With a population of more than seven million on 426 square miles of land, I have lots to see, taste and experience—it’s going to be a busy day ahead.
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental is an ideal base for exploring the heart of Hong Kong, the Central District. With map in hand and some rudimentary directional advice, I step out into the hot humid streets of Hong Kong. In just a few minutes’ stroll I’ve climbed up the steep streets to Hollywood Road and reach the PMQ, a hub for design, creative shops and studios housing everything from fashion accessories, food, furniture, jewellery and galleries. I browse and make the odd souvenir purchase—now that’s done and dusted, I can go on exploring. In this part of town, among the antique shops and trinket sellers, the charm and unique blend of east and west, traditional and modern, truly exist side by side. Further down Hollywood Road I pass Man Mo Temple, a picturesque tribute to the God of Literature and the God of War. Intrigued, I stand in the dark, candle-lit space underneath some giant hanging incense coils and feel like I have truly arrived in Asia.
To get to know a completely different face of Hong Kong, I head to Sham Shui Po. This part of town might not sound appealing to some and they wonder why I would want to go there, but this is where you’ll find the hard-working average citizens going about their business: a bakery where traditional walnut and almond cookies of all shapes and sizes are freshly baked throughout the day; an old, nearly deaf man who sharpens his hand-made knives and sells them in his tiny kitchen utensil shop; or a plethora of marine creatures, dried and packaged for medicinal and culinary purposes. To find these and other discoveries, I take a Foodie Tour. For a few hours, a local leads me from one delicacy to the next and explains their origins. We try the milky tea and pineapple bun, continue with rice rolls and a tofu dessert, followed by egg noodles and braised goose. It’s delicious, down to earth and a truly fantastic culinary as well as cultural experience. Hong Kong is indeed still a place where you can get lunch or dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant for under €10, for example at Yat Lok and Kam’s Roast Goose, both Cantonese restaurants.
I take the Star Ferry from Kowloon across the harbour back to Central. Established in 1888, it only costs HK$2.50 (€0.20) and is ideal for those who like to take it slowly, though the underground is most efficient and impeccably clean.
I decide that there’s no better way of taking in the sheer might of Hong Kong than from above. So I get the historic and rather quaint tram up to the Peak, where not only a large shopping centre awaits, but also the most iconic view over the city skyline, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon, towering skyscrapers and peaceful green hillsides.
As a foodie I mustn’t miss a chance to see one of Hong Kong’s wet markets, Chun Yeung. While it may not be for the faint-hearted, it’s an eye-opener how different we perceive the idea of freshness. For Hong Kongers, a fish is fresh when it’s still alive. You will therefore see fish that are half filleted but still alive, with the heart clearly still pumping. If fish could scream the sound in this wet market would be deafening. I also see frogs in little nets, crabs and langoustines and everything from the humble clam to the royal oyster. The place is buzzing and the vegetable section alone is a gourmand’s dream. Stalls are lined with mountains of fresh, leafy greens, plump ripe fruit and root vegetables of remarkable sizes.
To get some air, I take a trip to Macau, another special administrative region of China but only a tenth the size of Hong Kong. Going past the beautiful islands that are surrounding Hong Kong, the Turbojet ferry only takes an hour to cross. Most tourists visit Macau for its casinos. One grander than the next, it’s hard not to notice them. Or indeed the pawn shops lining their side streets. But if you’re not in the gambling mood, there is so much more to discover in the picturesque streets and market squares. Macau has been a Portuguese colony, which has played an important role in Macanese culture, architecture, mentality and of course food. Real Macanese food is best enjoyed in one of the many family-run restaurants where east meets west with bacalhau (dried cod fish), desserts with condensed milk and rice and of course the egg tart, sold in every bakery and basically every corner of the city. The most famous, and arguably best, egg tarts can be found on the island Coloane in Lord Stow’s bakery.
Back in Hong Kong it’s nearly time for dinner. After a quick dip in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s pool I head to two-Michelin-starred restaurant Amber with great anticipation. Charismatic Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus and his team do not disappoint: they wow me with their variation on a tomato and their Hokkaido sea urchin in langoustine jell-O will cauliflower, caviar and crispy seaweed waffles—a complete revelation. Ecstatic and satiated at the same time, I head to my very last extraordinary experience of the day. Winding down with an innovative cocktail on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s Ozone bar, the highest bar in the world, I marvel at the magnificent view and wonder how much will change until the next time I set eyes upon this great city. At this rate, with reclaimed land being turned into new buildings day by day, quite a lot. Which makes me look forward all the more to my next visit.