Perfect HKG

31 03 2007

V will be in Hong Kong for three (3) days in the Spring. so some suggestions and advance planning is in order. Since 1997 (the transition of sovereignty from Britain to China), change has been the only constant thing in China. While the Prince of Wales’ name has been taken off the facade of the People’s Liberation Army central HQ, all of the old British Street names and statues remain. Hong Kong is their window to the world. it is also home to the best dim sum.

You arrive at the airport and shuttle bus is to the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong in the heart of Central financial district, just in time for breakfast with the famous Eggs Benedict at the Mandarin Grill. You eat heartily as much walking will ensure. Take the ear exit and stroll past the old Supreme court (now Parliament housing the Legislative Council). Head for the futuristic Hong Kong Bank but try not to rub the paw of one of the two polished bronze lions for luck unless you have Clorox bleach wipes handy. My new Swiss Army back pack has a special pouch for this though the package insert says it is for bottled water. Look around the banking hall before crossing Queen’s Road Central to Battery Path. Stop outside the neoclassical brick and granite Court of Final Appeal, formerly the HQ of a French Missionary Society. Its neighbor is St. John’s Cathedral, the oldest surviving Church of England in SE Asia. Tres colonial. Walk past the new administrations’ Central Government office and turn left along Lower Albert road to the Garden Road Peak Tram terminus. Running since 1888, this is the world’s steepest funicular railway. Disembark at the Peak Tower, 396 m above the sea, and stroll about on a circular pathway, avoiding joggers if you can. You will not be able to but you can try. You’ve earned a drink so pop into the Cafe Deco for a good view of the Central and Kowloon Peninsula. It serves East-West fusion appetizers and imaginative salads. Cab it to the Hong Kong Zoo and walk along the shaded pathways. By now, you are sweating. leave the gardens and Upper Albert road and walk by Government House. The house itself is not open to the public – if you got inside, I need to know whom you slept with. Immediately. Five minutes away is the Wyndham Street and Hollywood road art gallery. Nothing cheap here but look if you will. At Teresa Coleman Fine Arts, you can check out ornate fans that I cannot possibly afford but you can spend small change on sepia tonepictographs of the old colony or on Cultural Revolution memorabilia at the Low Price Shop (47 Hollywood road). Mao buttons. Little Red Book. Musical lighters that play “The East is Red”. Stop at the Man Mo Temple and burn paper offerings to your deceased ancestors. Man is the God of literature. Mo is the God of War. Book a Western and Chinese buffet dinner in a visitors box at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Happy Valley race course. The Come Racing Tour is held by the racing Form. Mid-week racing on Wednesday nights and weekend racing either Saturday or Sunday. Charitable deductions.
It’s your second day and you have some good meals coming up so breakfast lightly from the fruit basket in your room after a few baths in the Roman indoor pool of the hotel. Take the back way out of the hotel and a short walk to the tram stop. It costs HK$2 but sit on the upper deck and look at the morning crowd as it weaves past the old tenements of south Wanchai to Causeway Bay where you alight to check out the Japanese stores, small streetside shops and international outlets in the Times Square complex. By 1155 local you should find yourself on the waterfront opposite the Peninsula Excelsior where, every day at noontime, Jardine Matheson (FTS: J36) fires a blank shell from a 3 pound cannon to provide the territory with a time signal. The noonday gun is audible indeed so clap over your ears and then take a cab to Central Heliport for lunch at the Peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui after a 30-minute breath taking chopper ride. Step off the helipad on the rooftop and descend to Gaddi’s for classical French cuisine. Nathan Road, the Golden Mile, is behind the hotel. Haggling is time wasteful and you should head to Fortress in Hankow Road for legally imported goods with valid guarantees. Ignore the hustlers sellng your cheap suits (note: choose good fabric or take your own) and Fauxlexes to head to the Star Ferry (daily since 1874) to enjoy the best short water tour in the world for HK$ 2.20. A 25 minute cab ride takes you to Stanley Market along the south side of the island. For silks and jade. For tourists really so don’t buy anything here. Check out the Murray House. This former military mess hall was completed in Central in 1843, dismantled in 1983 and re-erected here in 1998. Odd but it houses a lovely maritime museum. Back to the room for a shower and an early evening drink at the Chinnery Bar where the Chuppies (Chinese yuppies) crowd after work. Single malt from the whiskey wall behind the bar. No Cosmos please. Head uphill to M at the Fringe for dinner. This is unique Australian Mediterranean cuisine that is uniquely Hong Kong. You should try the “Last Governor’s Trifle” attributed to Chris Patten, a former regular here. Stroll round the corner to Lan Kwai Fong Bar (MTR Central, exit D2) and sink into clubby Post 97 for champagne. Five minutes away from bed so you can drink well. In case you stay there late – it can happen, you know – there is a “Big Breakfast” at 0930 local for HK$97. Just saying.

Last day. Dim Sum at City Hall Maxim’s Place with no menu and no English. No problem. The steamer baskets come around in trolleys. Point. Pick. Eat. Of course, since I am vegetarian and so much causes taste and texture violations, I take a printup before I head to a dim sum place. The last thing I need is octopus lost in translation.Your hotel is just across the road. Book a chauffeured car (Mercedes!) for a private trip through the New Territories, heading north through Kowloon and along the coast to Tai Po and the Railway Museum. Stop at the fishing village of Sam Mun Tsai on the edge of Tolo Harbor to dine at Leun Yick Seafood House. Plenty of ginger enhances everything. take in the scenic route to Fanling, past some of the last farmland residue. Stop a bit at Bird Island for sighting hundreds of egrets and cormorants. Also gray heron. In Fanling, check out the Better Ole, an English style pub for some English bitter. Friendliest watering hole outside of Naughty Nuri’s in Ubud (B, remember?). Car back to the Mandarin to shower before dinner at Vong on the 25th floor. Jean-Georges Vongerichten worked in kitchens here before coming to NYC and Londontown. The dessert sampler is to die for. Remember – you are on holiday. If it’s Friday, it’s Blue Door night. hidden away on the fifth floor of a Central Office building. Tomorrow morning, you return home.

Advertisements




Nutella/Marmite

30 03 2007

I have been mistaken for so long in so many matters but this one really stings. Nutella, which is feverishly worshipped by the English, was first created in it original form in the 1940s by Mr. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker. Chocolate was limited as cocoa was in short supply owing to rationing during World War II. Instead, he used hazelnuts which are plentifulin Piemonte (northwest Italy) to extend the chocolate supply. The original version was a pasta gianduja (a paste named after a carnival character local to the region) made in loaves and wrapped in tin foil that it might be sliced and placed on slices of bread to take to school for lunch. Moms soon discovered that the kids would toss the bread. This is yet another reason for me not to have kids – if my kid tosses a slice of bread, she is SO in trouble and in danger of being tossed herself. So the product was altered into a spreadable paste that came in a jar as “supercrema gianduja” and was renamed Nutella in 1964, with the “ella” giving a soft spreadable ending to the word nut. A pound of chocolate was worth six times as much as a pounf of Nutella and it became so popular that Italian stores started a service called “the smearing” where children could take their own slice of bread for said purpose. Nutella was first imported from italy into the USA in 1983 (so new, yet so old) into the Northeastern states and grew rapidly in popularity over ten short years until a plant was built on US soil in Somerset, NJ. Now it is sold in peanut butter aisles at my Safe Way. Of course, my Safe Way is a Lifestyles Safe Way so we have hard wood flooring and a staggering number of infused olive oils – they’ve come a long way.

See, I must be subconsciously confusing this spread with Marmite, a very English savory spread made from yeast extract, a biproduct of beer brewing. A sticky gooey dark brown paste, it polarizes consumers, belying it’s marketing slogan “Love it or Hate it”, and it is similar to Australasian Vegemite and Swiss Cenovis. It is vegan. A marmite itself is French for a large covered earthenware or metal cooking pot, wherein marmit was originally supplied. It has long been sold since in glass jars that approximate the shape of such pots. In March 2006, a thinner version in plastic squeeze jars was finally made available to us with the Marmite logo being replaced by the words “Squeeze Me”. Marmite Ltd became a subsidiary of Bovril Limited which was bought by CPC (UK) Ltd, which changed its name to Best Foods Inc in 1998, which then merged with Unilever in 2000, which has bought everything in the Uni-verse that does not already belong to GE. Sandwiches using Marmite often consist of spreading one slice of toasted bread with margarine and marmite, another with margarine and peanut butter, and then putting the two together. You could use digestive biscuits instead of bread. Nigella Lawson whisks soft unsalted butter with Marmite and then spreads it on sliced white bread, using 100g of butter with a variable quantity of Marmite depending on whether you like your sandwich mild, buff colored creme or salty strong in a sunbed tan glaze. In Middle Earth, it is spread evenly but thinly on bread with a packet of potato crisps added for a M & Chip sandwich. In Ceylon, it is dissolved in boiling water to add some lime juice and a fried onion after a deathly hang over. You could also mix it with Bovril in boiling water to make a hot drink. On St Patrick’s Day this year, Guinness released a limited edition of Marmite (only 300, 000 jars at GBP 2.49) in a black jar with a white lid (cf. pint of Guinness), using a special recipe with 30% Guinness yeast.

Fun fact: if you put a dollop of Marmite on a plate and then hit it with a spoon, it will  steadily grow pale and may even turn white. While Vitamin B complex does not of itself ward off mosquitoes, the consumption of Marmite can do so, which is why the English take it with them on holiday to Sri Lanka (widely used during the 1934-35 malaria epidemic). I still hate it because it tastes horrid. But that is neither here nor there.





Yum Cha

29 03 2007

Yum Cha, drinking tea, is critical to Hong Kong’s culinary culture and complements every dish, regardless of whether you take it Chinese, English or Hong Kong style. Tea drinkers tapping the table with three fingers of the same hand are expressing gratitude to the refiller. One finger is your bowed head and the other two are your prostrate arms.

Tea was discovered accidentally by Emperor Shen Nong during the Five Rulers Era. Leaves from a nearby plant fell into a boiling kettle and the aroma was irresistible to the Emperor. The plant, Camellia, grows wild in China. The first book on tea, Cha Ching (“Tea Classic”) was written during the Tang Dynasty (ACE 618-907) by the poet Lu Yu. Tea may be divided into six principal varieties:

  1. Green: unfermented and produced by steaming fresh picked leaves, it turns yellow green when brewed and has a delicate taste.
  2. White: slightly fermented to achieve a mellow sweet flavor
  3. Black: fully fermented before firing, has a bright reddish color with a hearty amber brew
  4. Oolong: indigenous to the Fujian province, is only partially oxidized and a cross between green and black tea when boiled, is bright yellow with a fruity taste
  5. Pu’er: variation of green, oolong or black tea, fully fermented and turns dark brown when brewed
  6. Scented: is a blend of tea leaves and fresh sweet flowers

Chinese Tea Preparation

  • Clean and wash the tea pot with boiling water
  • Place a pinch of leaves in the warm pot and rinse with hot water to bring out the initial flavor
  • Add hot water a second time at correct temperatures: 70-80 C for green or floral; 100 C for oolong and dark
  • Ratio of leaves to water varies between green or floral (1:50 to 75), and oolong and dark (1:25)
  • Brewing time varies between green or floral (2-4 minutes), and oolong and dark (1 minute)
  • Warm tea cups with hot water
  • Arrange the cups in a circle and pour out the brew in a continuous circular motion in a few rounds until they are full
  • Do not fill up a cup all at once




High Tea

28 03 2007

The British and Chinese share a cultural trait: the love of fine tea. The 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna (1788-1861) in England invented the tradition to soothe hunger pangs before supper. At that time, the English had only two main daily meals: breakfast and a long massive evening supper. The Duchess invited her friends for an added afternoon meal at four to five o’clock. The Afternoon Tea menu included snacks such as petit cakes, sandwiches and tea served in fine porcelain. High tea is practised among working and farming communities. Traditionally taken late afternoon, it was the workers’ main meal of the day and featured meats, bread and cakes with a steaming pot o’ fresh tea.

Popular English tea varieties are:

  • English Breakfast Tea – a blend of Indian and Ceylonese tea leaves, served with milk or lemon
  • Earl Grey Tea – named after a British PM, it is served plain and carries a hint of sweetness. With Bergamot
  • Darjeeling – is the finest most distinctive tea, and can be served with lemon
  • Coronation – a Ceylon tea specially prepared in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of HM The Queen
  • Assam – a very strong Indian tea

You must certainly drink the locally brewed “milk tea” served at old style tea bistros in Hong Kong served with a variety of unusual snacks, especially French Toast points, topped and soaked with butter and syrup. Various tea blends are boiled and kept brewing in a meter tall container for hours, ensuring strength and smoothness. A silk like cotton bag filters tea before the addition of milk. Yuanyung is a Hong Kong concoction of milk, tea and cofee. Other common snacks are freshly baked egg tarts, buns (with fillings including cocoanut mix and custard; crisply pineapple flavored topping), toast with kaya (cocoanut and egg jam from Singapore). Iced lemon tea is served through the day.





Visible DNA

27 03 2007

G asked me about my Myer-Briggs epigram type. A trite option. Imagini has a lovely personality test. Read the questions and click the picture that feels right. The tools then analyse your personality and prepare a near report. You can also connect with people who have made similar choices. If you must know, I am ENTJ (only 1.8% of us are, it is the rarest personality type) and using inferential opposites theory, I am most qualified to be a lawyer or accountant. How sad. Imagini is kinder: Sofisticat (Mood); Escape Artist (Fun); New Wave Puritan (Habits); Touchy Feely (Love);





Macha Tea

26 03 2007

green-tea1.gif

I nearly served green tea to S today, being completely ignorant of the significant danger it poses. This only proves there is so much to learn about tea. Green Tea (camellia sinensis) is used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders and to prevent cancer as it contains a substantial amount of (but is not considered a significant source of) Vitamin K. Consuming large amounts may antagonize the effects of a blood thinner called Warfarin. Which is a rat poison. There is only one case report of this actually happening but the advisory is for all Warfarin-treated patients to consume only moderate amounts of green tea. Besides green tea, they should also avoid garlic (decreases platelet stickiness), ginger (prolongs bleeding), gingko (causes spontaneous bleeding), grape seed (works against platelets), kava (decreases sticky platelets), papaya and some other foods including but not limited to alfalfa, anise, arnica, artemesia, asa foetids, bog bean, capsicum, celery, chamomile, fenugreek, horse chest nut, licorice (thus also uozo), parsley, passion flower, prickly ash, quassia, red clover, cassio, clove, onion, turmeric and quinine.





Heathrow Lounge

25 03 2007

lhr.gif 

If you have a layover with over two hours wait (it takes only 8 minutes to connect between international and domestic terminals; most domestic takeoffs are from terminal 1), then consider booking an airport lounge. At London Heathrow, fares typically start at GBP20 per person and typically provides unlimited tea, coffee, soft and alcoholic drinks, snacks, papers, magazines, fax, web access and telly. Lounges located after Passport Control are not suitable if you are connecting on domestic. If you need to leave the lounge, you need to take your luggage with you (so check an extra set of clothes, I pack scrubs) in your overnighter and all prescription medications. There is a charge for champagne in all lounges and entry prior to three hours before your flight time is at the discretion of the lounge staff. A maximum of three (3) hours per passenger is granted.

BCP costs GBP19 at the Servisairs in terminals 1, 2 and 3, and the T4 Holidesk lounge. APH costs GBP18 at the Servisairs in terminals 1, 2 and 3.  Holiday Extras costs GBP20 (Holidesk) and GBP18.50 in the Servisairs in T1-3. Limit is 3 hours. FHR costs GBP19 (Servisairs) and GBP21 (Holideck)

If you are a British Airways Club Class member, of course you must head immediately to the Molton Brown Travel Spa. Treatments are complimentary but you cannot book an appointment as treatments are on a first come, first serve basis.

But.

London Heathrow is the worst of all of the major European terminals as there is no WiFi and no shower facility. I remember enjoying amazingly poping hot soup, snacks, tea and WiFi after a hot shower in Taipei’s airport not too long ago.