Saturday, January 29, 2011

Not For the Faint of Heart

Like every great epic, we begin in medias res:
I'm in Hong Kong!
And I'm married!

We'll catch up on the details some other day. For now, I'm on epicurean holiday.

I read in a cookbook recently an old joke that the Cantonese will eat anything with four legs except a chair. Based on my admittedly limited sample set, this seems like a conservative assesment. For starters, Cantonese cuisine incorporates a good many ingredients with greater or fewer legs than the inauspicious number four: goose, duck, pigeon, crab, shrimp, shark fin, abalone, squid, sea cucumber, jellyfish, and sea urchin, to name a few. Then there is the abundance of leg-less Chinese fruits and vegetables: delicate bok choi no bigger than my thumb, tender Chinese broccoli, hulking daikon radish, crunchy pea shoots, pomelos, lychee, and apple-pears.

These, of course, are the more "normal" ingredients (albeit with some celebration food thrown in for good measure). For the more adventurous palette, signs in mainland China advertise rabbit, snake, turtle, and, yes, cat. They eat things in China that the writers of Leviticus never even thought to prohibit.

My own religious beleifs say nothing about food other than warnings against gluttony--too late! As such, I've cut quite a few notches in my gastronomical belt. Happily, the gourmands of Hong Kong don't venture down the pet food path.

Most of our communal meals have been banquets hosted by Andrew's relatives. I've married into a family of gourmets, so dinners have been, without exception, scrumptious, expertly prepared, and extremely filling. We've been walking as much as possible as a counterbalance to the crispy skin chickens and succulent suckling pigs. But on Friday Andrew and I found ourselves simultaneously unscheduled and hungry, and so decided to have an adventure.

We settled on dim sum, bite size Chinese delicacies that are served a bit like Spanish tapas. Out of curiosity more than anything else, we checked the Michelin guide to Hong Kong for their recommendation. The guide waxed poetic about a tiny shop in Kowloon, to which they had awarded a prized Michelin star. What's more, this place has to be the cheapest Michelin restaurant on the planet, with plates of dim sum costing less than $1.50 US. Now if there are two things that my husband loves more than me, they are eating good food and not spending money. Normally, these two passions come into painful conflict with one another, leading to long, indecisive super market expeditions or restaurant forays. On Friday, the kitchen god and his wife were clearly on our side.

The catch--because with cheap good food there is always a catch--was that Tim Ho Wan (our destination) only seats about twenty people at a time. As it is also serves haute cuisine at unbelievably reasonable prices, the queue is absurd. We arrived at 2 pm on a weekday and were told (in grouchy Cantonese) that the wait would be one hour. We didn't mind--we went exploring in Kowloon while we waited for our number to come up, weaving our way through the throngs of shoppers stocking up for the Chinese New Year. We were seated immediately upon our return, and we handed over our order slip to the harried hostess.

When I say that Tim Ho Wan can seat twenty, I mean that twenty-one customers would warrant intervention by the fire marshall. We sat elbow to elbow with everyone else, and our little table was soon piled high with bamboo steamer baskets, tea cups, and chopsticks. We began with their baked barbecue pork buns, possibly the most popular item on the menu. Sweet fluffy bun, savory pork filling--I wish we had ordered more. From there we moved on to shrimp dumplings, steamed dumplings chiu chou style (containing a mixture of pork, cilantro, peanuts, shrimp, and chives) steamed beef balls, and a light, aromatic egg cake. We tried the pig tongue with black moss, braised lettuce, fried turnip cake, and a sweet dessert soup with pumpkins and chestnuts. Everything was outstanding, and we left feeling perfectly sated. Total damage? $15 US.

Which means we had lots of cash burnings a hole in my pocket for Sunday's Lunar New Year candy splurge. Hooray!


Anonymous said...


I would love to talk to you about an issue that I feel is a hot topic in environmental news and something that most families are intrigued to read about. I have written an article that I think your readers would be interested in seeing on your blog.

As I'm sure you know that in the last 100 years, our agricultural habits have left us with about a quarter of the crop diversity we once had?

I'm looking to promote that idea that by encouraging grocery shoppers to branch out from their usual selections and to join the local food movement, they can help provide a healthy food choice for their families and create a more sustainable agricultural system.

Kori Bubnack

ronnieboo said...

please write more! I love your entries!!! :) and happy birthday!!!

Sincerely and much love,

(who recently discovered dim sum in new york, and will never be the same)