Touching down in Hong Kong after a whirlwind trip in Burgundy and Paris I was feeling like I’d been rode hard and put away wet. Fortunately, I had little thinking to do once I was at the airport, since I’d arranged for a ride to my hotel on Hong Kong Island. This was a godsend. Carrying a large picture frame and over a case of wine, it was with a great sigh of relief that I sat in an empty coach taking me directly to the Novotel in Hong Kong’s Central District.
I had little money left after Paris, just enough to spend two days searching for dumplings and noodles. My hotel was paid for and so was my ride back to the airport. All I needed to do now was hit the street. The food stalls along my route were packed and grilled meats and pickled vegetables were their specialties, and the prices were dirt cheap. My days of dining at Arpege were over for now. Hong Kong felt like NYC’s Chinatown on steroids. My hotel was near the strip clubs and I hadn’t felt so targeted as a Westerner since my trip to Vietnam. The old ladies outside each venue grabbed my wrist as I walked by trying to lure me inside. Oftentimes a door would spring open and two scantily clad girls would throw themselves at me. A direct sales tactic, for sure, but one that failed on me as I was hungry for something else: steamed soup dumplings.
By chance I stumbled upon an authentic Beijing dumpling house called Wang Fu at 98 Wellington Street in Central HK. Communal dining was the way at Wang Fu. When I walked inside and sat down I had a table to myself, but after a few minutes it was fully occupied with three college students, a ferry worker, and two bankers. I was guided by them to try the dumplings with pork and scallions, a spicy chicken noodle soup, and cucumbers chilled with peanut sauce all for US$15. We drank Tsingtao beer in tins and by the end of it all we were having a whale of a time. The prices were low and I was well on my way to a dumpling coma.
After sleeping deeply with a belly full of savory, dough pillows, I awoke the next day to wander the town and took a ferry to Kowloon on the mainland. My mission was to find a bottle of Chanel No. 5 there for a friend in Oz. The boutique shops in Kowloon along Nathan Road, like Gucci and Chanel, had lines of people waiting to get inside behind velvet ropes, like a nightclub. It was the most organized system of consumer hijacking I had ever seen: a beautiful configuration to help people spend money. After weaving thru the human gridlock and securing the perfume, I hopped on the Star Ferry back to the Island as quickly as possible. The breezy 25 cent ferry ride was a relief from the throngs of petite, Jack Russell Terrier shoppers and offered picturesque views around Victoria Harbor and the stunning Hong Kong waterfront.
Back on the Island I took a tram up to the Peak for some brilliant panoramic views of the city. After coming down from the heights of the Peak, I walked thru the balmy city zoo and took a nap amidst a serene water garden with unchaperoned pink flamingos walking around.
Upon being awakened by an old man’s cane being poked in my ribs, I was hungry again and headed back to Wellington Street. Next to Wang Fu was a highly regarded noodle house called Tsim Chai Kee Noodle. I settled in there for a delicious noodle with wonton (us$1.66) warm up before the main event: an all out dumpling extravaganza at Wang Fu. By the end of the meal, the chef was sitting next to me, rubbing my belly and laughing. She spoke no English, but seemed genuinely touched by my attempt to try every one of her dumplings. She eventually gave up after giving me a dumpling stuffed within a dumpling. According to one of my dining companions, she christened me “Lord Dumpling” as I was leaving. I’m still not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult, but either way, it was a great night.
I love the way Chinese and Western culture mix in HK, which literally means “Fragrant Harbor”. Amidst the NYC style action are peaceful oasis’ that invite reflection and rest, especially after sampling the amazing cuisine. After the Olympics hit here and Beijing in 2008 would be an excellent time to return. I look forward to moving some wine here, because there are many excellent wine merchants around town and a wonderful blend of different styles of restaurants. I’m not sure that I’d do anything different if and when I return, however. There’s something comforting about noodles and dumplings. They seem engineered to soften the edges of a rather hard world.