Friday, 23 November 2012

Chinese eating etiquette

It has always disturbed me the lack of Chinese eating etiquette employed by foreigners. To be fair however, it is due to ignorance and being un- (or even) misinformed. Let’s correct that (apparently my favourite pastime).

The Chinese are relatively lax with regards to eating etiquette. But there are a few pet peeves of mine I must point out. Generally a plate is provided next to your bowl for the purpose of bones and rejects. Unless you are provided with another plate or bowl, this is not to be used for piling food onto. Unlike English dining, all Chinese dishes are shared, except soup and staples, i.e. rice. After the SARS outbreak, there are generally communal chopticks/spoons for dishing out food; don’t get these confused! English diners are accustomed to having an entire meal portioned out in one plate, however an attempt to imitate this practice is more than frowned upon. It is polite to help yourself to no more than two mouthfuls at a time. If I had a pound for every time I watched my friends/people pile on food into their bowl or even their reject plate, I would be rich! In English culture one would never pick up their plate to pile food into the mouth, disgusting etiquette right? But in Chinese culture, it is polite to ‘pa fan’. This refers to ‘shoveling’ rice from your bowl into your mouth using your chopsticks and your other hand (yes you do have another hand) to hold your bowl up to your mouth. This action is seen as appreciation for how delicious the meal is; so don’t be afraid to do it! It is actually more impolite to forget you have another hand during dining and purely pick food out of your bowl with your chopsticks. Evolution gave us two hands so use them! Yesterday I watched an American woman use her chopsticks during Dim Sum to pick at her steamed bun. I could have burst out laughing, but I am sure she only thought she was being polite. The great thing about ‘bao’ / steamed buns is the ability to caress the piping hot outer shell and slowly breaking them open with your fingers to reveal the juicy centre. You are meant to appreciate the heat through your fingers, the enjoyment of revealing the heart, watch the steam evaporate before your eyes and to smell its exquisite aroma. There is absolutely no pleasure in eating them any other method. Tea pouring duties are generally taken up by the young ones of the table and you should always distribute to others before yourself; generally dispense to your elders first. I hope these tips clear up any confusions people may have concerning Chinese eating etiquette! 

Adventures in Hong Kong - Part 6

If you don’t ask, you don’t get’. Hand on the heart (or on the bible (!)), I solemnly swear by this since I have created opportunities purely based on this expression alone. One must have the confidence to understand you have ‘nothing to lose’ in contacting people regarding jobs, advice etc. Coming from a working class family, this has always been my mantra. I visited the Hong Kong University today and it was completely worthwhile and eye-opening. Located in Pok Fu Lam the University overlooks the sea, with a new MTR station in the making. The University is renowned for its research and is ranked 35th in the world according to The Times. After receiving some rather positive news regarding post-doc-ing I met my cousin at Sabah in Wan Chai for a traditional Malaysian feast. A hybrid between Indian and Chinese the cuisine was more than palette pleasing. The traditional ‘Rendang’ curry had just the right amount of spice, chilli and coconut ratio. As a PhD student we live for the weekend; our token saying is ‘TFIF (Thank EFF it’s Friday’. Despite the continental difference, this will not change. Coyote in Wan Chai, a Mexican joint filled with Ex-Pats and lonely soles was the bar we decided to splash our cash. Flaming Jägerbombs and frozen Margarita cocktails meant that our sensory systems were not the only neurons firing. The drinks prices were probably en par with London, UK, but befriending the Bar Manager can go a long way! Donning our ‘Coyote’ Mexican hats back to the Cosmopolitan we received some pretty strange looks, but who cares, it’s Friday! Tomorrow I will be visiting the family in Fan Ling, nothing interesting to post about regarding organising a funeral, but I will be posting about Chinese dining etiquette following our Dim Sum experience today… so until then!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Adventures in Hong Kong - Part 5

An uphill trek up through the cobbled, chock-filled lanes led us to Mori Sushi on Graham Street, Central. The tiny restaurant is hidden behind wooden, Japanese sliding doors and upon entering you automatically feel concealed from the market bawl. A warm bistro offering lunch set menus got our taste buds invigorated. A sashimi platter served with salad, miso soup and sushi rice followed by a glutinous rice ice cream ball (tastes a lot better than it sounds, trust me) was probably consumed in a less than lady-like manner, but who cares… when in Rome or should I say, when in Hong Kong?

So my adventures so far in Hong Kong have predominantly food related, so I guess I should post about something else that may be of interest! The lanes connected to Hollywood Road, A.K.A. Antiques Street. After visiting just a few of the stores I soon established that this was no road for a student (#penniless) with only 12 kilograms spare to take home. However I did manage to pick up a bargain vintage clock paperweight for Papa Wong (#daddy’sgirl). Whilst joyfully using the travelator through Central (awesome escalator above the streets connecting to various points), we noticed an advertisement for ‘Happy Foot’, a spa centre. After an impulsive visit to Häagen-Dazs for an ice cream and fruit chocolate fondue we found ourselves at Happy Foot receiving 75-minute full body aroma massage. Stripped down to my thong (#sexy) and covered in oil, the masseuse proceeded on to do her magic. Action potentials were firing like they haven’t in months… if you know what I mean! But it was so relaxing I almost fell asleep. Nestle says, ‘Have a break, have a Kit-Kat’. I would say: have a break; have a massage!

Okay so I didn't really last all to the end of the post before reverting back to my favourite topic… we headed back to Wan Chai to pick up some barbeque pork and rice for dinner, we sweated all the way back to the Cosmopolitan. And yes, you caught me, but edible Chinese take-aways only exist in Hong Kong!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Adventures in Hong Kong - Part 4

A brewed awakening by Hong Kee’s notorious congee and ‘cheung fun’ is how I would love to spend my mornings... if it were not so far to travel. This family-owned business in Tai Hang has been around for 30 years and still going strong. Hong Kee has certainly perfected his cheung fun rolling, which he makes fresh right before your eyes. The portions are huge and the service is welcoming. Two can dine for less than £5 and the tip-to-bill ratio was well deserved. I look forward to travelling there for breakfast again next time I visit Hong Kong!

Besides the food experience, we used all forms of public transport available today: bus, MTR (mass transit railway), light-weight public minibus and the tram. The latter was a debut for us BBCs (British-born-Chinese). The cost of sitting on a double-decker slimline tram is a whopping $2.3 (#canyoubelieveit), equating to approximately 20 pence. Although wobbly at times it certainly gets you from A to B quickly, cheaply and efficiently; I highly recommend this form of transport! After an afternoon siesta we headed to Mong Kok again for some final gift shopping at Lady’s market. Haggling prices down such as from $550 to $200 was more than enjoyable! After this we travelled to Sai Kung in the New Territories for nostalgic visits to a seafood restaurant and the delicious Honeymoon Desserts parlour. Our Grandparents lived here and the brief visit tickled our sentiment. A little homesick and reminiscent of our Grandparents put us on our two-hour journey back to the Cosmopolitan. Needless to say today our adventures were productive and supportive of our culture: gifts for friends and relatives purchased, check; visiting our ‘heritage hometown’, check; travelling far West to East, South to North and all the way back, touching Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories, check; sampling great Cantonese traditional food, check.

----I think we shall call it a day----

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Adventures in Hong Kong - Part 3

Finally a good nights slumber in the city that does not rest. Midday, Kit and I stumbled across a family-owned Japanese restaurant, which luckily for us happened to be promoting a special lunchtime offer of set sushi menus with a main for only $50; for this price I devoured a 6-piece sushi platter with udon noodle soup – bargain! With our more than satisfied stomachs we headed up to The Peak on the 15 bus. The roads were windy and I spent most of the journey attempting and failing to capture glimpses of Hong Kong city through the foliage. On arrival we climbed straight to the viewpoint to view the beautifully cloud covered, smog city; the sight was still fantastic though. After taking our photo with Bruce Lee at the entrance of Madame Tussaud’s we headed to Central where the search for an iPad Mini continued through the streets and all the way to the Apple store itself in IFC; no luck, #sadface. Disappointment took us back to our hotel where we rested for an hour before setting out again. The evening expedition was to Tsim Sha Tsui for the Symphony of Lights fantasia looking across from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. 

The lasers were spectacular despite the misty atmosphere, and the music accompanying the show was charming, cultural and endearing. The view was unbelievable and I have the photos and panoramic captures to prove it! After the fleeting performance came to an end we were starved and headed straight to Harbour City. Crystal Jade, although a chain had the most incredible ‘Xiao long bao’ I have had ever tasted. These dumplings originated from the Northern Song dynasty in China where they were very popular amongst the ‘commoners’. They are slight delicacies and their juices exquisite. They are steamed in a bamboo basket hence their name, which stands for ‘small basket dumpling’. Infamous for their ‘La Mian’ (noodles) and these dumplings, the cozy diner was worth every penny I paid, though I would have preferred not to involuntarily pay the 10% service charge for more than slack service. BUT, the price:portion and décor was more than well worth it; I think that is what they call, a ‘compliment sandwich’! I must say advancing through Harbour City and glancing outside the designer boutiques of the streets has been quite eye-opening. If I were playing ‘Never have I ever’, it would end very badly if the question was asked: ‘never have I ever seen such long queues to get into shops’. I am talking of 10 pm at night, queues to get into the likes of Prada, Chanel, and Hermès. How ridiculous! The working class such as myself certainly did not join the crowd, so to speak! Although iPad Mini-less, the day was still awesome and now I have an appointment with a Professor at Hong Kong University, #getin!