Reflections, Travel

Hong Kong: Eating on Rice Sellers Street

The day dawned on another walk around Hong Kong on business.
Today I was prepared; comfortable shoes and an open mind ready to take the rest break opportunities as they presented themselves. And considering we went from Shueng Wan in the west right over to Quarry Bay in the east, it was a good thing I was prepared.

Our first stop of the morning was in the district of Sheung Wan, on Connaught Road West. This meant we took the MTR as far west on the Blue Line as we could go, then walked on for another ten minutes or so. There is an assortment of businesses along this road, mostly small stores and offices. But once we reached the end of the Central portion of Connaught Road and began our walk along the West portion, the ground floor businesses all took on a very familiar look. Parked outside in old open backed trucks and being wheeled from truck to offices doubling as storerooms were sacks and sacks of rice. Large sacks. The sort of large sack that could feed me for a year or so, and I do like my rice; or perhaps might put an immediate end to hunger in a famine-stricken third world village.
Naturally this meant we had to rename the road to Rice Sellers Street.

We reached our destination a little earlier than planned and took a quick look around the very small mall on the ground floor, and discovered the entrance to a restaurant that served Yum Cha. We decided that this would do nicely for an early lunch after our appointment. We also took a short walk along Des Voeux Road West, which was on the other side of the building. This, in the tourist literature and maps, is aptly described as Dried Seafood Street. A stroll along this was considered the next item of sightseeing following our brunch. But first there was work and then lunch.

For those who are not in the know, John and I are both very keen Yum Cha participants back here in Auckland. It’d actually be quite embarrassing if I confessed to how frequently we find ourselves going in to one of the local restaurants for a snack lunch. So visiting the spiritual home of Auckland’s Yum Cha restaurants was a treat that we both intended to make the most of. The usual method of serving in New Zealand is by bringing around a selection of foods on trolleys or trays, which allows you to see and choose what you like. We expected things in Hong Kong to be pretty much the same. Turns out we were wrong.

The restaurant was clearly a local favourite as at about 11am on a work day it was roughly half full. As expected, we were the only non-Chinese to be seen. The ‘meet-and-greet’ lady was happy enough to seat us, and arrange tea. After that it looked like we were on our own. Our waitress knew no English and horror of horrors, there were no trolleys to be seen. The waitresses brought food out to tables, but not around the restaurant for diners to choose from. Oh dear!

A few minutes later the greeting lady brought a small menu with English equivalents alongside the Chinese characters. Okay, so we can do this after all, we won’t starve or randomly choose dim sum of dubious content.
It was a fraction of the choice of the Chinese dim sum lists, but at least we recognized some old favourites. Even so, apparently the staff was still concerned about us and clearly we were not to be trusted to make the correct decisions. A gentleman staff member in full business suit came over and insisted on helping us order, all the while telling us the English and Chinese menus did not match properly.
So we trotted out our favourites, even managing badly pronounced Chinese for the occasion. At this point I felt that at least we knew the Chinese names for the dishes and that must count for some street cred. That seemed to go down okay with our helper, and he even managed to crack a joke when I requested my very favourite char siu bau. According to him it is “the Chinese hamburger”. It certainly made me laugh. Hey, I didn’t know it was possible to be multi-cultural with my taste in junk food! 😉

When the food came, it was yummy. Just like home, and in a couple of cases better than home. It was also cheaper than home, which is quite surprising considering most things in Hong Kong will set you back at least what we would normally expect to pay.

As for my advice on eating out in non-English speaking restaurants in Hong Kong? Do it at your own peril. It can and probably will reward you with good quality food in a good local restaurant, but we were lucky here. We knew the Chinese names of most of what we usually eat, and we had the assistance of someone who could understand enough English for us to describe those items we didn’t know the names of. That is certainly not always the case, as we learned a little later in our stay. We really wanted to try something local, but it takes a bit of trust and/or an adventurous stomach to order randomly from a list of Chinese characters when you have no idea what foods will turn up.

And it only takes a visit to Dried Seafood Street to seriously dent your adventurous gastronomic spirit…

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