Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On the other side of the Pacific

When I get asked, “Where are you from?” it always makes my heart clench. I want to give a simple answer and move the rest of the conversation along, but it’s not that easy. Born in Hong Kong, my parents and I immigrated to Toronto when I was still wearing diapers, then we moved back to Hong Kong for a brief time, packed up and moved to Canada again, and just as I finished grade three, we moved across the Pacific Ocean, this time to Shanghai and stayed for a solid nine years before I moved to Montréal for school and left to Toronto for work. Phew. I'm only 24 now, who knows where else I will call home.

Having lived on both sides of the world, I’ve only lived in my birthplace less than two years. Most of my memories remain from my short visits. I was there briefly last week and couldn't help but have mixed feelings as I always do. It’s beautiful in some ways, like the 25°C weather when I stepped off the plane and drove by an island surrounded by shockingly turquoise water, tall swaying palm trees, and a long stretch of beach, like something out of a travel magazine (but sadly, it was foggy, gloomy, icky-sticky-humid the remainder of my trip, I so desperately wanted to take night shots).

The food is also to die for. At my cousin’s wedding, the dinner had twelve courses with tongue twisting names like stir-fried sliced pigeon with sweet walnut in X.O. chilli sauce or braised scallop with seasonal vegetables in abalone sauce. When the deep-fried chicken rolled along, I fell asleep with my arms splayed out on the table, don't judge me, it was the jet lag.

Then there’s my childhood favorite which ranked top of the list of Must Eat Savagely in Hong Kong: 雞蛋 or what I like to call Waffle Babies. I suspect they are made from something close to a waffle batter, but cooked in round waffle irons to produce golden nuggets that are crispy and crackly on the outside with chewy, eggy and dense insides. They remind me of my grandpa presssing a 10 dollar coin in the middle of my palm and rushing me off to buy a bag from the corner store, and how I cradled the paper bag in both hands, savoring each nubby round on my walk from the subway to the doorstep home. They’re kind of a big deal.

There was also 撈麵 or lo mein, I ordered shrimp egg wonton lo mein and had a revelation. This plate has raised the bar, I will never see egg noodles the same way and demand all egg noodles to taste this good: fresh, springy, and silky smooth exactly how noodles should be. The shrimp eggs gave the dish a bit of crunch and an extra hit of saltiness. And don’t get me started on the wontons (hiding under that beautiful plop of noodles). Toronto has nothing on these shrimp dumplings; these were smaller, not greedily stuffed with shrimp and the wrapping was slippery on the tongue. I could eat five plates and call it a day. My cousin had a beef lo mein, I didn't taste it because I was too engrossed on my order, but they sure looked good.

Food aside, Hong Kong haunts me. This is where those mixed feelings come in, I always feel like a foreigner which is ironic since I was born there. Even though I speak the language, my gwei lo (foreigner) accent seems to deceive me. Besides, food poisoning isn’t the ideal way to spend your vacation, especially when you’re travelling in a city where food is a huge part of the culture. I prefer not to spend my time off popping fourteen multicolored pills everyday to tame the violent diarrhea that follows me everywhere. But you know, shit happens.

Still, stomach bugs aside, Hong Kong is a marvel. There’s always something to look at, something to do, something to eat, and places to go. If you’re planning a trip there sometime soon, my advice--which holds true wherever you travel--is to go there hungry and be open try everything, you'll be amazed by what you take home with you.

*I just noticed Blogger added a new function where if you click any of these photos, it automatically enlarges and you can view all photos together in a slideshow--sweeet!

Recipe here!

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