Thursday, December 15, 2005

Congee and other delights

I couldn't tell you about my trip to China without raving about the food. The congee, of course, was plentiful -- especially in Hong Kong, where the best I had was at the Sweet Dynasty restaurant in Canton Road, Kowloon (weekend breakfasts) and next door at the Chinese Kitchen (weekday breakfasts).
Wonder Boy valiantly persisted in eating most meals with chopsticks, only occasionally begging for a fork to cope with particularly slippery comestibles. We made a pact to try everything -- well, almost everything. (I draw the line at thousand-year-old eggs, which I have tried before and really can't bring myself to eat: they're an acquired taste that my life is too short to acquire.) So we ate such ordinary things as duck, goose, pork and beef as well as the more exotic offerings: Yangtse River hairy crabs, eel, snails, jellyfish and, yes, dog. The Voice of Reason prefers to refer to the dog meat by its name on the English version of the menu: pierced meat (it was served on bamboo skewers with a kind of red sauce).
All-time favourite foods in Shanghai were easy to choose: for snacks, you just can't go past steamed dumplings: six dumplings for about four RMB (80 cents). Wonder Boy and I tried hot coconut milk tea at Renmin Square. Sounds weird, but it tastes like ambrosia. We soon discovered that you can buy this beverage, as well as a chocolate version, from street stalls for three RMB (about 50 cents). It is sweet, hot and you drink it through a really wide straw so you can suck up the jelly balls from the bottom of the cup.
Favourite foods in Hong Kong were harder to find. We were heartily sick of noodles in broth after four days in the city, as this is the staple diet. We did discover a seller of tooth-shatteringly-cold coconut milk just outside the Temple Street Night Markets, and went back more than once for this refreshing drink. There were also street stalls selling hot coconut milk tea, to our delight. The congee, I have mentioned, was wonderful but unfortunately limited to breakfast time. On our first day we sampled the famous Hong Kong afternoon snack of toast smeared with condensed milk that may become a bit of a favourite source of after-school sustenance for Wonder Boy. It is also necessary to mention the mango pancakes at the Chinese Kitchen: mango-flavoured pancakes stuffed with mango pulp and sweetened cream and served cold.
It wasn't until our final day, however, when we visited the 10,000 Buddhas temple at Sha Tin, that we ate the dish that got my vote for the best meal in Hong Kong. Halfway up a mountain, a tiny plastic-walled hut in the temple grounds serves vegetarian meals such as deep-fried salt-and-pepper field mushrooms (and shark's fin soup !! -- must be vegetarian sharks). It was worth every one of the 400-odd steps to climb up there for the mushrooms, and the descent was also necessary to burn off the calories because I ate so many of the blessed fungi. Luckily I am better at using chopsticks than the VoR, so I was able to purloin the lion's share of mushrooms off the plate and wolf them down while he fumbled with the cutlery.
We saw lots of McDonalds restaurants in China but didn't set foot in a single one (no, I tell a lie, we did peek into the one on Victoria Peak to check out the menu -- they were selling tubs of sweet corn, which all the local kids were eating). We ventured into one of the ubiquitous KFC outlets, too. In Shanghai, I had noted that KFC sold steamed dumplings (twice the price of the street vendors, though, so we didn't bother to try them) but in Hong Kong we experimented with the chicken, corn and macaroni broth for breakfast. It wasn't nice, and I had to go and wash my mouth out with congee afterwards.

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