It’s Mid-Autumn Festival, and it’s time for the Fire Dragon of Tai Hang to come out.
The tradition began in 1880, when a small village of fishermen and farmers in Tai Hang was hit by a typhoon and a plague. The legend has it that a soothsayer declared that only staging a fire dance of a dragon would clear the disaster of the village, so the villagers built a dragon with straws and lit it with incense for three days and three nights, and the plague was cleared.
Over a century later, the 67-metre Fire Dragon still dances through the streets of Tai Hang every year, with over 300 performers and 70,000 incense sticks.
If you are planning to see this ancient ritual this month, here are some tips for you.
1. For the best view, go to Wun Sha Street.
And get there early. The road will be packed full of people and you won’t be able to see much behind the crowds. There will be drummers keeping the mood upbeat and building up the anticipation, but still take some snacks and be prepared to wait for a long time for the dragon to come out.
2. If you want to see the dragon being prepared, go to Ormsby Street. You’ll be able to catch the incense sticks being lit and put on the body of the dragon.
3. Don’t worry too much if you haven’t managed to find a spot in Wun Sha Street. After the dragon has danced in the main road, it will start weaving in and out of smaller streets of Tai Hang. If you are hanging out in one of these streets, it’s guaranteed the dragon will pass by within your sight at least several times. There are lesser crowd so you might even be closer to the dragon than you would have in Wun Sha Street.
4. If it’s your first time in Tai Hang, check out Lab Made for liquid nitrogen ice cream. It’s Hong Kong’s first ever place to serve ice cream frozen at -196 celcius with liquid nitrogen, and watching dramatic clouds of white mist is a treat in itself. Flavours are innovative and change regularly. When I went on 27 September 2015, they had Moon cake, Apple Crumble, Mango & Pineapple Greek Yoghurt, and Hojicha latte. (6 Brown Street, Tai Hang)
Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance
Date: 26-28 September 2015
Time: 8.15 pm – 10.00 pm
Venue: Tai Hang, Causeway Bay
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
36 Aberdeen Street
Tel: +852 2858 2777
Tip:Visit on Monday-Thursday if you want a quieter dinning experience
“I’ll take you out for a true authentic Hong Kong experience!” says my fellow foodie comrade friend. We used to do food marathons back in London, where we set aside entire half a day hopping from one food place to another. Once, we stuffed ourselves so much (two dinners within 2 hours, pancakes at My Old Dutch, and ramen at Ippudo) that even turning sideways was extremely painful.
Anyways, I haven’t seen him for 9 months ever since he moved back to Hong Kong, and here we are again doing yet another food marathon on the other side of the world. I’ve actually just had a 3 course meal at Repulse Bay, but I’m sure I can find some more room in my tummy.
The first stop is turtle jelly.
Made from powdered bottom shell of a turtle and herbal products, it’s supposed to be good for skin complexion, reducing acne and improving circulation. People have it for dessert, but it tastes more herbal than sweet. You can also put sugar on top to make it sweeter, but I had it plain, accompanied with a tea egg and herbal tea.
Next stop is Dundas Street in Mong Kok. It’s a street food haven, filled with ranges of snacks and refreshments. Sticking with the theme of the ‘authentic Hong Kong experience’, we go for stinky tofu and curry fish balls.
Stinky tofu is fermented tofu with a very strong sour smell, but it actually tastes just like regular tofu. Curry fish balls often feature in must-try-stree-foods-in-Hong-Kong blog posts, and sure enough, they did not disappoint. The perfect combination of spicy sauce on salty fish balls is so good that I found myself craving it everyday afterwards.
For our next course we take MTR to Causeway Bay for a Michelin starred meal of wonton noodle soup at Ho Hung Kee. We had to wait for 20 minutes to get a seat in this beautifully decorated restaurant, but the meal itself was quite average.
Being too full for dessert (we were planning durian pudding), we decide to go for a walk to a place where, according to my local friend, ‘everyone hangs out in Causeway Bay’ – IKEA.
The showrooms are no different from the ones in the UK, with sections of rooms decorated like real households, except the people. FULL of people so obviously using the showrooms as a free-of-charge cafe. Young student couples chatting on a sofa here, an old man engrossed in reading a Chinese newspaper over there. Some are even taking a nap.
“Welcome to Hong Kong!” says my friend with a cheeky grin.
I am completly razzle-dazzled when my friend takes me around Hong Kong for the first time. It’s not the endless streams of people and cars everywhere that overwhelms me, but the abaundance of so many kinds of food and beauty products – two of my favourite things that UK fefinitely lacks. As we walk along the streets, I am constantly gasping and excitedly shouting out, ‘Oh, look at that! Ooh! That looks delicious!’. Even McDonald’s seems so exciting, with their menu of matcha ice cream, pineapple parfait and banana pies.
The Asianness of the place instantly makes me feel I belong, which is strange because England has been my home for the last 17 years of my life. I was only 12 when I left Korea and I hardly know what it’s like to live in my mother country.
The ‘kawaii culture’ is deep. Even posh jewellery shops have cute cartoon characteres on their posters. For the first time in my adulthood, everyone around me is pretty much my height. Asian food is no longer restricted to bland dishes that are toned down to suit the Westerners’ palette, but chillies and peppers here mean business.
After a very satisfying dinner at a food court at the top of a shopping mall, we walk along the Nathan road and make our way to the Star Ferry piers. This passenger ferry service runs beween Kowloon and Hong Kong Islands, and has been rated first in the “Top 10 Most Exciting Ferry Rides” by the Society of Amercian Travel Writers. And it only cost 30 pence.
The pier is bustling just like any other parts of Hong Kong, but something about it feels different. There is a sense of an unexpected sense of community and momentary stillness to the constantly moving people. Buskers have gathered a crowd, tourists are taking photos of each other and people are no longer hastily walking from one place to another. The lowly lit sepia light softly holds everyone on the pier together, providing an urban sanctuary from Hong Kong’s neon jungle.
And beyond the waters is the technicolour dream of sky scrapers, illuminating Hong Kong above and below with its full bloom of colours.
More often than not it feels like a reckless decision, but it's too late now. Not that I regret it.I booked a 3 month return ticket to Hong Kong - having wanted to work there for a few years, now seemed to be the perfect timing to make the move. I had just finished an MA in Broadcast Journalism and had no commitments in London. So I took off, without any guarantees that I'd find any opportunities there.Hong Kong to me is THE exotic place of Asia, my vague impression of it mostly coming from the works of my favourite filmmaker Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood For Love (2000); Chungking Express (1994)). Street noodle stalls, narrow alleyways, people passing each other in slow motions and vivid colours of red, green and blue... and of course to the soundtrack of Quizas Quizas Quizas by Nat King Cole. I know Hong Kong in the 21st century is nothing like that, but still the romance lingers at least in my imagination.I packed ALL my summer dresses and skirts that I didn't get to wear in the almost non-existent 'summer' of London... and ended up taking out 7kgs from my luggage at the airport which resulted in a hurried, unceremonious goodbyes with my family.After 19 hours of travelling including a 7 hour transit in Dubai, here I am, finally, in Xianggang, the 'fragrant harbour'. The three months of unknown filling me up with both dread and excitement.