October 29, 2014

Solo Dining Hong Kong

Last night I found myself marching up my street, brandishing a bag of McDonald's like armour against the neon lights, the pushy restaurant touts, and the naked corpses of barbecued ducks and chickens swinging in windows.

It wasn't until I was home unwrapping my hamburger and nuggets that I realised how sad it was to be eating McDonald's in my room when I am in one of the world's great foodie paradises.

But the thing is, it's actually quite stressful finding places to eat all the time. I love reading Hong Kong food blogs - but then there's the problem of too many choices. On the other hand, if you decide to wing it, you can never be sure exactly what you're getting yourself into. Like, the restaurant next door, it turns out, is famous for snake soup.

Another problem is I feel like a bit of an idiot eating alone all the time, even though at most budget eateries in Hong Kong you usually end up sharing tables with randoms anyway. I have grown to enjoy this table sharing culture, as I am nosy and like seeing what other people order. But there have also been occasions when wait staff have seemingly gone out of their way to ensure I had a table to myself, perhaps fearing some sort of disastrous gweilo (foreigner) chopstick incident. Just the other night I was ushered towards a single table disconcertingly close to the male toilets, very much regretting having ordered curry.

Despite the indecision, the self consciousness and the occasional (ok, frequent) McDonald's lapses, I have also had some very good dining experiences and been able to try lots of Hong Kong classics - wonton noodle soup, barbecue pork, milk tea (so much milk tea).

I have fallen in love with one particular Hong Kong style café, or cha chaan teng, called Lan Fong Yuen, which is steps away from my apartment and apparently quite famous, having been around since the 1950s. I had read about its legendary "socks" milk tea (named because it is poured through a strainer like a pair of stockings to make it extra silky), no-nonsense food and authentic atmosphere, and set out to find it. At first, I walked right past - it is quite literally a hole in the wall. But that adds to the magic of it. You slip behind a little stall and suddenly find yourself in this bustling old-fashioned café, surrounded by boxes of instant noodles and jars of Ovaltine. It's rather how I imagine Harry Potter felt when he discovered the Leaky Cauldron for the first time.

I can confirm the milk tea is indeed delicious - all cool and smooth and caramelly. I have also tried condensed milk toast, pork chop bun, and chicken chop instant noodles. It makes for a cheap breakfast; around NZ $5 for a tea and something yummy off the menu.

I was also very lucky to meet up with some lovely Kiwis from the Asia New Zealand Young Leaders Network who took me to Tim Ho Wan, which serves dim sum and is infamous for being one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Once I realized where we were going I became so excited that I entered a kind of pre-emptive food coma, eyes glazed over, tongue hanging out, etc. We ordered almost everything on the menu and it was all so good - but the highlight was definitely the char siu bao (pork buns), which were baked and crispy on top and the perfect mix of savoury-sweet inside. I am actually considering going back by myself and just ordering endless plates of buns.

But first, I must tackle the snake soup.

Lan Fong Yuen - the entrance is that little opening on the left
Some of the tasty treats
Condensed milk toast and milk tea 
Pork chop bun 
Chicken chop instant noodles
Angela and I at Tim Ho Wan
Char siu bao - best pork buns in the world
We ordered almost everything on the menu
Wonton noodle soup - from a place called Mak's Noodles
Rosebud-like wonton... so good.


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