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Luncheoning at tradtional Hong Kong Coffee House: Capital Cafe in Wanchai

I’ve been at home most of the time during the weekdays researching, writing and applying for jobs in Hong Kong, and I’ve just had enough of staying put.

So I decide to go to Wan Chai and do my own food marathon without my usual local friend. Stop-number-one would be a light lunch in a budget restaurant followed by some street food and Taiwanese dessert.

My series of food marathons, as gluttonous as I may come across, has its well-found reasons.

In the space of three weeks of being in Hong Kong, I have already developed a certain routine. During the weekdays I only have two meals a day to stay within my food budget of 3.00 GBP per meal. I cook my dinner once or twice a week in large portions, which I heat and reheat for my brunches in the next following few days. Saves time and saves money. Having the same menu three days in a row isn’t too bad once I ‘turn-off’ my appetite and dutifully finish off what I need to finish off.

But during the weekends it’s a different story. Going skint during the weekdays allows me to go on a foodie-spree without feeling guilty too much. It’s still within my low budget but finding cheap and cheerful food here isn’t that difficult.

Coming out to Wan Chai on this Sunday afternoon feels like a treat, although it’s only a 15 minute bus ride from home. Just like my boring, monotonous weekdays I also stayed at home on Saturday, trying to meet translation deadline as well as recovering from a hangover and 6 hours of clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong on Friday. So today I am so so ready to go crazy on food.

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Capital Cafe has been voted as the Best Restaurant in Wan Chai (2011-15) and the Best Hong Kong Style Tea Restaurant (2014-15), and it doesn’t take that long to find it. It serves traditional Hong Kongese comfort food, and having been to a similar one in my previous food marathon, the menus weren’t so strange anymore (Spaghetti in Chinese broth for example).

With run-down decor and photos of de-appetizing food, it reminds me of those cheap cafes in Britain that attracts big burly men (soggy toasts and massive portions of English breakfast with baked beans brimming over the plate..), but these retro-cafes in Hong Kong actually draws in a lot more diverse range of customers – from tourists, families, old men in scrawny work outfits to young ladies in their silk blouse and leather wallets.

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I walk in and say yigeren (one person), and the waiter ushers me to the empty seat at a table of four. Three Asian tourists are already having their meal at this table, and I feel a little awkward as if I am intruding. But my local friend had already forewarned me that this would happen a lot in Hong Kong.

As soon as I am seated, the waiter stands next to me with his paper pad and pen in hand, ready to take my order. I guess the locals often come in already knowing what they will be having. Cafes like this have very similar menus and drinks: toasts with over 15 different kinds of toping, scrambled eggs, buns, teas and coffees, and that spaghetti-broth thing.

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I quickly scan the tables around me to see if there is any one particular food that is popular here, but there doesn’t seem to be any predominant preference. So as always I go for what I’ve never had before: traditional Hong Kong milk tea and toast with condensed milk and peanut butter.

“Just one?” the waiter asks. Thinking perhaps it’s not enough, I order pork bun as well. I think I read it in a review of the place as one of the recommendations.

I am slightly ashamed I haven’t yet tried Hong Kong milk tea as it seems to be the beverage of Hong Kong. It’s only black tea with condensed or evaporated milk, not impossible to replicate the recipe anywhere else in the world, but it just feels more authentic to have in a traditional cafe like this. The tea arrives in a cheap white plastic cup, and it does not disappoint. Its subtle sweetness and rich and creamy texture against bitter black tea is so satisfying to the point it is comforting.

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Peanut butter and condensed milk toast is just as you’d expect it to be – tasting of peanut butter and condensed milk on toast. Only that the toast is double the thickness of the toast compared to the ones in the UK.

Pork is really well fried, and it even has some fresh lettuce in the bun. ‘Greasy and Satisfying’ isn’t usually a word combination I would use, but very fitting in this instance.

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Portions are very generous, which messes up my plan to visit milk restaurant and dessert cafe afterwards, but I am full and I am happy. All for the cost of mere £4.80.

By the time I am finished, the three tourists have already left the table and a middle aged man takes a seat in front of me. But I no longer feel so award being seated together with a stranger.

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I take a piece of paper on my table, with cryptic looking  ’48’ scribbled on top. Three weeks in Hong Kong and I now know it’s my bill. I take it to the counter and expertly take out two blue 20 dollar notes and one red 10 dollar note without any faffing about. I know all my notes and coins by now. I say ‘M Goi (thank you)’ and walk out the restaurant, feeling childishly proud of myself at this ‘achievement’ of localisation.

Sunday, 20th September 2015

Capitol Cafe, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Retaurant review: MOYO

The exterior of Moyo doesn’t give much away. Black. Simple. Chic. Who would have thought it was a Korean restaurant? If you’ve managed to find this little gem in on Aberdeen Street in Central, then you’re in for a treat.

This Korean-Italian fusion place is not only unique with its innovative menus, but some its drink selections are only available here in Hong Kong.

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The menu has a mix of traditional and fusion dishes. Bulgogi (beef marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, onions, ginger) and Sundubu (spicy tofu stew) for example, are what you would expect in a traditional Korean restaurants. Beef was juicy and chewy, and tofu stew full of spice to satisfy any Korean palette.

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The menu offers three different types of pancakes, and we tried Kimchi pancakes which was hearty and well fried, with fiery chilly pieces inside.

Kimchi comes in four different kinds including regular cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, and white kimchi.

The most interesting dish was carbonara tteokbokki, which is Korean rice cake topped with the Italian classic sauce. It’s an interesting combination, but perhaps a little too rich to have it by itself.

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Other fusion dishes on the menu include Kimchi Bruschetta, Makgeolli Drunken Clams, and Pesto Rice Cakes.

The drinks are as interesting as the food menu. Along with standard soju and makgeoli, Moyo also stocks soju at 17% 25% 40% 41%. Ilpoon Jinro, for example, is a premium soju distilled in oak barrels for 10 years. It’s a whiskey-like drink with some caramel notes, taken either neat or with soda.

We tried yuzu soju which we absolutely loved. Sweet and refreshing, it was totally a girl’s drink.

All Moyo’s cocktails are soju based, but if soju isn’t your think, they also have Korean pale ale, 7bräu craft beer, and a selection of rice drinks. It will also soon stock grapefruit soju as well, and will become the only place in Hong Kong where you can have a taste of it.

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Moyo is nothing like regular Korean places you find in Tsim Sha Tsui. You would never, ever hear a single tune of K-pop playing here for example. Targeted towards expats and bankers frequenting Soho, it’s a stylish and vibrant place definitely worth a visit.

MOYO

36 Aberdeen Street
Central
Hong Kong

Tel: +852 2858 2777

Dinner only
Tip:Visit on Monday-Thursday if you want a quieter dinning experience

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The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: A Romance Review

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As we, the audience, enter the small room set with tiers of elevated rows of chairs, we walk into the scene of maidservants in 1600s Korea, busy preparing for the wedding of their beloved mistress and her mother dressing her.

As the bride-to-be picks up a fairytale book to read to her illiterate maids as they get on with their sewing, we also get sucked into this delightful art of storytelling using Korean traditional music, percussion and shadows on the wall. The love story of the book and the personal history of each women in the room are interwoven delicately and seamlessly, and the brilliance of the cast switching from one character to the next is a joy to watch.

Apart from having to move your eyes constantly from the subtitle on the left wall to the stage area in order to understand the narrative, it is a beautiful piece of theatre that I would gladly watch over and over again.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Airnadette Review

airnadetteAll I have been told about the show by the press officer is that it is a mime – naturally, I was expecting actors in black costume doing….er… mime.

It is actually a compact version of a jukebox musical, with performers lip synching to snippets from well known films and pop songs the entire show. The result is a  slapstick comedy with a very loose plot of no significance.

Right from the beginning I was struggling to see the appeal of the show, with six all-equally-annoying characters with their stupid, brash not-that-funny jokes. Just as you start to enjoy the song they are singing, they will switch to another. Or play series of quotes from different films so fast that all I am thinking is ‘huh??’

It may work well as a clever skit, but a whole hour of this have been a pure torture.

BBC ONE: The White Queen Review

Rarely am I satisfied with a dramatisation of a novel. I have yards of checklists constantly comparing it to the original book – does it match the literary style of the author? Does it create the same mood and atmosphere? How historically accurate is the depiction?

What impressed me the most was how well the characters were brought to life. It was as if they had chewed and chewed on the descriptions on the novels’ pages, digested it, and the words had become their very blood and flesh. Jacquetta’s ever brimming eyes full of her shrewdness, and how Warwick calls out ‘Edward!’ in the very first episode, as if a parent is trying to gently persuade a child, but with slight underlying intimidation. So simple, but encapsulating perfectly the Kingmaker’s initial overriding influence over the King Edward IV. It was marvelously done.

The drama combines the three books from Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins Wars series: The White Queen, Kingmaker’s Daughter, and The Red Queen. This has its limitations – whereas the portrayal of each characters on their own merit were fantastic, how these key women (Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Margaret Beaufort) were emotionally interconnected were only fleetingly shown. The intensity of the terror Anne felt for Elizabeth, or the icy coldness Elizabeth shows to the Warwick sisters is definitely there, but is not tangible enough to be the central driving force of the story.

If you are planning to watch The White Queen to learn more about the Wars of the Roses, you would be slightly disappointed. It doesn’t really bother explaining family lines and why Yorks and Lancasters are both claiming the throne. I haven’t read The Red Queen yet, and even on Episode 6 I am utterly clueless why Margaret Beaufort believes her son would be the the King of England or who the hell is Jasper Tudor.

To make up for this, you can also watch The Real White Queen and Her Rivals, a documentary series narrated by Philippa Gregory herself, that digs deeper into the relationship and history of the three women at the War of the Roses.

Despite a few limitations, I am still thoroughly enjoying BBC’s The White Queen and am gutted to see that it only goes up to 10 episodes.  I give it five stars, without hesitation.

The White Queen

* And here is a show for the ultimate history geeks who are going through The White Queen obsession like I am:

The Time Team Series 18, Episode 7. It’s about Groby Old Hall in Leicestershire which was once home to Elizabeth Woodville.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/time-team/4od#3182876

Was there a romance between Richard III and Elizabeth of York?

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In Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins’ War series, Elizabeth of York falls in love with King Richard III while she is serving as a lady in waiting for Queen Anne Neville. So what? – You may ask. Did I mention that Richard III is her uncle who had declared his brother’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid and made all their children (including Elizabeth of York) bastards? Did I mention that Elizabeth of York’s brothers (the heir to the throne) had gone mysteriously missing while under the guardianship of him?

It seemed extraordinary that out of all men, Elizabeth would fall for someone who had ousted her family out of their rightful place. And I was dying to know if Richard did flaunted their courtship in order to weaken her family’s alliance with the House of Lancaster who were continuous threat to his throne.

So how much of this is a creation of a novellist, and how much of it is a fact?

The speculation of their incestuous relationship actually dates back a long way – to their very own time.

After Richard’s wife Anne Neville’s death in March 1485, rumours spread that the King intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth. Although a marriage between uncle and niece was not strictly forbidden by the church, it had caused much revulsion among the councilors, and Richard’s most trusted men Ratcliffe and Catesbury warned him that such decision would lose support of Northerners as it would seem Richard had caused the death of his wife in order to marry Elizabeth. Twelve doctors of divinity were also summoned by Parliament to put forward their objections and Richard then publicly denied the accusation.

There is also an account by Sir George Buck, an antiquarian and Master of the Revels to King James I of England, claiming that he has seen a letter from Elizabeth to the 1st Duke of Norfolk asking him:

“to be a mediator for her in the cause of [the marriage] to the king who was her only joy and the maker in the world, and that she was his hart, in thought, and in all, and then she intimated that the better half of Feb was past, and that she feared the queen would never [die].”

Unfortunately the original letter failed to survive and his account cannot be validated.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Richard opened negotiations for himself to be marry Joanna, the sister of the King of Portugla, and Elizabeth to marry Joanna’s cousin, Duke of Beja. The negotiations came to a sudden halt with the news of the Battle of Bosworth.

From my research trudging through resources online, it seems that factual evidences to prove or disprove the speculation is too scarce to draw any assertive conclusion on Richard’s feeling for his niece. The air of unease and suspicion surrounding the supposed romance seems obvious, but again the evidence is only circumstantial. The supposed letter written by Elizabeth may or may not have existed, and Richard’s marriage negotiations with Portugal does not necessarily deny the feelings they may have shared together.

For those of you who would like to read deeper on evidences surrounding this supposed romance, try:

“Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty”  by Anne Crawford or “Elizabeth of York; The Forgotten Tudor Queen” by Amy Licence.

 

 

The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory: Book Review

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This is the fourth book of The Cousins War series, which tells a story of Anne Neville.

As the daughter of  the most powerful magnate, the Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’, she has no choice but to be at the heart of  the political game in 15th century England. As a young girl, she witnesses her father slowly lose his grip of influence over the King Edward IV, making the Queen Elizabeth Woodville a sworn enemy of her family. In Warwick’s constant struggle for power and ambition, she finds herself marrying the son of  ‘the Bad Queen’, Margaret of Anjou, is imprisoned by her sister Isabel, falls in love with the brother of the King, and finally rises to the position of Queen of England.

It is basically the same story in The White Queen, told from a completely different perspective. Already knowing how the story unfolds meant I felt like trudging through the book without any suspense or climax, but that aside, I much enjoyed how events and characters took a different shade of tone.

First of all, the beautiful and charismatic Elizabeth Woodville becomes the epitome of evil seductress, who is regarded as the cause of all misfortunes. It is she who corroded Edward’s favour on Warwick, it is she who divides the three York brothers, it is she who whistles up a storm resulting in the death of Anne’s sister Isabel’s baby. She is greedy, she is a minx, she is a witch.

In The White Queen, when seen through the eyes of Elizabeth, George the Duke of Clarence is portrayed as a shallow drunkard who chooses to be drowned in wine as a punishment for his treason. Elizabeth is aghast at this sick joke.

In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, we see a much darker picture. Fear never leaves Anne and Isabel as they believe the Queen has cursed them in revenge of her father and brother’s execution ordered by Warwick, and George gathers evidence that it is the Queen who has poisoned his wife, Isabel.  With so much hatred, enmity, as well as terror built up against this witch Queen, George makes his last gesture by choosing to die in the Queen’s favourite drink, malmsey wine: it is her doing that killed Isabel and poisoned justice.

 

There isn’t much to be said on the character of Anne Neville. She is voiceless and always ever so obedient, keeping her quiet struggles to herself. Yes, I understand that as a woman of that time, she had no other choice but to be obedient. But I found her lack of response and her tendency to be defiant frustrating and bland. If her journey and growth as a character was well developed, I would have appreciated the moment *spoiler alert* when she finally takes her future into her own hands and persuades her husband Richard to take the throne for himself. But I didn’t. It just felt like it was out of her character. Had her relationship with her father been explored deeper, allowing the reader to see the affection between them, Anne  finally fulfilling the lifelong ambition of her father by becoming the Queen would have been touching, but it wasn’t.

On so many levels, I felt the book could have been more emotionally engaging had it been so and so. But it didn’t. An okay book, but not so memorable.

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory: Book Review

The White Queen

Having read a couple of Philippa Gregory books already (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Queen’s Fool and the first few chapters of The Other Queen), I was quite done with her style. I find her continuous use of first-person narrative irritating, and her characters one-dimensional.

From the way she portrays them, you would be able to come up with two or three adjectives to describe each characters and that would be about it. It is as if Philippa Gregory picks out a couple of simple words to base their characters on: Beautiful, Evil, Courageous, Wise, or Cowardice. They don’t divert from these simple boxed categories, and for that, I get bored of her novels.

Despite my aversion to Gregory books, I hastily picked up The White Queen when I saw BBC’s trailer on the dramatised version. You see, I am such a sucker for period dramas and I have this rule not watching a dramatised version before reading the original book. So half of me dreading having to trudge through another Philippa’s book, and the half of me anticipating the TV series, I read on.

The book is set in the Wars of the Roses and is told through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian widow  who becomes the Queen of England by marrying Edward IV of York. Her family’s sudden rise to power creates much rift in the court, giving way to plots and betrayals of those who were once loyal. Elizabeth has to fight for her childrens’ inheritance, as Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort,  Duke of Clarence (brother of King Edward IV) and Earl of Warwick (who had put King Edward IV on the throne) all risk everything in order to claim the crown.

So how was the book?

All the elements that annoy me about Philippa Gregory books are still there, but I was hooked to the story. Without giving too much detail  for those who haven’t read it yet, the fall and rise of characters as they turn coats as often as one would change their iphone cases makes it an exciting read. The pace driving through this tumultuous time is quite snappy and fast, with the political climate flipping from one chapter to the next. As the strength of the book lies in its storyline, perhaps much of the credit should go to the history itself.  If I had been already familiar with the Wars of Roses, I’m not sure if I would have been glued to the book as much as I had been.

If you want to know more about the Wars of Roses without having to endure the boredom of a history book, I think Gregory’s Cousins’  War series is a good way to get going.  Each book is told through the key figures during the war, and I’m guessing they would provide different perspectives to the same event. I’m currently reading The Kingmaker’s Daughters to see how it compares with The White Queen. 

The chronological order that these books should be read in is:

1) The Lady of the Rivers (Story of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville)
2) The White Queen (Story of Elizabeth Woodville)
3) The Red Queen (Story of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII)
4) The Kingmaker’s Daughters (Story of Anne Neville, the daughter of Earl of Warwick and married to King Richard III)
5) The White Princess (Story of Elizabeth of York and married to King Henry VII)

If you’ve read all five, which one of them do you think is the best?

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