Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eating in Hong Kong - Ranking the Dinners

So, nine nights in Hong Kong. Nine dinners, six ranked – we excluded the one home-cooked meal, and the meal we got in on the first night we arrived. We also decided to not include the one night where we didn't go out for Chinese food – a yummy Sushi dinner that we just don't know where to rank. (Oh, and 'night' is a relative term, of course, because for many of these meals our stomachs still thought it was mid-day the next day, or maybe the day before).
And one thing to make clear right off the bat: all of these were good meals. Helen's family was scoping these places out actively for weeks before we got there, making use of years of eating out in Hong Kong. This is not an easy list to get onto!

So, here we go:

The Pacific Club. Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui.
Rankings: Helen:1, Noah:1

What to say? Everything here was really, really good. IIRC, this was our third night. A banquet-style meal, with a steamed fish and duck. Overall, a really high level. In some ways it's a shame to rank this at the top, as it was the most western-influenced place we went (the food was Chinese, but the place had an old English men's club feel to it). But this is a food ranking, and everything here was good. They even had good desserts! And although Helen found the presence of pickled shallots on the table as pretty typical, I thought they were great. Pickled shallots – who'd have thought?

Seafood Place. New Territories/Sai Kung.
Rankings: H:2, N:2.

This place was a lot of fun. A TON of seafood. A more festive atmosphere, perhaps, than the full-on-family dinner of the Pacific Club. Two steamed fish, along with a ton of other kinds of seafood. (And a tofu dish, for some reason – perhaps there was a vegetarian there?). In the states, we debate about how to tell if fish is fresh. Looks grey? Smells fishy? In Hong Kong, deciding if something is fresh or not is much more straightforward: fresh=living.

Rice Pot place. New Territories/Tai Po
Rankings: H:3, N:4

Here, we're getting into the more obscure HK places. While Sai Kung is a touristy region with a big ex-pat community, this was just a local restaurant. No Way I would have found this place had I come on my own. It looked pretty obscure, just a corner place in the New Territories. We ordered a variety of things, but the best were the rice pots, super hot clay pots with rice and a choice of meats. You pour in this non-salty soy sauce and it chars the rice, kind of like the soccarat in a paella. Huge lines. Oh, and I'd have been so SOL without Helen and her family. No pretense of having an English menu.

"Canteen A" Hot Pot: Kowloon/Lok Fu
Rankings: H:4,N:5

This was our last HK meal, at the same restaurant as our first full meal. (My understanding is "Canteen A" is Helen's family's nickname for the place, not its real name). Basically, there's a bunch of boiling broth in the middle of the table, and a bunch of meats, seafood, veggies. You take the meat/veggies in your chopsticks (!) and hold it in the broth until it's cooked. This was a good last meal, as Helen got to see more of her family. I liked it, although I'd really like to do it at a smaller table!

Din Tai Fung (Shanghai food): Kowloon/Tsim Shai Tsui.
Rankings: H:5, N:3

I ranked this higher than Helen. I really, really, really liked the dumplings. I liked the other stuff, too, but mostly I liked the dumplings. This was also the restaurant where Helen's dad suggested I eat the fish bones. This set back the 'trust Helen's family' cause quite a bit. But they did choose the place. It's not a place I would have chosen – a chain restaurant in a mall. But the rules are different there.

"Canteen A" first meal: Kowloon/Lok Fu

Rankings: H:6, N:6

Mostly, I was trying to stay awake this meal. Not doing so well. Most of the food was good –really tasty shrimp, steamed fish. There was a roast baby pig, or something like that, that was kind of fatty. But don't let the last-place finish fool you. This was still an excellent meal.

I've been craving a lot of this stuff since getting back. Not like Helen has, I'm sure, but still…
Yes, Chinese food in China is different. Hard to explain how, exactly – it's fresher, less sauce. A lot of sections on menus here – 'lo mein,' 'fried rice' – tend to get their own restaurants there. But really, it's worth a trip for the food. Preferably a trip where you can go with someone who can read the menu!

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