Category Archives: food blog wanksters travel

HK: missing first #fatty date

“Ah can’t get no sleep.”

Looking back months after, I can’t believe how much insomnia in Hong Kong got in the way of so many of the plans me and Tristan had in place. Given that there was a great deal of overlap in when Billy and Anna were there, plans were made to hang with them.

I am really sorry to say lots of late morning, lunch type plans were botched. This one particular day, Tris and I had missed the initial Tim Ho Wan meet-up with the aforementioned wonderful #teamfatty. So much of this could have been avoided if I had met and brought/procured my current best friend (who is cheap, low maintenance and listens to all my boring stories. What is not to love, seriously?).

Petrified, Tris and I made the trek out anyway. I’m not sure how it always end up like this, but usually, Tristan cowers behind me and nudges me forward to find out what the fuck we’re supposed to do. It is almost comical given my crippling anxiety issues and given our relative heights, I’m sure it looks like a comedy skit in the making.

It is this one place that has made me decide that I must at the very least learn my numbers in Canto. This is how this Michelin-fêted place works, if you do not know Canto. Push your fucking way through to the door bitch and somehow communicate how many diners there are and fight for your right to a menu. I am forever grateful to the random dude that walked past me and said “er, I think you’d be better with this”, handing me the English menu.

Tim Ho Wan menu

Tick off what you want and hand it back and you’re told your number. I got a good glimpse at the door bitch’s book: it’s meticulous. A Chinese character is put next to the foreign diners’ numbers. If you miss your turn, you get put on another list and may God have mercy on your soul if you keep missing your number which they call out in Canto.

Once I’d got this sorted, I made sure to pass on this information to any remotely lost-looking foreigner that came past (which are many in number, comforting after the fact). Solely due to this, I managed to chat to a few struggling Melburnians and we bonded over the wait.

Which is worth it, I might add.

Behold, the best barbecue pork buns either Tris or I had ever experienced. Slightly sweet and feather-soft pastry encased marvels. I admit, given the first world trauma that was getting into Tim Ho Wan, I was mega pissed off that he decided that he deserved two of these because he enjoyed them more?! Whatever you reckon, mate.

Continuing with his executive fatcat decisions, I was allowed to have the extra roll of vermicelli wrapped pork liver. Ah the benevolence (what Tris was not admitting at this juncture is he was still NQR about offal). No matter, I got a good deal and looked less the tourist for eating offal: I needed the cred.

One of the most substantial offerings we chose was the fried glutinous rice with assorted preserved meat. This is definitely the sort of item I tend to neglect when I have yum cha back home and boy am I glad we chose to order this. Though the texture is markedly different to something like the vermicelli stuffed with pork liver, it wasn’t just delicious but pleasing. It actually reminds me of my (Filipino) grandfather because the rice was crispy though not quite burnt and both me and him love that almost burnt rice at the bottom of the saucepan, in Tagalog I believe it’s called tutong. This is like that, but of course with delicious other things added!

A simple but brilliantly executed yum cha item is the steamed spinach and garlic dumpling. I love how translucent the dumpling skins are and how jewel-like it makes the contents seem. So bloody good.

Similar such dumplings were the steamed fresh shrimp ones. In brackets, it has them marked as ‘ha jiao’ but my Google-fu tells me that we perhaps Anglicise this to ‘har gau’ and other variants Again, beautiful translucent skins perfectly encasing their succulent contents. Both these and the ones above didn’t really need much in the way of soy for dipping.

The other classic yum cha staple is the shu mai, marked on Tim Ho Wan’s ‘foreigner’ menu as streamed pork dumpling with shrimp, giggle. They look gorgeous and were so juicy.

Another item I tend to neglect when back home is congee. I like congee as it reminds me heaps of goto which I’ve since discovered is the Filipino version of congee. Though I call it goto, it is also more widely known as lúgaw, and sometimes by its Spanish term arroz caldo. In any case, if you want a dish when you’re sick or down, this is the one to lift and restore both body and mind. Sadly, it’s not very photogenic. The congee available was peanut and pork bone.

There were a few dessert items: upon reflection, I’m wishing we also went with the very exotic sounding tonic medlar and petal cake but what we went with was double doiled (sic: I assume ‘boiled’) snow fungus with lotus. Tristan isn’t as fond of these sorts of things as I am but after having dined at First Taste in Box Hill on similar things (my sincerest apols in advance for linking to a woeful post on my personal blog).

It’s sweet, but more of a thin, delicate broth with a slight sugariness. Again, the interest in is the texture of the snow fungus. It reminds me of seaweed. I loved it but Tristan admitted it wasn’t so much for him.

Whoops, silly me, I forgot to mention, no yum cha experience is complete without tea: both of us made sure to elect for pu-erh but tea is tea so we have no pretty picture to offer you.

So now we come to the damage afterwards.

Dining on some stellar dim sum for roughly $15 AUD. For two fatty-wannabes. As the youngsters say, epic win. I also highly recommend you read Billy’s take when him and Anna went: he recounts a remarkably different Canto-knowing experience, grin.

Where? Tim Ho Wan
Address 2-8 Kwong Wah Street, Mong Kok
phone 23322896
MTR this post gives excellent directions to it and I confess I don’t fully remember, sorry!

don’t knock it till you’ve tried it: hospital food

When I first started food blogging, it was to escape the drudgery and soul-destroying nature of the penultimate job I had: the job sucked but I had wonderful employers who were sympathetic to my chronic illness and I left my job at the door because I wasn’t interested in the politics. I just wanted to be employed in the hope of being ‘cured’ like my father insisted. He told me to stop dreaming, get real and get used to the fact that everyone has jobs they hate. Even as ‘grown-ups’, it amazes me that we still do stupid shit to get our parents off our backs. I’d known for a while I wasn’t well enough to work but I stuck it out for him. I figured, being a dutiful Asian child, I owed it to him.

This may or may not have been coloured by the fact that both my parents are suffering psychiatric nurses. Don’t get me wrong, both my parents are highly skilled at what they do but it’s not for the love or the ‘calling’ or if it was, that part of them died a long time ago. They did what they had to to make sure wankers like me could go to uni and read books for fun and learn weirdo early music instruments and for that, I’ll always be grateful (if unemployable, sorry Mum and Dad).

After a year of antibiotics for recurring infections and general burnout, living became difficult and I had to quit my job. For a month, I tried to get my health back and got back into yoga which according to this vitriolic commenter, makes me even more of a wanker. It did offer some respite: I started sleeping better, physical ailments cleared up and though I was exceedingly poor, I was happy and even cooking, dear god. For people. I can only really cook when I’m happy and healthy which is shit for my poor 9-to-5 partner.

Then I got it into my head that I’d try the employment thing again even though I was barely on the mend, got jerked around by a place I actually really enjoyed working at who dismissed me without due consideration of the fact that people go away over the Christmas holidays. It was devastating: I was just getting back on my feet and I got told they couldn’t afford me and they dumped me there and then. Everyone came back from holidays and as I’d predicted, things picked up. I was asked back. It was a hard decision to not choose to return but the lesson had been learnt the hard way: if I were disposable when things were rough, who was to say it wouldn’t happen again, soon?

I’d worked really, really hard to not let my actual chronic illness get in the way of that job. It wasn’t glamorous and I wasn’t paid well, being but a lowly ‘sandwich artist’, I liked to joke. The clientele were absolutely lovely and it was nice getting back into a routine of working, writing and sometimes being ‘normal’. At times, my bastard insomnia even granted me reprieve.

Sadly some chronic illnesses have periods of aggravation and eventually I did end up in hospital. Sometimes these things can’t be avoided. One of the hot, young nurses upon learning that I had a food blog (I hope he’s reading this: if so, he now knows I think he’s hot, haha) thought it would be hilarious to do a joke blog post on the culinary…’offerings’ that the patients had to experience. For reasons of confidentiality, alas, I cannot divulge the name of said excellent health institution.

(cartoon is not mine and can be found on Cerebral Vortex Cartoons)

I spent a good few weeks in hospital and I am ashamed to admit that upon admission I was of a portly nature (yes, yes, more so than now. Thankfully this gives me immunity from being a hipster, phew). This was largely due to only having one fucking gigantic daily meal and spending twelve hours of the daytime asleep. Not that good for your metabolism. Such only-sleep-and-eat behaviour in hospital was not tolerated. You got yanked out of bed for medication and food at all the ‘right’ times. Initially, being a late riser, I rarely made it down in time for breakfast which had the usual breakfasty type cereal and toast items. They exercised a fair bit of leniency for me, knowing I generally slept like shit.

But you bloody well bet I was there for some serious lunchtime action.

Firstly, the humble sandwich. Alas, no pics.

The sandwiches were freshly made and my personal favourites were – always with brown bread, you understand – cheese, ham and tomato, or chicken and salad (Oxford comma intentional). We did have many communal bean and potato salads available to us but once I saw one lady pick up and immediately put down a piece of salami on a communal plate, I didn’t go near any of those. Shame, I’m rather a fan of the potato salad even though it’s probably not highly nutritious. The thing I liked about sandwiches was if you wanted to take a couple and retreat to the quiet of your room, you were free to do so. A luxury as hospital cafeterias can be fairly depressing places – as some of my devoted visitors will attest.

Generally, for lunches I stuck to sandwiches though on the odd special occasion, I did indulge in fish and chips, sans chips much to the cafeteria serviceperson’s confusion. The fish and the batter were top notch, I kid you not. Succulent fish and crispy batter. Mind you after a few weeks of sandwiches, I think they could have deep fried cardboard and I would have inhaled it.

Ah, but it was at dinnertime that the hospital cafeteria shone. One special evening, I gave in to the epic carb craving and had some indeterminate pasta bake thing. The sauce wasn’t too bad – rich and creamy but the pasta was stodgy and…dare I say, I got my cardboard craving wish granted.

indeterminate pasta bake-ish thing

I generally made a policy of avoiding carbs as much as I could and filled up on protein and steamed vegies, as is evidenced by my next few dinners.

Here we have some roast pork with gravy and the requisite steamed vegies.

roast pork with steamed vegetables

What about roast lamb with mint jelly and…steamed vegies? Uh yeah, they may have given me too much meat.

steamed vegetables & roast lamb with mint jelly

On a particularly adventurous day, I sampled the shepherd’s pie. Where was the potato topping, waaaaaaaah???

steamed vegetables with shepherd's pie

And the day I succumbed to dessert…being British, I love a good trifle. Give me a slice of that childhood memory any day! The following picture illustrates something that apparently resembles trifle but in what manner, I am yet truly to learn. Admittedly, the medication I was on at the time had a good hand in making me hurl and the appearance of this dish did nothing to quell this unfortunate side effect (I didn’t finish it).

trifle

There were a few dishes I didn’t get to photograph such as the butter chicken diluted for the less…intrepid eater and without fail, Sunday evening pavlova for dessert. I was very fortunate that loved ones came to deliver takeaway packages of repute often and reminded me of the culinary delights waiting for me, as I dreamed of the great outdoors…

Hospitals are generally pretty shit places. I am not one to cry in public (thank god for the Anglo-Indian parent raising me to have the stiff upper lip and all that) but a few times, I did turn up to the cafeteria in near tears, overwhelmed by the loneliness of knowing that life was continuing outside and thus highlighting my insignificance. What a fucking cliché, existentialist nausea in soulless hospital, groan. The staff always had a kind smile, a nice word or two and were always happy to give an extra helping of food and kindness if one desired it.

So if any of the staff at said anonymous hospital read this, I want to say thank you for looking after me, for being so caring and for making it feel like it wasn’t just your job to care. Oh and for the limitless supply of Arnotts sweet and dry biscuits (dry was important because often a lot of folks can’t eat much because of treatment), Twinings tea and Bega cheese. Pretty sure I drank my body weight in chamomile and peppermint tea during my stay.

Bega cheese for snacks

You guys better hide this mug because should I ever have occasion to ‘visit’ again, I can assure you, it will be leaving with me…giggle. Don’t even like dogs that much!

awesome mug

HK: withdrawal…

Gem and I had made it through Kuala Lumpur’s LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) on nothing more than airline food and nervous energy. She’d been awake the entire time; I’d napped in a cramped half-daze.

Man, I could murder a coffee.

Unfortunately, I was in Hong Kong. Venturing out in to the city for my first coffee I came to a horrible realisation — apparently the only thing Hong Kong denizens like more than shopping and eating is Starbucks. I’m fairly sure south-east Asia single-handedly saved Starbucks from bankruptcy by ingesting their caffeinated swill. You get the picture — it was dire.

I kept an eye out for somewhere better, but came up with nothing. Aside from Starbucks you have Pacific Coffee — a similarly vile beverage dispensary. Forlorn, but not defeated, I contacted former Melbourne coffee heart-throb, @alexlobov. Prior to our arrival, Alex had alluded to some coffee oases in the otherwise stark coffee landscape that is Hong Kong.

Armed with information and Google maps to guide me (courtesy of my Jesus phone), I headed to Fuel Espresso deep within the bowels of the International Finance Centre. You’d be forgiven for walking past Fuel’s pedestrian exterior — more Gloria Jean’s than Seven Seeds; not a funky interior or cool barista in sight  — which is unsurprising given its pecuniary surrounds.

I assume it was America’s proclivity to bastardise food that made the thought of an ‘Americano’ (a long black) off-putting in a supersized kind of way. However, if you can get past the name, you will be presented with a good rendition of a long black. Failing that, all of the usual coffee suspects are represented (with their usual names).

 

The staff are friendly, the coffee is good (using a Italian house blend that is roasted in NZ). As this store spawned from a successful New Zealand franchise, Fuel Espresso the HK edition is well worth visiting for your caffeine IV.

However, my caffeine addiction was rampant and all-consuming (oh how droll!) so one place was never going to satisfy. Acting on another recommendation from Alex, I journeyed to my next cafe, hoping to appease my caffeine lust.

The beauty of Hong Kong for me is the fat-bastard-enabling public transport. I can gorge myself in Kowloon, then hop on a train and be across the water on Island stuffing my face within minutes. Said enabling transport allowed me to slip from Kowloon to Sheung Wan for my morning coffee(s) at Barista Jam. Barista Jam would not feel out of place amongst the emaciated and skinny denimed set of Melbourne’s coffee scene. Just like Melbourne you can expect some excellent nosh to go with your coffee — I can attest to the deliciousness of their sandwiches, seeking out their club sandwiches like a pig to truffles. Light fluffy ‘Turkish’ bread with tasty fillings left me wanting more and on revisiting with Gem, they were reordered.

But let’s not get distracted — the coffee!

My first coffee was a double ristretto. It was just right with a great acidic bite without being overpowering. I then moved on to one of the single origins (the exact name escapes me) as a long black (Americano) and finished my decadent spree with a latte of the house blend. All were excellent, and with Barista Jam offering a good rotations of singles and blends you shouldn’t go thirsty.

Upon ordering the double ristretto I received an approving nod from barista — you know, one of those ‘in the know’ things. While I consider myself inexperienced with regards to coffee, I have developed sufficiently to recognise a passable coffee and good interpretation of its style. I think in an odd way the barista appreciated my appreciation, did we have some sort of metaappreciation thing happening? Everybody appreciates sympathy within their day-to-day grind (apologies for the terrible pun), and I think this is especially true of the often under-appreciated  hospitality worker. While the people of Hong Kong are amazingly savvy consumers — especially with their food — they are still developing an appreciation of good coffee (as ‘evidenced’ by the 50 Starbucks on the Island alone) and especially of good beer (but more on that in a future post).

However, fear not, weary traveler - good coffee  can be found everywhere, if you are prepared to seek it out.