Hong Kong 2013: Reveling & Remembering (1st of 2 Parts) here
There are those who believe that when traveling, rest is not an option, carpe diem and such. My Bin and Boo subscribe to no such notion when on holiday so mid-afternoon onwards, they return to the hotel for some slumber and I go solo.
It’s during these “alone times” that I immerse myself in the heart (and stomach) of my journey. Since newness sparks and sharpens my senses, travel is a guaranteed catalyst of revelation. Getting lost in a foreign city – easy with my lousy sense of direction— and meandering down paths and alleys, every few steps is an unfolding of smells, food and frenzy.
At dusk, I find myself near the ferries at the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront Promenade. My favorite time of day is morning but there’s magic too at twilight. The dipping sun stretches out its many hands, its final exuberance before night falls.
Suddenly, I crave a cocktail.
Ducking into Lucques Tavern, I order the Mint-Ginger mojito. Just a tad sugary, it gets the buzz going. As I contemplate the candied ginger nugget flailing in the glass, my Bin and Boo arrive, fresh-eyed and starving. On cue, the burrata arrives and we have our respective adventures with it, mixing and matching.
Also present is a plate proffering simplicity: slabs of bread rough and rustic, with accompaniments alongside. Musicians say that it’s the spaces between the notes that make all the difference, and so it is in food. Olives, lushly green, cozy up to nuts nudged up against butter – oh, a bar so gloriously generous! – and a smidgen of coarse salt. Smear, spread, spear and savor: they buttress our appetites until dinner.
Lucques also serves a champion, dream-about-it-tonight Lobster & Crab Mac ‘n’ Cheese. It’s what Boo orders. Taking a photo of it totally escapes me because I’m trying to snatch a forkful of it before she gobbles it up.
Shop OT315, Level 3, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City
17 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
There are two things to hurdle if one desires to eat at Butao, home of the venerated black ramen: the seemingly interminable line, and the rather involved order form. I’m convinced that Hong Kongers view queuing as a sport and an essential evil. So be it, tonight so shall we.
Hakata-style ramen is Butao’s showcase. Characterized by the cooking of pork bones for hours over fiery heat, its broth can rightfully be called a potion. The particular cooking method suffuses the fluid with marrow from the bones, imbuing it with that distinctive richness. There’s the incendiary Red King; an olive oil-basil fusion in the Green King; the classic and clean Butao King; and of course, the bad-ass Black King.
I mention the involved order form that allows us to tailor-fit our fancies in taste, oil, chili, and garlic in light, normal, and heavy. And yes to the inclusion of toppings customary with Hakata ramen: chashu, kikurage (wood-ear mushroom), in addition to negi (green onions) – check, check, check! And for the sake of all sustenance sinful and corruptive, don’t forget that softly-runny egg!
Black isn’t the color of desire, and certainly not in food. But the Black King proposes a radical paradigm shift. I stare into its murky depths, glints of light from above dappling an oily broth, and in the middle, magnetic: a nucleus of nirvana. Spoonfuls of soup serve shifting sensations – squid, salty, searing – tearing in and tantalizing the tongue in torrents. The succulence of chashu is offset by the tang of green onions, and always, always, the firm texture of the noodles keeps me chewing. I am wonderstruck. The egg has been sitting off to the side all this time and when I pierce it, its golden secret seeps sinuously towards that seductive core. A cunning creation combining squid, its ink and meat; black garlic, minced pork, and seasonings, their contributions to the broth are outbursts of umami, and musings not meant to be read here.
(Stopping to breathe)…
I’m in awe of this bowl and the mind-bending ingenuity of its creator. I desire another.
The Butao is a welcome relief after the ecstasy of the Black King. Its velvety broth emphasizes the masterfulness with which it’s made. I sip and sigh, savoring the flavors that seem to last forever.
A valiant attempt to eat at Australia Dairy Co. is quashed by the snake-like line, even longer than the one last night at Butao.
In a recent episode of Castle, one of the detective sitcoms I watch because of its cheeky humor, the protagonist takes on the role of hostage negotiator. “If you desperately need us to get you out of there,” he is sternly told by the FBI, “yell ‘cheeseburger.’”
Salient fact, that. After days of expressing our ardor for Asian cuisine, Boo says she wants burgers. Agog with the lines (yet again) we see looping out the restaurant’s door on a previous day, we hightail it bright and early to BLT Burger. The Hong Kong subsidiary of its US counterparts, it’s Chef Laurent Tourondel’s version of a “greasy spoon.”
When it comes to burgers, Boo and I share the same sentiment: keep it simple. Decisions to be made – when there are too many – discombobulate me so my daughter and I order The Classic, 7 ounces of CBA (Certified Black Angus Beef) with the requisite red onion, lettuce, tomato, and pickles (I’ll fish out the latter later). On the other hand, my Bin adores decking out his burger, and the Roaring Forties Blue beckons to him with its siren call of caramelized onions laced in balsamic vinegar, mushrooms, and chunks of blue cheese.
In Manila, there are few burgers that impress me with their flavor. But here in Hong Kong, the first bite of my BLT Burger has me wishing for just one thing: that there be a burger like this back home. A well-orchestrated balance of brisket, chuck, sirloin, and short rib, the patty is supremely flavorful and smoky, evidence of its time on the grill. Each bun is toasted and buttered, a truly thoughtful gesture that adds another layer of flavor.
Of course a burger hates to be alone, there must always be something by its side. Today, it’s got three companions. Boo likes the Skinny Fries that are simultaneously steamy and starchy. I get possessive with my Sweet Potato Fries, sharing them with no one; they are indeed sweet and fiery with a dash of chili. And my Bin, who will always choose Onion Rings, admires their thickly-coated girth.
Sodas to lubricate for the adults, and because she dislikes fizzy drinks, a Monkey Business milkshake for Boo, an absolutely mine-mine-mine! melding of bananas and peanut butter in chocolate ice cream.
There’s so much else to eat here (the choices are staggering!) and I’m sad to say we don’t eat dessert, as we have a plane to catch.
The last thing I eat in Hong Kong is at a place that’s now become my favorite dessert spot in this city. I have Boo to thank for this discovery. So enchanted is she by the cornucopia of color gleaming behind the glass that she all but begs to eat here (again and again).
The place is called LGB , short for le goûter (in French: a snack; I know not what the ‘B’ stands for). Situated within a number of large shopping centers, we have our first encounter with it in the IFC Mall, which is just a little kiosk while the one at Elements is a more elaborate, full-service operation.
I imagine that the food at LGB is stellar, bistro offerings like steak and frites, French onion soup, and hearty baguette sandwiches. I will return for those but for the two times we eat here on this trip, we continue our love affair with the pastries.
LGB’s sweets are impeccable and their queen is the Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Crisp. Any true dessert lover will immediately recognize this pastry as the famous plaisir sucré invented by French pastry chef Pierre Hermé. LGB offers a masterful representation of this dessert, certainly comparable to the one I eat at Ladurée in Paris. An ultimate expression of the symphony between chocolate and hazelnut, the crispness in each bite is but an audible enticement to the next one. We so love this that we order two: one for Boo and the other for me and my Bin to share.
Equally notable is the Raspberry Millefeuille, a “thousand sheets” of flakiness falling into the mouth and memory made fragrant by a pastry cream imbued with the breath of Madagascar vanilla.
LGB’s beverages are also outstanding. They take pride in their artisanal teas, coffees, and Valrhona hot chocolate available in Jivara (40% cacao) or Custom Dark (70%). Don’t be put off by the seemingly pallid color of either.
Last bite done, last drop drank. As my Bin scurries off to pay our bill, I stop to take one last lingering look at the dessert debris we have wrought. My imagination downshifts. I am on my way back home but I’m already daydreaming about the food awaiting me on my next travel.