After a friend’s big fat Cantonese wedding drew me to China, I set out on a three-week culinary exploration in the land of dumplings, custard tarts and jasmine tea.
Previously eschewing baked goods, I relished all the glutinous offerings in Hong Kong. Chinese-style bakeries were ubiquitous, offering pastries in all their bleached-flour glory.
Unaware of what I was buying, biting into each pastry was often a surprise. Sometimes I would find sweet pork floss or bean paste. Other times, hot dogs or custard.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without yum cha. On the advice of a native Hongkonger, we staked out the Michelin-rated restaurant Tim Ho Wan. Our first visit to a busy downtown location was a failure — due to long line — so we made a second attempt at a suburban location.
After a 10 minute wait, we were seated, family-style, next to a group from mainland China. The food was simple, but divine: pan-fried curried beef buns, steamed gai lan with oyster sauce and steamed pork dumplings with fresh herbs.
The BBQ pork buns were the star. We quickly devoured a trio and then ordered a second round to take home. While I had good intentions, most of the buns were consumed by the time we reached our subway stop.
As a former Portuguese colony, Macau cuisine blends influences from Europe and mainland China.
While I’m not a fan of salt cod or anything with molasses, I’ll never turn down a tart. Between storefronts offering shark fins, every other corner store offered custard tarts. Most had greasy, flabby pastry after sitting under heat lamps for too long. My advice: stick to legitimate bakeries, so your custard tart experience remains unsullied.
Although dandan noodles were once considered peasant food, in the topsy-turvy world of capitalist Beijing, restaurants now elevate the dish for the nouveau riche.
To my delight, the Noodle Bar chefs hand-pulled their noodles at a counter in front of customers. The noodles were briefly plunged into boiling water and then served in broth, with meat and vegetables. I’m a squeamish about tripe, so I opted for beef brisket. The broth was a little bland, so I doused my bowl with hot sauce and fresh garlic to taste.
I would be remiss to write about Beijing cuisine without mentioning Peking duck, seen above. I was apathetic about trying the authentic meal, but had a change of heart on my last night in Beijing.
The duck skin was greasy — for most, that’s the appeal. To complement the skin, the dish served alongside strips of fresh melon, green onions and savoury pancakes. All the fixins’ are then wrapped up into a delightful, Chinese style burrito.
I wouldn’t order Peking duck again, but I can understand the appeal. The juicy, greasy skin seems like the bacon of the East, and is probably an acquired taste.
It was a revelation to travel in a country with a strong tea culture. Tea was universally available as a quick pick-me-up.
Hong Kong-style milky tea was my favourite. The blend of black tea and condensed milk struck me as familiar and comforting. I will confess, I did visit a few Starbucks locations along the way, increasing my affection for the matcha green tea latte.
When I felt adventurous, I tried dessert-style teas, which contained everything from black beans and rice noodles, to custard and jelly. I was an early adopter to the bubble tea craze, but it may take longer to endear me to bean tea.
Everywhere from youth hostels to upscale tea houses offered palatable tea. Sometimes ginger, aloe, honey or fresh roses are added to the mix, making for a refreshing, fragrant cuppa.
Originally published by Fat Girl Food Squad.
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