Of Dragons and Dumplings on Vacation in Hong Kong
Cultural roots and modern glitz make Kong Kong ultra appealing for visitors. When in Hong Kong, search out the edible regional specialites and take time to peruse the unique markets and attractions.
When in Hong Kong, search out to edible regional specialties and take time to pursue the unique markets and attractions.
Photos by Anna Mindess
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Hong Kong’s impossibly tall skyscrapers resemble a gleaming forest of metal and glass. Modernistic buildings reach 70, 80, even 100-plus stories—sprouting up in myriad forms, shaped not only by incessant innovation but also by ancient principles of geomancy.
To truly appreciate this vibrant metropolis, you need to explore its cultural roots, which still throb beneath the glitzy surface. Its unique location in southern Asia, protected by mountains and facing the sea, is believed to ensure good feng shui, auspicious energy. Legends claim that as the powerful dragons that reside in the mountains above Hong Kong travel down to the sea every day, their positive energy swirls throughout the city. And because blocking this energy would harm the feng shui, certain structures feature large cutout holes or “gates” allowing the dragons’ energy to flow.
A good place to grab a spectacular perspective is high above the city on Victoria Peak. Ride the 127-year old funicular railway up a steep incline and wander the walking trails. Surprisingly, given its urban sophistication, 70 percent of Hong Kong and its 263 islands is actually countryside, including miles of hiking trails and beckoning beaches.
The dragons’ positive influence on prosperity may well be working, since this city of 7 million serves as Asia’s undisputed financial hub. Cosmopolitan Hong Kong attracts international visitors and residents and boasts the finest French, Italian, and Japanese restaurants, as well as a cadre of chefs honoring mainland Chinese regional cuisines. But make sure to savor some of Hong Kong’s edible specialties.
Small plates of delectable dim sum allow diners to sample a range of traditional and creative morsels. Be aware that most of the old-school trolley carts—bearing steamer baskets or plates at which you point—are gone. Two reasons: First, real estate is so precious that squeezing extra tables into tight spaces is more profitable than keeping cart-wide aisles; second, Cantonese culture prefers piping-hot food, and sitting in a steamer basket as the cart makes its rounds can result in overcooking.
Har gow, a simple shrimp dumpling, provides the perfect way to judge a dim sum establishment. Delivered straight from the kitchen, a har gow’s wrapping should be translucent so that what’s inside is visible, and it should be too hot to bite into right away.
When you see a window full of burnished hanging pork, duck, goose, chicken, and pigeon, you’ll know that the Hong Kong-style marinated, roasted, and barbecued meats sold within are prepared on the premises. Look for juicy meat with crispy skin.
For your sweet tooth, locate a dessert café that serves a variety of warm and cold dishes with ingredients such as mango, taro, sago (tapioca-like orbs) and glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste. Or find a bakery for steaming-hot egg tarts right out of the oven.
After its 1997 handover from the British government to the Chinese, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China with the motto: “One Country, Two Systems,” which leaves it straddling a delicate highwire.
While the politics get sorted out, mobs of shoppers from the mainland descend on Hong Kong’s shopping emporiums, loading up on cosmetics, baby goods, and designer duds. If luxury malls aren’t your thing, visit one of the shops called G.O.D. (Goods of Desire) where traditional cultural elements are given a modern twist. Or walk down Wing Lok Street to peruse pricey dried delicacies, especially birds’ nests made from swallows’ dried saliva.