Quick and easy snacking options in Hong Kong

December 19, 2013 in Best Of, Food, Hong Kong, Reviews, Travel

Most of my visits to Hong Kong are way too short, which runs contrary to my intentions to eat way too much. The alternative is that I just find a lot of places lots of different snacks that are cheap, quick and easy. Here are some of my recommendations.

Tim Ho Wan (添好運)

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You really can’t go wrong with Tim Ho Wan because it’s Michelin starred, it’s cheap, it’s quick (sometimes even when you have to line up) and there are now multiple locations in Hong Kong, including right next Hong Kong MRT station, so there’s no excuse for not visiting if you want divine dim sums. Check out my posts on this legendary joint here and here.

Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園)

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This legendary tea cafe now has multiple locations as well, so you don’t have to line up outside the hole-in-the-wall near Lan Kwai Fong. The service is extremely quick and the food is excellent for the prices — the perfect place for a quick bite, whether it’s noodles or pork buns or milk tea. Check out my full post here.

Sun Chiu Kee (新釗記)

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Rice, noodles, congee and coffee, all at reasonable prices. The food is standard fare but the good thing is that you can find one of these tea cafes just about everywhere. More detailed post here.

Australia Dairy Company (澳洲牛奶公司)

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It’s pretty silly for an Aussie to go to a place called Australia Dairy Company in Hong Kong, but this place is a regular for foodies who go there to sample its milk, egg and toast dishes. Can’t say I was overly impressed during my lone visit but most others have a different opinion. More detailed post here.

Tsui Wah (翠華)

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If you ever need a decent meal but can’t be bothered travelling, just look out for the ubiquitous Tsui Wah, which is everywhere in Hong Kong. They have an assortment of set meals offering different types of food, from sandwiches to noodle soups. More detailed post here.

Tai Hing (太興)

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I really like this place, which offers a massive menu with just about everything you can imagine, from rice to BBQ to noodles to light snacks, and loads and loads of beverage options. It’s more like a sit-down restaurant but it’s still quick and efficient. If you’re not sure what you feel like, this is the place I would recommend. The official website is here.

Yee Shun Dairy Company (港澳義順牛奶公司)

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I believe this joint originated in Macau, and it’s more of a specialized cafe for people who are into milk desserts, with their double-skin steamed milk pudding being a local favourite. Toasts and macaroni dishes available here too, but everyone goes there for the milk. Multiple locations across Hong Kong, I believe. See here for more details.

Mak’s Noodle (麥奀雲吞麵世家)

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If all you want is a steaming bowl of wonton noodles, then this is the place. It’s simple, tasty, cheap, and supposedly the best in town. For address and details check out this link.

Tai Cheong Bakery (泰昌餅家)

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Lastly, if you can’t stuff any more food into your belly, how about a traditional Hong Kong egg tart? I know everyone goes for Portuguese ones these days, but the traditional ones are pretty tasty too. For locations check out here.

Kansai Adventure Part I: Kyoto

June 19, 2013 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel

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Night view from outside the front of Kyoto Station

I’m back, and I have no excuse for why it’s taken this long to post. Anyway, the restaurant/dining reviews from that March trip to Japan have finally been completed, so now it’s time to offer a brief round-up of the rest of the stuff we saw and did.

We were only in Japan for effectively three days and three nights (and that includes piecing together two half days). One of those days was spent on a day trip to Kobe and Osaka, with the other day and two half days in Kyoto, where we stayed (at the awesome Hotel Granvia, which is right on top of the Kyoto Station).

Scenic Attractions

This post features some highlights from our trip for those who might be interested in taking a similar short trip to Kyoto. That said, since we had been to all the tourist attractions in the city, all we did this time was shop and eat. So if you want to know which are the must-visit places, these are my personal recommendations:

1. Kyomizu-dera (清水寺) — in my personal opinion the prettiest of all the temples in Kyoto.

2. Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) — if you’ve only got time for a couple of temples, then this is the second one I would recommend over Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺). The former is the Golden Pavilion and the second is the Silver Pavilion, and gold is better than silver, right?

3. Nijo castle (二条城) — a massive castle built in the early 1600s, complete with a moat and all.

4. Arashiyama (嵐山) — the place to go for mountain views, especially if you’re there in time to catch the autumn leaves.

5. Gion (祇園) — the geisha district; ’nuff said. If you’re there, check out this awesome Japanese ice cream place.

PS: If you are into manga, then check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

Kyoto Station

Chances are you will arrive in Kyoto through Kyoto Station. This time we stayed at the magnificent Hotel Granvia, which I highly recommend for its quality and convenience (it is literally right above the station).

There’s lots to do near the station itself. On the first night we were there, for example, we had dinner at Katsu Kura  (reviewed here), located on Level 11 of The Cube (a shopping mall connected to the station along with Isetan), which I believe is the best Japanese pork cutlet place I’ve ever tried.

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The view of Kyoto Station’s open areas from above

The shopping at The Cube and Isetan are both excellent, especially if you are looking for Japanese sweets, desserts or souvenirs to take back with you. Food-wise, there is the famous Ramen Street on level 10 of Isetan. It’s not the best ramen you can have in Kyoto, but with seven (by my count) options to choose from, you can always find something to your liking. Even if don’t eat there it’s not a bad idea to walk through it and check them out.

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The list of ramen restaurants at Kyoto’s famous Ramen Street

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The ramen stores here use a ticket ordering system

For lunch on our last day in Kyoto we went to Salavtore Cuomo’s The Kitchen on level 10 of Isetan. It’s an Italian place where you can order main courses to go with a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet (review here). There are also lots of great (but expensive) restaurants inside Hotel Granvia; for cheaper delights, visit the underground food haven which can be accessed from directly outside the front of the station.

For dessert or afternoon tea, you can’t go wrong with the green tea delights of Tsujiri, of which there is a branch in Isetan. The main store is near Gion, but that one is nearly always has a ridiculous queue, so you might be better off trying your luck at Isetan, especially just after the department store opens or just before it closes.

Another famous green tea dessert place is Nakamura Tokichi (English website), located on level 3 at the Suvaco section of Isetan. There’s nearly always a lengthy wait there as well, but if you don’t mind getting some takeaway you can go to the food court on the ground floor — there is a small window store there where you can sample some of their delicious roasted matcha ice cream.

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This is the food court stall

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And this is the ice cream!

Outside the front of the station, to the right, is a newish building with Japanese Karaoke, which we went to on our last night (and had a blast). On the left hand side is a a branch of the electronics giant Bic Camera — which has just about every electronic item you can think of. Well, unless you go to the massive Yodobashi Camera across the road, which has everything you can think of and much much more. If you only have time for one, go to Yodobashi — I used to travel all the way to Osaka for this place, one of the best shopping experiences you can ever have as a tourist. If you’re tired, just stretch your legs out on one of the unbelievable massage chairs. And then try another one. And another. No one will care. I am certain I can spend a whole day in that place.

Kawaramachi

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My favourite hangout in Kyoto when I was a student was Kawaramachi, a street, but also used to describe the most happening place in the city. Department stores, shops selling everything from souvenirs to hats to comic books and retro CDs, restaurants, cafes, book stores, cinemas, pachinko parlous, bowling alleys, karaoke bars, insanely awesome drug stores, and more — just go and enjoy.

This time, all we had time for was to visit the famous Musashi Sushi for the first time (review here) and then venture deeper into the district for some crepes at one of my favourite joints. But trust me, you can spend a full day at Kawaramachi. Easily.

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The crepe store is situated inside the Gourmet City supermarket

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The crepe joint I’m talking about

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Crepe master hard at work

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Mmm…

Nishiki Markets

This 400-year-old market is worth a visit even if you are not all that interested in the food they have to sell. It’s located a road one block north and parallel to Shijō Street and west of Teramachi Street (thanks, Wikipedia), but all I know is that it’s pretty easy to access from Kawaramachi.

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Inside the narrow Nishiki Markets

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Produce!

The thing I would recommend at Nishiki markets are definitely the fresh strawberries (they look so red and perfect that I initially thought they were fake), though the other fruits looked pretty scrumptious too. There are plenty of local delicacies you can try, and the more popular ones include the egg rolls (literally a roll of egg) and the store that sells soy soft serve ice cream and soy donuts. It’s also a great place to get some sweets and snacks to take home.

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The egg roll store

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The famous egg roll

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Soy soft serve and donut store

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Donuts!

Candy

I’m not usually a candy fan, but I have a fetish for grape candy (which is a popular flavour in Japan), and the best I’ve ever had might be this sour grape fettuccine pictured below. I believe I bought around 10 packets and devoured them all in the ensuing days. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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The Beijing Diaries, Day 10 (Part II): Forbidden Tourist

December 1, 2012 in Best Of, China, Travel

November 15

I was very impressed with myself for killing off my final article of my Beijing assignment, and so I decided to reward myself by seeing some of the sights of Beijing that I had been dying to visit since the day I arrived.

Of course, the must visit attraction, apart from the Great Wall (which I visited yesterday), is the Forbidden City (otherwise known as the Palace Museum). I had apparently been there once during a trip with my parents when I was a kid, but I only remember the outer wall and have no recollection of actually going inside.

According to a friend I spoke to, the Forbidden City should first be enjoyed from afar, so you can truly appreciate how massive and majestic it really is. The best place to do that, apparently, is Beihai Park (translated to North Sea Park), which is situated to the northeast of the Forbidden City.

With little time to spare, I caught a cab straight there, and when I arrived and laid for my 15 yuan entry ticket, went directly for the Baita (meaning ‘White Tower’) in the middle section of the park.

The floral peacock at the entrance of Beihai Park

I must admit though that Beihai Park was surprisingly beautiful with it’s pristine lake and flowers, which made me stop more than a couple of times to take some photos.

Views from Beihai Park

The Baita is that phallic thing in the distance

The annoying thing with Baita is that you have to pay for another 10 yuan ticket to go up on the platform where the tower sits, and once you do, you need to pay again (2 yuan) for the opportunity to climb up to the lookout platform. Since I was there already, I didn’t hesitate in forking out the dough, especially as you can’t see anything without going all the way up to the highest point. Very clever, these Chinese businessmen.

From atop the viewing platform you do get a fascinating view of the Forbidden City from a distance, with it’s dozens of traditional Chinese roofs clustered together amid the misty haze of Beijing’s skyline. It’s quite a sight, although admittedly the angle was not as spectacular as I had expected because the tower wasn’t nearly tall enough, and Beijing’s pollution meant anything but a crystal clear view.

View of the Forbidden City from the highest point of Beihai Park

So in all honesty you can probably skip Beihai Park if you’re thinking of going just for the Forbidden City views, but it is a worthy place to check out if you have time because it has plenty of other quality things to see and experience.

Beihai Park looks like it’s within walking distance of the Forbidden City, and it is, but unfortunately only to the back gate (on the north side) where people can only exit and cannot enter. To go in, you must travel to the front gate (Wumen, or the Meridian Gate, facing south), which you can get to through Tiananmen Gate all the way on the other side, or through the east side which allows you to cut through by circling around the moat surrounding the Forbidden City.

On the way from Beihai Park to the Forbidden City

The signs there advise visitors to catch a local bus from the back gate to the front gate, but one look at the lines and the crowded buses made me realise that I would die if I tried that route. But catching one of the dozen or so cabs camped right outside was not so easy either, as most of them are sneaky locals trying to make a quick buck out of tourists by charging double or triple the price rather than going by their meters. One driver I spoke to wanted to charge 20 yuan but was only willing to take me about halfway.

The back gate of the Forbidden City — you can’t go in from here

So I said stuff this and walked instead, which in hindsight proved to be a critical mistake because it took a lot longer than I presumed. I eventually made it to the east entrance but had to then make my way to the Meridian Gate, which was another lengthy walk. Not wanting to waste any more time I caught one of the regular tourist buses from there which cost 1 yuan, and got me there in 2 minutes as opposed to 20.

After buying a 40-yuan ticket I finally made my way through the security check ahead of a bunch of very eager Chinese women who kept pushing me as though it would somehow make X-ray machine’s conveyor belt move faster.

But in the end, any hassle I encountered was worth it, because the Forbidden City is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. I don’t need to explain it. See below, and remember it’s 10 times more amazing in person.

I wish I had more time there but I ended up going pretty much in a straight line through the various rooms and chambers (there are plenty more on either side). I also didn’t get much time to read the explanations of the buildings — apparently if you have a three or more hours to spare you should absolutely hire one of the professional tour guides (for about a couple of hundred yen) who will enhance the experience significantly by giving context to what you’re seeing. Maybe next time.

I rushed out of the Forbidden City with every intention of checking out another supposed must-see, the Temple of Heaven, situated southeast of the center of Beijing. Unfortunately, it was around 3:30 by then and the taxi drivers I spoke to told me that they stopped selling entry tickets at that time. Maybe next time…again.

The remainder of my final full day in Beijing was spending buying local produce and snacks at a department store on Wangfujing street. I was tempted to try the cheap food shops that were selling three big bags for 10 yuan, but it looked too good to be true. The department stores were selling each bag for around 30 yuan, but if the truth must be told, I’m not sure if they were any different. I’d try to explain what I bought if I knew what they were, but all I can say is that some of the stuff was nutty and a lot of it was chewy and sweet, and nearly all of it was totally gross and essentially inedible.

Just some of the crap that never got eaten

 
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