I have returned from my whirlwind trip to Macau and Hong Kong. My head is still spinning. Being on the other side of the world, without my little tribe, submerged in a different culture, climate and language, had me feeling discombobulated. And then again, five days later, on re-entry to my family’s orbit – dynamic, fun, unpredictable chaos – I have been scrambling to re-adjust. Could life be busier?! It seems hard to imagine. But, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The baby nudging her sweet, silky head under my chin, the middle child almost bowling me over on arrival, the eldest eagerly glancing behind me to spy the presents I bought her, their Daddy looking a little worse for wear and genuinely relieved to see me… it sure does make a person feel required / loved. I really missed them.
It was an honour to be invited back to China for The Script Road Festival by festival director, Helder Beja, and his team, all of whom worked very hard to take care of their guests, speakers, musicians, press and public. The very idea of co-ordinating a literary festival blows my tiny mind and they managed it superbly. I am sure, behind the scenes, there was much hidden calamity and downing of stiff drinks. As for me – aside from doing my best to speak about writing and books, in particular, ‘Marjory and the Mouse‘, of course I spent my time consuming every interesting looking thing in sight. I knew you would want me to. I felt it my duty to report back from the front lines.
Unfortunately I wasn’t in the region long enough to give you a comprehensive overview but I think I’d need decades for that. Macau and Hong Kong are crammed full of delicious eateries, bars and tea houses – far too many to stuff into a five day visit. But I did my best. Barring Pret a Manger (Soz. I got nostalgic for London) I ate at places I have never been to before so it was a true food-adventure. The result of which is this – My Fast Five Eats and Drinks. I can’t call it “Top Five” because I simply wasn’t there long enough and there are treats I love that I didn’t get to try again (Lord Stow‘s egg tarts!) because I am only one woman and my stomach is only so big. Snazzy bonus – in true Macau / Hong Kong style all these eats / drinks can be ordered and consumed fast. Because who has time to wait?
5. Sichuan pepper spiced dishes at North, Galaxy Casino, Macau
Several Macau locals recommended North as their favourite Chinese restaurant in Macau and it’s easy to see why. With a central cooking kitchen filling the place with fragrant steam, North served up dumplings in slick, spicy sauce, tasty mung bean noodles and crispy duck crepes. But the best of the lot was the Sichuan spice chicken with peanuts and spring onion and pieces of bright and shiny chilli which matched the red lacquer decor. The effect of Sichuan pepper is that your mouth is left numb and tingling. It’s a lot more pleasant than it sounds.
4. Rosemary & Lavender Kombucha at Blissful Carrot, Old Taipa, Macau
You know I don’t ordinarily promote ‘healthy’ food but I am a true omnivore and equal opportunity food-enthusiast. Stumbling into this tiny hippie haven in Old Taipa I was initially seduced by the rosemary and lavender flavours promised on the label. It didn’t disappoint. Fizzy, sweet and herbal, all at once. I was impressed. A friend of mine did a juice cleanse in which he only drank juices from Blissful Carrot for ten days straight. I couldn’t go that far but perhaps I could add a kombucha like this one to my daily routine. Without subtracting anything else, naturally.
3. Milk tea with tapioca pearls at Gathering, Taipa, Macau
After falling in love with milk tea on an Eat Auckland tour of Dominion Road (we stopped in at Hulu Cat Tea House) I had to have one in Macau in lieue of breakfast one morning. Yum. I love the wide straw and the eat/drink combo of the thing. I chose a plain and safe “Tapioca Milk Tea – cold” but after reviewing the menu on my return I wish I’d been a bit bolder. I have no clue what “Cheese Osmanthus Green Tea” would taste like but I’d be willing to find out.
2. Fillet Mignon Pho (Vietnamese soup) at BEP, Soho, Hong Kong
How to choose a restaurant? Make a bee-line for the longest bee-line. When I stumbled across BEP there was a large, happy muddle of people outside waiting patiently for a table. Being solo meant I wangled a bench seat immediately and I tried not to look too chuffed with myself when my hand chopped fillet mignon pho was slid in front of me after just a matter of minutes. The quality of pho is dependent on the quality of the broth / master stock and here’s how BEP describe theirs: “Our broth base ingredients include beef bone and brisket. Simmered for hours with the addition of chicken and pork bone to achieve layers of flavour; a distinctive blend of spices feature star anise, cinnamon, dried fruit peal to pep it up further.’ Pho comes with rice noodles, bean sprouts, spring onion, thai basil and cilantro and tastes like goodness and comfort. The absolute best thing at the end of a long day.
1. Barbecue Pork Buns at Tim Ho Wan, Central, Hong Kong
A friend of mine mentioned “the best dumpling place in the basement of IFC mall” last time I went to Hong Kong but I had trouble finding it with my two impeccably behaved (ahem) young children in tow. Cue major food FOMO. Hence this visit I was resolute to find Tim Ho Wan and willing to queue as long as it took. Tim Ho Wan has received a Michelin star and is touted as “the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world”. I ordered far too much food – because all dumpling orders arrive in threes or fours and are meant to be shared – and my entire meal still cost me less than $30 NZD. The service is lacklustre at best but the dumplings are incredible. Sweet, baby-pink, milky and delicate ha gow (steamed prawn dumplings) and pork buns crammed with soft pieces of tender pork and topped with a perfect, salty-sweet crust? Drool. Because I was surrounded by dozens of strangers I restrained myself from making the kinds of noises I would ordinarily make when faced with the most perfect version of a favourite food. It was difficult.
Honourable Mentions: In addition to my “Fast Five” I ate a feast of other delicious dishes including a warm cheese tart (think pleasantly warm individual-serve cheesecake) from Holy Cheese in Old Taipa and peeked in at several other restaurants including Cha Bei – a very pretty tea and cake house decorated with huge paper flowers, mauve velvet upholstered couches and chandeliers made from glass teacups.
Returning to my tornado-trio I brought with me many presents and souvenirs. Too many presents and souvenirs. Shoes, clothes, cufflinks, local newspapers and soft-toy pandas wearing silky cheongsams (of course). The girls were pleased with their bounty. B2 asked to wear her new floral print runners to bed. I didn’t buy much for myself but I didn’t really need to after spoiling myself with all that delicious food. Food really is the best not-souvenir of all, don’t you think? A multi-sensory gift to yourself. Great food moments last in your memory as long as your memory lasts and can be yanked out at opportune moments (dinner parties) to make other people envious. I’d take a perfect dumpling memory over a “thing” any day.
But don’t make me choose between dumpling memory and baby nudge-snuggle. I really don’t want to upset the dumpling.
Happy to be home,
P.S. For more foodie adventuring check out my favourite food in Europe.