Hong Kong


Around the world, there are many different styles of eating.  Due to our famed individualism, Americans are accustomed to ordering our own meal at a restaurant and rarely sharing with anyone else at the table, unless that person is our significant other (in which case we will sometimes share, but begrudgingly).  This style of eating is virtually unheard of in the East.  In Asian restaurants, a variety of dishes will be ordered (in many cases, the ordering is done by one person – sometimes with input from others) and the items will be brought out and placed in the middle of the table to be shared by all (for Southerners reading this, think “family-style”; for Nashvillians reading this, think “Monell’s).  To me, there is no better way to eat.  By ordering multiple dishes, you get to try lots of different flavors without envying the entree ordered by a fellow diner.
Dim Sum at Maxim's
One of my favorite types of “family-style” ordering is “dim sum.”  I first sampled dim sum when I was in Hong Kong in 1996 and, since then, I’ve sought it out in various places (especially at the Golden Unicorn in New York’s Chinatown).  For those who’ve never experienced dim sum, it is a style of eating famed in Hong Kong and the Canton area of China which takes place mostly on weekends during “brunch” time.  While Americans have their omelettes, eggs benedict and french toast, the Chinese sample steamed dumplings, “shumai”, pork buns, chicken feet! and hundreds of other small dishes.
Dim Sum at Maxim's
In many places, the various items on offer at a dim sum restaurant are wheeled around on a small cart.  As the cart goes by, the names of the dishes are yelled out by the cart-pusher (or if your Chinese is lacking, or in my case nonexistant, the cart-pusher will take the cover off the dishes to show you what’s underneath).  If you like what they have, you point to the item and it is placed on your table.  The cart-pusher marks a card on your table with what you ordered and heads off to the next table.  The food, which is served as small dishes (sort of like Spanish tapas), is generally amazing.  I’m especially fond of the shumai and the pork buns.

While in Hong Kong, we sought out Maxim’s City Hall Palace – a restaurant that’s supposed to serve some of the best dim sum in the world (and, based on some awards on the wall, the best in Hong Kong).  The restaurant was packed, requiring a wait of about an hour.  Once we were seated, however, the foodcarts immediately made it our way where we ordered quite aggresively.  I was getting embarrassed with how much we had ordered until I looked around and saw that all the other Chinese diners where ordering even more than we were.  After finishing off several pots of jasmine tea and eating more dumplings than I care to admit, we left the restaurant and decided to take a long walk in downtown Hong Kong to help burn off the amazing feast.

We just spent a wonderful four days in Hong Kong.  Although I’ve loved nearly all of the places we’ve visited so far, this was the first one since Paris where I could actually picture myself living.  It felt to me a lot like an Asian Manhattan, and I have to say, the familiarity was kind of refreshing. 

Our time in this British-colony-turned-special-administrative-region-of-China was a delightful mix of regular-life activities and touristy ones.  We sat in the park.  I went running.  We saw a movie.  It was almost the stuff of an ordinary weekend at home. 

Of course, we also made sure to do some things that were unique to Hong Kong.  On Saturday night, we went out in a very popular, very cosmopolitan area that–to add some validity to my Manhattan comparison–is known as SoHo.  We stumbled upon a street fair full of revelers from all over the world where vendors were peddling everything from Russian food to tarot cards.  We happily let the crowd’s momentum carry us through the narrow streets and, when we got tired of all of the jostling, we paused for what turned out to be a great dinner of ribs (Derek) and crab legs (me). 
Hong Kong Harbor
The next day, after an amazing dim sum brunch that warrants its own post, we took a ferry to Kowloon, the part of Hong Kong that sits on mainland China.  (The rest of Hong Kong is dispersed over more than 230 islands (really!), although Hong Kong Island, where we stayed, is by far the most populated among them.)  Once the sun went down, we had an amazing view of Hong Kong Island’s technicolor skyline, which was itself enough to warrant toting our tripod all the way from Nashville! 
View from Victoria Peak
Yesterday, we took a tram to the top of Victoria Peak, a mountain that springs up right in the middle of Hong Kong Island’s urban chaos.   We hiked around the peak’s summit and, despite the smog that’s all too typical in Hong Kong, got some pretty good overhead views.  Our path back down the peak took us through lots of neighborhoods that seemed far removed from the normal tourist route.  It was rush hour on a Monday evening, and we paused for a moment to watch all of the harried commuters and to marvel at the great freedom that comes with a year of unemployment.