The soup dumplings and the rest of our meal (including this phenomenal chili oil dumpling dish!) was absolutely delicious.
More Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung: Couldn’t resist adding this one, another affordable michelin-star restaurant with awesome food. Tip: If you have room to spare at the end of the meal, definitely get the sesame and red bean buns for dessert. Delicious!
Peking Duck at Spring Deer: Diner beware, only come here if you are ready to stuff yourself silly. This restaurant is a favorite among locals and a reservation is best, so if you do manage to get a seat you better be prepared to eat your fill. The duck here is brought to you whole and sliced up before your eyes at your table. I know we ordered other dishes but I was so happy with the duck (in all its fatty glory) that I don’t even remember anything else. Sure, its probably not healthy to have duck all the time but if there’s a time to break the diet it has to be when you’re here.
Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula: While this wasn’t exactly something I expected to do while in Hong Kong, having tea and fancy little finger sandwiches at The Peninsula was pretty great. Granted, it was pricey for what it was, but the ambiance was so nice and it was a great way to relax with my mom and sis after a long day. Being a tourist, tough life.
As its pretty obvious, the food was my favorite part of the experience. I also really liked how many expats live here – probably a good number working at the big financial companies. As for the bad, I was pretty sad to see how much smog was in the air but I guess thats to be expected with the number of people crammed in. Lower your carbon footprint already, HK!