As you might know, this blog is about the food we tasted, people we have met, and places we have visited, that make us feel like we are in the best place in the world at that exact moment. That is the concept of “hygge”. During a trip to Hong Kong, I had one of those moments. I will let you know why and how we were able to enjoy a memorable dining experience.
It all started several weeks before my trip to Hong Kong. I had booked my airline tickets and was scheduling several meetings before I had to take a ferry to Macao to attend the International Gastronomy Forum (I will write about this trip later). I emailed my friend Mo Mao, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy colleague who lives in Chengdu, China, but went to school in Hong Kong. I wanted to ask him for some recommendations for places to eat and visit during my trip. His reply blew me away. Rather than suggesting places, he offered to take a few days off work and meet me in Hong Kong.
It was great seeing Mo once again, and what a great way to spend a few days in the City and learn about the culture and food from an insider. But of all the things we did, one of the best was the dinner at a Cantonese restaurant serving traditional Chiu Chow food.
Chiu Chow Cuisine
I am sure you have heard and tried Cantonese food. This delicious cuisine comes from the area of Guangzhou, China. In the same area, Chiu Chow food is popular, and it has made its way to Hong Kong. Some of the cooking techniques of Chiu Chow cuisine are similar to Cantonese cuisine. One of the differences in Chiu Chow cuisine is slow braising food that has been marinated and utilizing fresh ingredients as the highlight of the dish.
The Journey Begins
To me, a great meal is not only the time you are eating a meal, but everything that happens before and after. I met Mo outside my hotel and we were ready (and hungry). He told me that we will meet his friend Iris at the restaurant. We first boarded one of the famous Ding Ding trams in Hong Kong. I loved these double-decker trams that reminded me of a Harry Potter movie. Why are they called Ding Ding?....because they sound a bell twice to alert pedestrians and vehicles, and the bell sounds like, well, ding ding!!!
After our short ride on the second floor of our Ding Ding, we exited our tram and walked to a subway station. That part was also exciting. I love subways since you get a nice local feeling and vibe. A few stops later, our subway trip was over, and we exited the station to walk a few blocks in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong. This is a mostly residential area, but all of a sudden we started walking into this street packed with people walking on the sidewalks, and many restaurants lined on both sides of the street.
Xin Chong Kee
The smells, the vibe, the character, it all made things amazing. Mo found our restaurant, Xin Chong Kee, and the first thing I noticed, was that the place was packed. The kitchen was busy. Waiters walking at a fast pace back and forward serving the lively crowds that were occupying almost every seat. Families all over engaged in different conversations, laughing and enjoying their food. And by the way, something that for me is a good sign for a restaurant: tons of locals.
Mo and I were a little late and to our luck, Iris was already waiting for us in our table. As soon as we sat down she offered some tea. We chit-chatted for a few minutes, and then both Iris and Mo offered the menu to me. I browsed the menu and of course had no idea what was on it. A few images gave me a hint, but still clueless. To me, there was an easy solution, since Chiu Chou cuisine is supposed to be eaten family-style, I asked them to order "at-will".
A waiter approached our table, food was ordered, and a few minutes later our dishes started to arrive. Iris took some chopsticks and "washed them" on the table utilizing some hot tea.
Ribs marinated in a tangy sauce topped with a mayo-like sauce. Blanched veggies. Clams cooked with a spicy sauce, onions, peppers, and other veggies. Of course, one of my favorites (aside from the ribs) was the esophagus of a duck or goose (not sure). Might not sound interesting, but it was delicious.
I had an amazing meal, and all of a sudden, I realized that I was THERE! I was not thinking about work, or life before and after. I was present with Mo and Iris, talking about Hong Kong, its culture, its people, its food. I will always cherish that moment. Not with the nostalgia of thinking what it was, but with the excitement of everything that can-be in the future.
Thanks, Mo and Iris!
How to Plan a Hygge Meal
1. Find a local. If you have a way to connect with a local, this will help you find unique and authentic restaurants. Use Facebook and Linkedin to find connections to individuals. 2. Be a local. When ordering food, trust the expertiese of a local and let them order for you. I remember one day my friend Giuseppe Biaggi from ITKI came to my house for dinner. I asked him what he wanted to drink with dinner (I was serving ozole), and he had the perfect answer by replying “what SHOULD I drink? 3. Study your food. Before arriving to the restaurant, take some time to learn about the chef, the restaurant and the food they prepare. Magic happens when you connect your brain to the meal you are enjoying. Food and cuisine you understand, just tastes better.
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