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I left my heart, but not in San Francisco

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I left my heart in a city that has the absolute best food, an amazing cultural diversity within the constraints of its own homogeneity, a rich and fascinating history, a lively art (esp. cinematic) culture, great weather, and is extremely convenient to get to and around.

I’m talking, of course, about Hong Kong.

hong kong at night light show tsim sha tsui

across the river in tsim sha tsui

I grew up watching and adoring Hong Kong cinema and dramas, eating Cantonese-influenced Chinese food (my high school was in Chinatown, and most of the Chinese food in Vietnam is Cantonese), and speaking, well, Vietnamese, which shares a lot of vocabulary as well as phonetic similarities with Cantonese. A Hong Kong friend of mine and I used to have this little game where we said random words in our own language and the other person had to guess what it meant, and most of the time, we could. My mom would buy fashionable clothes from Hong Kong for me whenever she went there for a business trip. Aside from Japan, it’s a place that I had been dying to visit since I was young, and finally got to last year.

It was a very short 2-day trip, but D and I ate and ate and ate, thanks to our walking non-stop from 9am to 11pm every day while we were there. My only regret was not being able to have an authentic, traditional, pushing cart dim sum, since when we got to one of the only two or three places left that still do this traditional cart style, no one spoke English and it was really crowded. We panicked, and, uh, ran away.

Equipped with a cheap rented smartphone that has every information about where to go and what to eat, and guided by a local friend, we tried as much as we could. There is no good way to describe it, except that everything we had, even the random restaurants that we walked in, was amazing.

beef tendon noodle in Hong Kongfish congee Hong Kong

This was the first meal we had, beef tendon noodle soup and fish congee. I tear up just looking at these pictures. Hands down best beef tendon noodle I’ve had anywhere, and this is just a random restaurant that we walked in. The congee is true Cantonese style, smooth without visible rice grain. Perfect food for a winter day (“winter” in Hong Kong is around 50F, but the restaurant was running air conditioner on high, probably to compensate for the amount of people cramped into the small space. Crazy people!)

dessert display case Hong Kongtofu creamy dessert

Immediately after stuffing our face with noodles and declaring ourselves too full to eat anymore, a block down the road from the restaurant, we ran into this beauty of a dessert shop/bakery, and were obligated to eat more. It was bound to happen anyway: there are many, many pastry/dessert shops in Hong Kong. Like Japan and Korea, Hong Kongnese are obsessed with desserts, especially pretty, fancy-looking dessert. Bakeries and dessert shops like this are as popular as Starbucks in the US, probably even more so than France. We got a mango mousse cake and a creamy sweet tofu dessert, which was a lot lighter in taste and easier to eat than dessert made with dairy. I know it looks like your good old fried tofu you eat with soup or salad, but trust me – it was really, really good.

roasted chicken in a Hong Kong restaurant glass casecow lamb head and carcass butcher shop Hong KongSuffice it to say, a lot of the pictures I took were of dessert. The rest of the pictures were of meat. Like Paris, Hong Kong has butcher shops everywhere, especially in the narrow, long, crowded street markets. The meat restaurants have glass cases displaying their roasted chicken and pork, and their chefs deftly cutting up the meat  and neatly arranging the pieces of serving plates. I know because every time we passed by such a restaurant, I creepily stood right by the glass case and stared for a good 15 minutes. And unlike the US where you have to go to hipster/fancy/obscure butcher shops to find animal organs or “gross” cuts of meat, here in Hong Kong, such things are proudly on display.

Beyond the food, there were so many things that fascinated me about Hong Kong. No one else does gangster drama or silly comedy better than Hong Kong cinema. Kowloon Walled City remains the most horrifyingly interesting sightseeing I’ve ever done. I feel sympathy for the Hong Kong citizens who are fighting for their freedom of speech by pushing against China’s interfering with their textbook content. I’m amused at how snotty Hong Kongnese can be, with their “we-they” attitude towards mainland Chinese. And most of all, I’m angry that they refuse to give work visas to Vietnamese nationals! Like Japan, Hong Kong has a special place in my heart, even though for entirely different reasons. I can’t wait to go back, if not to work, to stuff myself with all delicious stuff like this again:

tapioca mango durian milk dessert tofu dessert with mango sauce best egg tart in Hong Kong sticky rice with gio chao quay, deep-fried bread sticks, you tiao

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