Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A satisfying meal at an indoor dai pai dong

Indoor dai pai dong dining at a cooked food center!
Chiu Chow-style oyster pancake
Sea snails in sauce as spicy as it looks! ;b
"Let's go eat at a dai pai dong", I suggested to a friend one winter evening.  But rather than dine at one located out in the open air, we headed over to a stall in the bustling cooked food center section of her neighborhood Municipal Services Building that almost looked too "authentic" to be true and got me wondering for a moment or two if I had stepped straight into a Hong Kong movie! 
The very well patronized eatery that we dined at that evening doesn't have an English name and neither does it have an English menu.  But even if its picture menu isn't as extensive as its Chinese one, it does list the highlights -- which both my native Hong Konger friend and I found intriguing and ample enough to satisfy us.
Happy to find Chiu Chow as well as Cantonese specialties on the menu, my friend set her heart on ordering the Chiu Chow style oyster pancake -- which was fine by me as I like that dish too.  And when our order came to the table, we knew we had made the right choice as it really was very tasty -- with the stir fried eggy bits being alternately fluffy and crispy, and the overall dish feeling far less greasy than lesser versions.                      
We also enjoyed my choice for the evening: sea snails in spicy sauce which actually wasn't as burning hot as I feared it would be but still definitely had a fiery kick.  In retrospect, part of me wishes that I had dipped some of my share of the oyster pancake into that sauce.  (Actually, an even better option would have been to bring the bottle of Maggi Chilli Sauce that represents a taste of home for me, and which I think goes great with fried things, be it chicken, fries or eggs!  And no, I don't think the folks operating this unpretentious eatery would have been upset if I had poured some of that sauce onto one of their dishes!) 
In addition, since both the other dishes we ordered can appear more "snacky" than filling, we also decided to get a plate of mixed vegetables and bowls of white rice -- to make sure our stomachs would be full but also that the meal would feel more balanced.  As it turned out though, we struggled to finish all the food, however tasty so much of it actually was, because the portions dished out actually were far more generous than we expected!   
Leaving the cooked food center using a different route from the one that we had used to get there, we saw that seating for the stall had flowed out into an adjacent outdoor space.  So we could have dined outdoors at that dai pai dong after all!  
Considering though that even indoors, the temperature was so low that pretty much every diner there had kept their jacket or coat on, perhaps it was for the best that we had gone for the indoor dining option.  And even while there were a few smokers in our midst (despite there officially having been a ban on smoking in eateries for some years now), there actually was sufficient ventilation to make it so that my clothes and hair actually didn't smell of cigarette smoke or, for that matter, strong cooking aromas post dining there! 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The optimal dai pai dong dining season

Where I like to eat on a cool evening :)

It may not look it from the photo but Leaf Dessert
is actually a pretty popular dai pai dong! ;) 
February is the coldest month of the year.  That's something I was told during my first winter at boarding school in England decades ago -- and whenever I've lived in a place with four distinct seasons, it has indeed felt this way for the most part.

But whereas I would spent February eagerly awaiting warmer weather to arrive when I lived in Britain and the USA, I often find myself hoping that spring won't come too soon here in Hong Kong.  One reason is that I tend to associate the spring with way too many super rainy days here in the Big Lychee.  For another, Asian winter foods (including Cantonese clay pot rice and laap mei) may well be my favorite seasonal foods of all!

Furthermore, although outdoor dai pai dong like Sing Heung Yuen are open all year round, they really are far more comfortable to dine at in cool -- even cold -- rather than hot weather.  Consequently, I'm more likely to feel up for frequenting them in the cooler months (though it's true enough that even when it's boiling, I still am liable to get cravings for that Gough Street dai pai dong's tomato soup!). 

Another reason to prefer eating at dai pai dong in winter is that cockroaches and their ilk seem far less active out on the streets of Hong Kong in cold and dry weather than during hot and humid evenings!  Hence my being more likely to have dinner at such as Sing Kee, the dai pai dong on Stanley Street whose offerings are famed for their wok hei, and which has featured in such as the Hong Kong episode of The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure TV show (as well as is located in the same dai pai dong-rich area in Central where Faye Wong's character bumped into Tony Leung Chiu Wai's in Chungking Express), during the cooler and colder months of the year.

Incidentally, the last time I ate at Sing Kee, I found myself sharing a table with a woman who told me she was a dancer who would be performing at this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival.  And some time ago when I was eating at Sing Heung Yuen, there was quite the commotion when superstar singer-actor Eason Chan appeared on the scene (and indicated, from the way he interacted with the dai pai dong's staff, that he's a regular patron of theirs)! 
So to those who turn up their nose at the suggestion of dining at a dai pai dong: now you know what you're missing -- the possibility of celebrity encounters and/or interesting dining companions along with some actually pretty tasty food in atmospheric dining conditions that I actually consider attractive, particularly during those times of the year when the very act of sitting in non-air-conditioned space won't get one feeling over-heated as well as sweating profusely! ;b   

Sunday, February 19, 2017

An enjoyable Sai Kung Peninsula outing with a good friend

The water was clearer the sky in Sham Chung this afternoon

...but a few hardy butterflies -- like this furry looking specimen -- 
braved the cooler, less sunny conditions to remain alive and active! 
The beautiful spell of weather Hong Kong has enjoyed in recent days came to an end literally overnight last night.  Yesterday, visibility was as high as 45 kilometers over in Sai Wan Ho.  Today, I don't think it exceeded 15 kilometers anywhere; and I experienced more rainfall -- and definitely way more misty and overcast conditions -- than caught sight of bright sunlight for much of the day.
Fortunately, it only started pouring in Sai Kung town (where I had gone for a Thai dinner featuring a tasty sour and spicy squid salad, rich beef green curry and fragrant white rice) just before I got on a green minibus out of there, and way after a friend and I hadn't only finished hiking and gone on a boat ride earlier in the day.  
But even while brighter weather would have added welcome color to the surroundings that we passed through on our trek from Pak Sha O to Sham Chung as well as the boat ride from Sham Chung to Wong Shek Pier, we were grateful enough for the temperature remaining pleasant, and it being warm enough for some butterflies to continue flitting about (even while cool enough for me to figure that the snakes that had awoken from their winter slumber in recent weeks had gone back into hibernation).
Something else that I really appreciated on today's excursion was the company of the woman who had been my regular hiking companion until she left for Canada a few years back.  Although I wondered whether it'd be the case when we had first said our goodbyes, she has indeed returned to Hong Kong a couple of times since, and we've found time to hang out -- and even go on hikes together on her too short trips back to the Big Lychee.     

This afternoon, I was reminded again how we share a love for nature, photography while hiking, and what another friend has described as "non-competitive hiking".  In addition, I also do like it being the case that, once she overcame her horror at piling back the calories during post-hike dinners (with the aid of my explanation/justification to her that "we hike in order to eat, not in order to lose weight!"), we got to thoroughly enjoying our post-hike meals and actually consider our outings incomplete without them! ;b      

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Mari-Cha Lion in Hong Kong

Advertising on a Hong Kong tram for the 
A view from the Asia Society's roof garden that takes in
Lion Rock as well as the Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Say the word "lion" in Hong Kong and the word "rock" tends to come to mind since to many people, since Lion Rock is the territory's most iconic Kowloon hill, and the one that the "can do" spirit that Hong Kongers (have) possessed for decades has been named after.  But this past month has since another prominent lion temporarily take up residence in town -- on the Hong Kong Island side of Victoria Harbour, over at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center in Admiralty.  
The mysterious Mari-Cha Lion was originally thought to date from Spain but recent research undertaken on this large leonine sculpture leans towards it having been cast in the mid-11th to -12 century in a region of southern Italy ruled at the time by the Normans.  Decorated with Arabic engravings by its Spanish Muslim creators, this rare beast is further rendered unusual by the presence inside it of a vase-shaped vessel, made of the same type of bronze as the rest of the figure and thought to be the mechanism that made it an "acoustic automata" which could roar like a living lion!
As amazing as this precious work of art is though, it can't be the sole subject of one whole show.  Rather, the Asia Society put up a selection of other leonine creations on display along with it for the Roaring Guardians: The Mari-Cha Lion with Asian Traditional and Contemporary Art exhibition which explores the religious, imperial and vernacular significance of the lion symbol in various parts of Asia, including India, Tibet, ancient China, contemporary Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore (whose Malay name of Singapura, more than incidentally, means "lion city") and Japan.
Running the gamut from contemporary art works to artefacts considerably more ancient than the medieval Mari-Cha Lion itself, I personally found some of the most impressive to be the small but oh so detailed copper alloy figurines from India of Vishnu (the Hindu god of preservation, who takes the form of a lion in his Narasimha "man-lion" incarnation), Parvati (the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion, whose Durga avatar has a leonine connection) and her husband Lord Shiva (the supreme being who creates, protects and transforms the universe for Hindus).  And while I must admit to generally placing greater value on the older items on display, I also found myself intrigued by the miniature "lion's masks" creations by Vietnamese artist Vu Dan Tan out of recycled sweets' boxes along with other mundane elements such as paper, ink and goauche.
While looking at those items in particular, I found myself wishing I had brought my reading glasses along to the Asia Society!  Alternatively, the curator in me thought, it really would have helped for them to have provided magnifying lenses or similarly low-tech but helpful devices along with the informative complimentary audio recordings supplied at the information desk.  
Something else that the (occasional) museum consultant part of me found myself somewhat perplexed and irked by was how low a level many of the works and the text panels had been placed!  Curiosity actually ended up compelling me to enquire at the information desk if the exhibition's principal curators were on the short side.  Over the course of our discussion, the suggestion was made that the low height choice may have been made because the exhibition had been expected to attract many school parties.  But if this really had been the case, surely steps could have been made (literally and metaphorically) to accomodate both regular sized adults as well as children?     
Still, the above-mentioned exhibition design gripes aside, I actually did feel the exhibition was one I'm glad to have catch here in Hong Kong.  I'd even go so far as to say that the sight of the extraordinary Mari-Cha Lion alone was worth the price of admission, except that it'd be faint praise in this case since no entrance fees were charged for this pretty interesting exhibition! ;b  

Friday, February 17, 2017

On High West and Lung Fu Shan (Photo-essay)

Despite its name making it sound otherwise, Hong Kong Island's High West isn't as high as a number of other Hong Kong.  Topping out at 494 meters above sea level, it's only the 53rd highest peak in the Big Lychee (with number one ranked Tai Mo Shan standing quite a bit higher at 957 meters).  

Still, I reckon you can get some of the most stupendous views in Hong Kong from the top of High West.  And on one of my hikes up it (that also ended up including a stop at 253-meter-high Lung Fu Shan on the way down to a bus stop just above the upper reaches of Kennedy Town), I couldn't resist taking panoramic as well as regular photos from up there (all of which can be enlarged -- and their views consequently better appreciated -- by clicking on them)... ;) 

On this hike, bugs like this colorful true bug,
were eye-catching along with scenic views ;)
The top of High West on a beautiful blue sky day :)
Looking north and east-wards from the top of
this western Hong Kong Island hill

Looking west from High West (with Lamma Island, Hei Ling Chau
Peng Chau and Lantau Island visible in the distance)
 Another bug spotted along the way -- 
this one with pretty wings and hairy legs!
The view from some 250 meters lower down is considered 
interesting enough to merit an explanatory view compass 
A view of Pok Fu Lam -- with its large Christian cemeteries
-- and still largely green Mount Davis
 Red flowers abound on Lung Fu Shan
(also known as Hill Above Belcher's) :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An evening with Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra

The Hong Kong Arts Festival program I attended this evening
There were a surprising amount of empty seats for the performance I attended at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Concert Hall this evening.  Perhaps, since the publicity for the Hong Kong Arts Festival generally has the dates for its 45th edition as being February 16th to March 18th of this year, many people didn't realize that tonight's concert was actually part of this annual mega arts affair -- and, in fact, the festival opener!
Another possibility is that the prospect of seeing and hearing conductor Sascha Goetzel and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra perform didn't sufficiently excite people.  I know at least one classical music fan who told me she's only willing to pay the amount that Hong Kong Arts Festival concerts usually command to see and hear better known musicians, and one lover of things Turkish who told me she'd prefer to go for something more culturally Turkish than a Western classical music concert predominantly featuring works by non Turkish composers.   
In any event, I think it's their loss to not have attended tonight's concert and my gain to have done so for there were some interesting and just plain enjoyable music on offer from this young orchestra whose artistic director and principal conductor hails from the land of Mozart and Johann Strauss (the elder and younger) but looks to be predominantly composed of Turkish musicians.  And before even one beat of music was played, I got an inkling that things would be different from usual from the seating arrangements of the orchestra. 
For where I regularly expect to see the cellists and double bassists, I saw second violins instead.  Also, where I normally expect to see the second violinists, I saw viola players and double bassists. And where I normally expect to see the viola players, I saw the cellists.  Oh, and I noticed too that there was a larger complement of percussionists in the orchestra than is usually the case -- and the percussionists really did have quite prominent roles throughout the program, including for the very last piece, where two of these musicians who usually are placed in the back row were assigned seats right in front of the conductor!
The orchestra got things going with a lively rendition of Turkish composer Ferit Tüzün's Capriccio a la Turque, an orchestral piece essentially inspired by Turkish folk tunes and combined rhythms which was over too quickly as far as I was concerned.  Next up was Scottish composer James MacMillan's Violin Concerto, whose dedicatee, Russian-born Belgian violinist Vadim Repin, actually was tonight's featured soloist!  The impression I got was that it's a rather unorthodox piece that is challenging to play, and also listen to -- with the vast majority of the concert audience being far more appreciative of the encore work that Repin chose than the MacMillan's concerto which possessed sequences of dissonant music as well as ones that I actually found pretty electric!
After the interval, the orchestra performed what has come to be its signature piece.  Its melodic and often mesmerizing rendition of Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "exotic" Scheherazade was a step above what had come before, and made all the more different -- in a good, creative way! -- by way of the Arabic qanun and Turkish oud being employed along with the musical instruments that normally feature in a Western classical music orchestral work.  Still, from the way the musicians looked -- relaxed, with big smiles on their faces -- when they performed the encore work (whose title I sadly failed to catch, though I did hear maestro Goetzel describe as being a quintessential piece of Turkish music), they had saved the best for last -- and I must say this peppy piece really was a great way to conclude the evening's program.
Music-wise, I think this concert was a lovely way to start off this latest edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival.  I just hope that Sascha Goetze and the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra get the audience they deserve for their second concert here in Hong Kong (that's scheduled for tomorrow): one that's ultimately as appreciative as this evening's but bigger and better behaved (in that some people clapped at the wrong time a couple of times tonight, quite a number dozed off during the slower and quieter parts of the concert, etc.)! ;S

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Uncommon ways to enjoy Valentine's Day :)

Standing tall as a singleton on Valentine's Day 2017!
This is not least since being single contributes quite a bit
to my feeling free as bird on beautiful days like today :)
Before anything else: the photos at the top of this blog post were taken this afternoon as I made my way to my favorite roast goose place for dinner after a thoroughly enjoyable Cloudy Hill hike excursion that I went on with a friend.  At that point in the day, I was on my own as my hiking buddy had hurried home earlier to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine with her husband.  But, in all honesty, I didn't much mind since I still was on a high after a very satisfying hike in wonderful weather -- complete with super high visibility and bright blue skies -- during which I had seen Cloudy Hill totally minus cloud cover -- something which, as its name implies, is actually a pretty uncommon state of affairs! 
And to think that I would have missed out on this if my original plan for this evening had gone ahead: that is, I had proposed to a good but platonic friend of the opposite sex that we have an anti-Valentine's Day dinner at Uehara.  But since the restaurant turned out to be already fully booked for tonight when I called to make a reservation a couple of weeks ago, we'll "just" be treating ourselves to another omakase dinner there this Thursday instead of this evening!
Should it not be clear: here's confirming that I'm so not a fan of this particular holiday and have been known to organize anti-Valentine's Day "dates" with one or more platonic friends, many -- but by no means all (since I've discovered there are married people who don't care for this day too!) -- of whom are fellow singletons.  Among the more memorable of these was the time a few years back when a whole bunch of us went out for a hotpot dinner, reasoning that this kind of dining is extremely unromantic since it's communal and tends to leave diners (particularly their hair and clothes) smelling quite strongly of whatever they had chosen to eat that evening!  
And even though there were years in the past when I was in a relationship when February 14th came along, by far my favorite Valentine's Day ever was the one that took place during my final year at boarding school in England.  Early on in the morning, many of us had been filled with dread by the thought of not receiving any Valentine cards; a humiliation that would be very public since the teacher on duty would hand out the mail to students over breakfast in the school dining hall.  
But when the time came for the post to be handed out, I ended up being far from empty handed... since my four best friends at school (three of whom were female and one male) had sent me Valentine cards!  As it so happened, I had done the same for them -- and they had also done the same for one another.  That all this had not been collectively planned made it all the sweeter; with the icing on that day's cake coming from various other students having cast us looks of envy, not knowing -- or maybe even caring! -- that the Valentine cards we had received (and sent) had all been to people we loved for their friendship rather than something else altogether! :)