We’re now in Vietnam, and I’m realizing just how hard it is to do as the locals do without a friend to guide us through the chaotic streets. It reminds me how lucky we were to have Fareesa hand pick all of our restaurants in Hong Kong. We named the cuisine, she found us a hidden gem. And as all good dining experiences should go, we learned a lot about HK culture in the process. (In general for Asia, I try to be vegetarian, but if there’s no other choice, the place looks clean and/or the meal looks that good, I’m happy to deflect.)
Cha Chaan Teng. This literally means tea restaurant, but cha chaan teng is better described as Hong Kong’s version of a diner. It’s affordable, eclectic and full of locals, young and old. We let Fareesa order for us and she did good — condensed milk buns, crispy noodles with tiger prawn, the famous fishball noodle soup and very traditional iced milk tea, called tong lai cha. I’m usually weary of things called fish ball soup, but this is a year of trying new things, and so I just went with it. And you know, it was actually really good, though my favorite was the garlic and chili chicken soup.
Lunch at a Monastery. The lunch at the Po Lin monastery, located immediately next to Big Buddha, was my happy place, thanks to the full veg menu. We were seated in a giant banquet hall, eating amongst tourists, locals and even Buddhist monks. Food is served as a set menu; the meal was cleansing, filling and aplenty. It’s crazy how much they give for just two people.
Dim Sum. We tried dim sum once in New York, and it was an epic failure. That’s probably because we had no clue what to order. In Hong Kong, Fareesa took us to the Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung, a branch of the famous Taiwan restaurant, and she and her friend ordered us plate after plate of amazing food, including vegetable buns, Dan Dan Mien (noodles in peanut sauce), beef noodle soup and the specialty, Xian Long Bao, which even comes with instructions on how to best enjoy each dumpling. It’s made of pork, which I usually don’t eat, but obviously I had to sample the best if it was in front of me. And yes, it was the best thing we ordered.
Thai. We’re eating copious amounts of delicious street food in Vetnam right now, but I gotta say, the best food since the start of our Asia trip was Thai food in the beach town of Shek O in the southern part of Hong Kong Island. I couldn’t even tell you what the name of this place was, except that it was a super simple cafteria-style restaurant with a blue awning. It pops up right before the road curves towards the beach. I should’ve taken better notes. But I was too busy devouring our huge meal.
Pizza. Cosmopolitan food runs the gamut in Hong Kong, but it’s worth noting that it has a surprisingly good selection of pizza, and that was a good thing because in between all the local stuff, both Eaman and I had incessant cravings for pizza. And can you believe it? There’s a by-the-slice joint that has actual N.Y.C. cred. We went to Paisano’s — which started in New York City in 1982 and opened in HK in 2009 — twice: once for a pre-dinner snack and once at 4 a.m. Both times were delicious. Posto Pubblico has a slightly fancier, more Neapolitan-style slice. It’s also a little pricier compared to Paisano’s (27 HKD/slice) at 45 HKD a piece.
Paisano’s (top) and Pubblico (bottom):
Dessert. Most Asian countries don’t do dessert the way Europeans or Americans (or I) do it. Theirs are usually lighter and less indulgent, like this unreal Taiwanese treat found in a small shop in Causeway Bay near Din Tai Fung (see above). This one is made with shaved milk ice and topped with various goodies to choose from. We got a combo of fruits and chocolate.
Also worth mentioning is that my absolute favorite cupcake shop in Manhattan, ChickaLicious, has just opened a branch in Hong Kong! This was some of the best news of my life. And I’m happy to report that the red velvet tastes just as good as New York’s; they even got the cream cheese frosting right. Do a little happy dance.
Shake Shake fries. Before you call me out for including McDonald’s on this list, just know that these fries are a DIY delight. They come in a bag, you sprinkle the inside with a tomato-flavored powder similar to those that come in instant ramen packets and shake!