Yes, it’s true.
After sitting dormant in my head for years, my Cantonese has come out to play, and has been put to good use.
I can say a few words and phrases to make myself understood, but I’m not proficient enough to carry a long conversation. But I know enough to cuss if I need to, like everyone else.
It’s now halfway into my stay in Hong Kong, and I’m finding my comprehension of verbal Cantonese is steadily improving by the day. I can listen to Cantonese in conversation and I can get the gist of what’s being said. My reading and writing comprehension, however, need life support.
The important part is where my handling of Cantonese becomes particularly handy: the search for and the precise naming of food.
Here are three places in Hong Kong where I’ve adequately communicated my desire for food that “feels-like-home”:
- Mak’s Noodle (Central), for the wonton noodle soup
- Nathan Congee and Noodle (Kowloon), for congee
- Joy Hing Roasted Meat (Wan Chai), for the barbecue duck and pork
Mak’s Noodle (麥奀雲吞麵世家) is located in the Central district, near the Mid-Levels Escalators.
The food is so straight-forward you have to shake your head at how good it really it is.
The thin and homemade egg noodles.
The all-prawn wonton in a thin rice-flour wonton wrapper.
A light delicious broth made and seasoned with fish and pork.
The bowls are small, which supposedly keep the noodles firm.
But I can’t just stop at a bowl of wonton noodles.
I make a second order — beef brisket wonton noodles. The beef brisket is seasoned, soft, earthy, and melts in your mouth, in contrast to the sweet crunchy texture of the prawn wontons.
A bowl of wonton noodle soup is $32 HKD (just a little over $4 USD); a bowl of beef brisket wonton noodle soup is $45 HKD ($5.80 USD). It is more expensive than other places in town, but if folks want something bigger and cheaper (McWonton?), they shouldn’t be surprised if the quality of ingredients fall short of the mark.
Take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Central station on the Island line. Take exit D1 or D2, and make your way northwest along Queen’s Road Central until you see the elevated and covered Mid-Levels Escalators. Turn left onto Cochrane Street, running underneath the escalators. Walk up the hill two blocks to Wellington Street. Turn left and Mak’s Noodle is on the left (north) side of the street. Alternatively, take the Hong Kong Tramway; alight the eastbound tram on Des Voeux Road at stop 25E Jubilee Street, or the westbound tram on Des Voeux Road at stop 72W Pottinger Street.
Nathan Congee & Noodle
Ah, congee. Rice porridge, but it’s not as thick as the word “porridge” implies. It’s more soup-like, as some fraction of the rice grains remain whole.
Some might say the congee tastes bland. Of course it’s bland: there’s rice, water, a touch of salt, some heat, and some time in a big pot. But toss in slices of beef, pork, fish; duck egg; beef- or fish-ball; chopped green onion and ginger, and you’ll get plenty seasoning. You can also add in some fried dough fritter (salted donut; “oil fried devil”) to soak in the congee. All that, and there’s a mix of texture, flavour, and delicious hearty warmth that says “mom made this.”
I arrive at Nathan Congee and Noodle (彌敦粥麺家), sit down, and attempt to read the menu which is entirely in Chinese. Usually I order the pork and preserved duck egg version, and I recognize it on the menu.
But today, I want something different. I say “魚片牛肉粥” and “油炸鬼” in Cantonese. The woman who’s taking my order nods and shouts out my order. In two short minutes, a big steaming bowl of congee and a plate of cut fritter are laid out in front of me. All is good with the world.
The congee and fritter ($27 and $8, respectively) add up to $35 HKD, which is about $4.50 USD.
Take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Jordan station on the Tsuen Wan line in Kowloon. Take exit B1 to the surface, and walk north along Nathan Road three blocks to Saigon Street. Turn east on Saigon Street, and about halfway down the block on the right (south) side is Nathan Congee and Noodle. The sign overhead is in English and Chinese.
Joy Hing Roasted Meat
Wasn’t this place tipped in Tony Bourdain’s “The Layover” Hong Kong episode? Sure, that might add a shade more credibility to those outside of Hong Kong, but I’ve also seen the place described in Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, and many blogs.
Like the feel of a true “dai pai dong“, Joy Hing is small and crowded, as you’re crouched over hunchback, sitting on plastic stools, squeezed around small shared tables, eating on plastic plates & bowls. You’re in, you eat, you’re out.
The barbecue-pork is outstanding and delicious : slightly crunchy on the outside, tender meat within, the sweet-savory combination of the sauce used to prepare the pork. The meat is neither too lean or too fatty, as I believe a good chunk of bbq-pork should be. Drizzle some extra light soy sauce on the rice plate, and it’s like magic.
Remember these two words: Joy Hing.
The bbq-rice plate and soup add up to $30 HKD, which is just under $4 USD.
Take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Wan Chai station on the Island line. Take exit A2 to the surface, and walk east along Hennessy Road two blocks to Stewart Road. Alternatively with the Hong Kong Tramway, alight the eastbound tram at stop 47E Tonnochy Road, or the westbound tram (but not the tram to Happy Valley!) at stop 52W Tonnochy Road. Joy Hing is at the northwest corner of Stewart and Hennessy. While the restaurant sign outside (再興燒臘飯店) and the menus on the wall are entirely in Chinese, don’t let that scare you off. You’ll see the bbq-meat hanging in the window, and people queueing outside, either waiting for a seat or for takeaway. Point to the meat, say “please”, sit down, wait if you can, and enjoy.
I want to go back this instant, and eat all over again …
Disclosure: No Connection, Unpaid, My Own Opinions. I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to any of these restaurants in Hong Kong. With my 4th generation iPod Touch, I made these photos on 18 and 19 June 2012; the photos were posted initially on Instagram. This article appears naturally on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-22z.