Hong Kong, A Food Mecca For Every Self-Respecting Foodie

Hong kong streets/Image: Hong Kong - November 2011© MojoBaron/Flickr

Hong Kong streets/Image: Hong Kong – November 2011© MojoBaron/Flickr

Other than being an exciting global city, Hong Kong is also a foodie’s paradise. It’s not just the number and quality of high end restaurants in almost every corner of the city, but also the dazzling selection of local and international flavours that satisfies even the most demanding taste buds. So whether you’re in the city for a short break or on a long culinary mission, you should definitely skip your hotel’s all-inclusive buffet meals, and instead explore the numerous gastronomic treats that Hong Kong has to offer.

Here’s a quick introduction to Hong Kong’s essential food map.

Fiery flavors. From trendy Korean eateries and super spicy Sichuan cuisine to  real mexican tacos  (to wash down with Cuban cocktails at Mamasita’s Cantina), Hong Kong has something spicy for those of us who like it hot.

Michelin stars everywhere . There are around 60 Michelin Star restaurants in the city for year 2017. Considering how small Hong Kong is, this clearly shows that food is a serious business in this city. And the best thing is the MS list doesn’t include only upscale restaurants, such as the exquisite Four Seasons Lung King Heen, Umberto Bombana’s vero Italiano Otto e Mezzo or Shikon’s  famous Sushi. The world’s first  Michelin Starred Street food Stall is the latest innovation in a city where street food is little short of sacred.

Street Food Hong Kong Style © David Guyler/Flickr

Street Food Hong Kong Style © David Guyler/Flickr

And speaking of the devil… Nothing beats a good food truck or a quaint food stall. I personally feel instantly happy when I see one, it just adds so much colour and life to a city. Street food, found in the local food stalls otherwise known as dai pai dong  is an important element of the Hong Kong spirit, and a must-try for every serious culinary tourist. Some of the delicious local treats include Hong Kong curry fish balls, egg waffles, egg tarts, and pork ramen. For more adventurous foodies, stinky tofu is another Hong Kong classic.

Traditional Chinese Dim Sum Tea Houses. Dim Sum, the local version of brunch-like tapas, is the heart of the Cantonese culinary culture. You can enjoy dim sum like the locals do, traditionally as a morning tea gathering, or during any time of the day you crave a fluffy white bun and a hot cup of tea. Dim sum signature dishes include steam pork buns, shrimp and pork dumplings, and delicious rice rolls filled with pork, beef and vegetables. Located right in the middle of the high end Central, Luk Yu Tea House has been a dim sum hotspot since colonial times, and has still preserved its colonial-style design and retro charm.

Image: Fresh BBQ pork noodles© Ernesto Andrade/Flickr

Image: Fresh BBQ pork noodles© Ernesto Andrade/Flickr

Hong Kong native Cha Chaan Teng. Since the 60s the Cha Chaan Tengs in Hong Kong have been serving the Chinese version of western food at reasonable prices. Nowadays, they are more a cult thing, but they are still extremely popular as an important part of the city’s identity and history. Famous Cha Chaan Teng such as the Australian Dairy Company, and Capital Cafe serve generous portions of comfort food like scrambled eggs with rich buttery thick toast and milk tea.  Don’t miss Honolulu Coffee Shop’s famous egg tarts, while retro Mido Cafe will take you for a trip down the memory lane to Hong Kong in the 60’s.

You can always rest your tired feet in the Bing Sutt Starbucks. The  traditional Bing Sutt restaurant has been something between the basic dai pai dong and the more upmarket Cha Chaan Teng. In the 50s a Bing Sutt was basically the standard Chinese diner serving Chinese Western food classics. A wave of nostalgia in Hong Kong has revived the interest for Bing Sutts, with Starbucks opening the world’s first Bing Sutt Starbucks in Duddell Street. If you’re in Central, you can have Starbucks coffee with a twist, in a 60s cult ambience of tile floors, green-metal-frame windows, old fans and vintage wall posters.

Image: Hong Kong Duddell Street Starbucks© tszchungwing/Flickr

Image: Hong Kong Duddell Street Starbucks© tszchungwing/Flickr

Hong Kong, Asia’s Perfect Example of Feng Shui

The Star Ferry has been one of Hong Kong's Feng Shui hotspots/ Image: Silver Star Hong Kong©Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr

The Star Ferry has been one of Hong Kong’s Feng Shui hotspots/ Image: Silver Star Hong Kong©Bernard Spragg. NZ/Flickr

With the Year of the Rooster already starting on a rough patch in the Western world, Chinese astrology and Feng Shui are always interesting to follow. As someone who has lived in the “West” most of her life, I was always intrigued by the idea that there’s another way to explain the world, other than our western dualism of good versus evil ,or Christianity’s belief in one higher force that in the end restores the moral order in our world. The Chinese school of thought focuses on a holistic understanding of one’s self and one’s surroundings, and the art Feng Shui and Chinese astrology have been important parts of this idea.

View of the Harbour from the Peak/ Image: The Peak©Eugene Lim/Flickr

View of the Harbour from the Peak/ Image: The Peak©Eugene Lim/Flickr

I first became aware of the importance of Feng Shui while I was travelling in Hong Kong, and I felt amazingly strong and euphoric walking down Victoria Harbour’s Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. I later discovered that this was not incidental: Hong Kong is amongst the most important Feng Shui cities in the world, as it has mountains behind and waters in front.

Here’s what you need to know about this ancient art that has blossomed in a futuristic city.

  • The Chinese Feng Shui (literally meaning Wind and Water) is based on the idea that the energy (chi) of our environment affects the energy of our lives and, subsequently, our health, success, and well-being. When the five natural elements (fire, air, water, wood, metal) around us are balanced, we too are balanced and feel harmonious and happy.

    Chinese Astrology Symbols © GanMed64/Flickr

    Chinese Astrology Symbols © GanMed64/Flickr

  •  Hong Kong’s notable Feng Shui buildings include the HSBC tower whose entrance is guarded by two bronze lion statues, as well as buildings with gaping voids in the middle, also known as dragon holes.
  • Hong Kong’s prosperity has been attributed to its good Feng Shui, but there are great examples of Feng Shui in the West. Think about the most prosperous and culturally rich and diverse cities that you know such as New York, London, Melbourne and Paris. They all have a strong element of water, sea or river, that has energised them and helped them flourish and become global cities.

    Rivers were sacred in ancient Athens/Image: Ancient Athens - Reconstruction 1©Patrick Gray/Flickr

    Rivers were sacred in ancient Athens/Image: Ancient Athens – Reconstruction 1©Patrick Gray/Flickr

  • From the druids to the ancient Greeks, the “West” was also familiar with the importance of the natural elements in life. But in our journey to modernity and to fully embracing logical thought, we lost the connection with this ancient knowledge. In my native Athens our government buried the city’s sacred rivers-which were worshipped as Gods by the ancients– in order to built highways. Athens never came anywhere close to becoming the great city it was known to be in antiquity and in the recent years it has been brought to its knees by poverty and austerity.
  • Being one of the most densely populated cities in the world is not an obstacle to Hong Kong’s good Feng Shui. Energy does not get stale here, but moves effectively and fast. The city’s highways are its “rivers” while its high-rises are the “mountains” that move the energy and bring luck and prosperity, according to the laws of ancient Chinese wisdom.

    Hong Kong's famous elevated walkways/Image: Street bridge walkway, HK © faungg's photos/Flickr

    Hong Kong’s famous elevated walkways/Image: Street bridge walkway, HK © faungg’s photos/Flickr

  • When it comes to big cities in many parts of the world we tend to see the things in a black-and-white scope. Most of us believe that megacities are crowded, polluted and bad for us. In this sense it might appear as a paradox that 70 percent of Hong Kong is countryside, country parks, and protected green areas. Nature feeds the megacity with plenty of Feng Shui  energy.
  • Hong Kong doesn’t only have Feng Shui skyscrapers but also has fantastic Feng Shui spots for nature lovers. Its world-famous Peak is a great spot to feel the city’s great energy, and enjoy breathtaking views of the iconic Victoria Harbour. There are several nature trails for hiking lovers nearby. Asia’s best urban hike, Dragon’s Back, is another idea for those looking for a more intense and memorable hike.

    Dragon's Back hike, Hong Kong © Rick McCharles/Flickr

    Dragon’s Back hike, Hong Kong © Rick McCharles/Flickr

  • The famous Victoria Harbour and the Star Ferry are what has been described as Hong Kong’s Feng Shui  centre of the city. An integral part of the city’s history and cultural heritage, the Star Ferry has never had any difficulty winning the hearts of the people, and it has been described the perfect combination of the five natural “chi” elements.

Cultural Talk: There can only be one Hong Kong

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Lately I have been following closely the debate surrounding the Hong Kong Occupy Central movement. Labeled as a struggle against China’s anti-democratic administration by the western media it has gained popular support in the western world as a fight for freedom.

It drew the attention not only of the media but of the international watchdogs, who quickly seized the opportunity to lecture the Chinese about democracy and begin to suggest various democracy monitoring mechanisms. I am not going to quote all the reasons why democracy is one of the most abused words masking western political hypocrisy or why permitting third parties to interfere and stick the democracy-meter in your mouth is a bad, bad idea. As a Greek and national of a country that in the last years has been shaken with tear gassed demonstrations, illegal taxation and vast unpunished political corruption and still this country is democratic, I feel like today’s sense of democracy leaves a lot to be desired.

But in any case the young Hong Kongnese have their cause and what motivates them night after night to take the streets is basically the desire to be free to denounce the alignment with China’s administration and policies. In every relationship, after all, a person has the right to voice their desires and intention and act upon them.

What however remains a question is after a hypothetical “divorce”, what would the new alignment be, since the UK has long now resigned from its former active role . To fully answer this question one must examine the identity of the Hong Kongnese people, who they are and who they identify with most.

To me the Hong Kongnese identity can be compared to that of an adopted child that is taken from its biological mother at a very young age and raised by a another mother. The child’s uniqueness, charisma and beauty is a combination of its upbringing (thanks to the foreign mother) and its natural charisma (thanks to the biological mother.) You cannot isolate either side to describe her. A grown up now, she is trying to get used to her birth mother’s ways and realizes that their newly found co-existence is much harder than she had expected.

Behind Hong Kong’s uniqueness there are some interesting facts . Here are few that culturally underlie the debate about Hong Kong:

Hong Kong was Chinese territory taken by the British
. Described as scattered fishing villages before its occupation by the imperialists, it was Chinese soil built and developed by the British. As a British crown colony needless to say it also did not enjoy democracy at a time where colonialism was still in effect.

Hong Kong was a gateway and entrepot to China before its opening up by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The special interest the West had in Hong Kong was closely linked to its proximity to China and the trade potential attached to it.

After China’s opening up Shanghai has been gradually replacing Hong Kong’s role as an international port. The dynamics between the relationship of the mainlanders and the Hong Kongnese have rapidly changed. Now it is the mainlanders that are financially ahead and are calling the shots. This has been a huge blow on native Hong Kongers sense of self and pride.

Desired by both “mothers” Hong kong has been also neglected by both. When leaving in 1997, The British failed to supply the Hong Kongnese with full British citizenship as perhaps they ought to have done to support their growing feelings of identity loss. At the same time the Chinese have been gradually trying to rapidly integrate Hong Kong to what it has been interpreted as erosion of identity.

Hong Kong is a small place and China does not pretend to care about Hong Kong’s identity. Neither China was ever obliged to be oversensitive about an ex British colony.

However it should.

Hong Kong is a unique place built from scratch as a hybrid identity city state. It has been the ground for bold urban architectural experimentation: highrises and skyscrapers built on the steep and hilly topography of Hong Kong island, elevated roadways and a record of escalators, as well as sights skillfully integrating nature and hyper urbanism. Hong Kong’s international airport is one of the busiest airports in Asia built on large artificial land that was created by leveling two islands.

Even though the population is in majority ethnic Chinese, it has been home to different nationalities that prospered in different trades. It prides itself on a variety of authentic international cuisine available and high standard English speaking touristic services. It is a truly global city and a jewel to be carefully preserved by the Chinese.

But mostly for all the above it is a true piece of history. It is a reference to the past and a leap to the future. And for the Chinese who have invested millions in creating replica European cities like Venice or Paris, Hong Kong is the real thing. In fact there cannot be a second Hong Kong. But what will keep the flame alive is proudly declaring a Hong Kong identity that deserves to be voiced and preserved.

Hong Kong’s value as a unique historic global city and cultural investment will only increase with time if China allows it. It is loved by millions around the world, Chinese or not. It is a symbol, and just like everything precious there is a duty attached to it to protect and preserve.

Hong Kong: The Perfect Hybrid Place

Since I first visited Hong Kong back in 2008, I felt like a part of me did a quantum jump and stayed there permanently. Despite my aspirations, it only remained in that parallel universe and did not extend in the Universe I live now: I visit Hong Kong as a tourist, always trying to grasp the essence of its magic.

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For me, Hong Kong’s success lies in its hybrid character: Once a British colony it has been a famous mix of British and Chinese Cultures and later attracted a variety of ethnicities and populations, creating a mosaic of colors, tastes and images. It has been famously branded an Asia World City because of that vibrant, multicultural character. If there is a word that comes in mind when I think of Hong Kong, that word is definitely potential. Walking the steep hilly streets and slopes of the Hong Kong Island you can feel that potential and the energy that comes from its unique landscape and architectural unconventionality. (One of its quirks being the world’s longest outdoor escalator, Central-Mid-Levels, that carries you to the higher levels of the island so you don’t have to climb the steep hill)

Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

Hong Kong residents take pride in the fact that its unique energy comes from using Feng Shui -the Chinese geomancy-, which has shaped the architecture and lifestyle of the city in accordance with the principles of energy flow, health and prosperity. In this sense Hong Kong is futuristic. Not because of its jaw dropping skyline and aesthetics of hyper capitalism, these are only by products of its positive energy flow. It is rather by creating potential and enabling opportunity that it has liberated itself from strong national and political elements.

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When I first stood at Tsim Sha Tsui gazing at Hong Kong Island, an afternoon six years ago, I felt free and overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of potential. It is that rare feeling that comes to you not so often when you feel like new horizons open in front of you, truly a sense of empowerment. You are suddenly inspired, injected with “life shots” as you grow and you expand and feel limitless. It is a feeling similar to falling in love for the first time.

This is more affordable

This is more affordable

That night I was going to sleep in a hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui and a box room that had no windows or natural light. (Very typical is the city’s lack of residential space where people are vertically squashed in overpriced tiny apartments). Even that did not disturb my sense of freedom. Life in Hong Kong is outside and is calling for you to live it, young, free and adventurous.

View from the Peak

View from the Peak

Maybe I will always be in love with Hong Kong and perhaps just like a high school crush it will always be there, beckoning from another universe like another self. Or perhaps I will only be nostalgic of that early summer afternoon I stood in Victoria Harbour gazing at Hong Kong Island, South China Sea between us, Life in front of us to be conquered and lived to its full potential with no regrets, doubts or second thoughts.

View from Victoria Harbour

View from Victoria Harbour