Today I bought Ruth Reichl's book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, and I'm about 60 pages into it. Really cool so far, about her taking the job as food critic of the NY Times and what goes along with being a food critic of that magnitude: not blowing your cover, disguising oneself, being objective, etc. Also reading Molecular Gastronomy, an informative but terribly bland and straightforward book of interest. Casual reading (the kind I can do anywhere for 30 seconds between trains or for 30 minutes on a train) has been keeping me occupied in down time, as our study material for the meetings is hard for me to do stop-and-go between trains or with babies screaming in the background.
Food has been exciting here, but I obviously don't have any idea of what's a great restaurant and what's not worth a half-hour train ride to. Obviously, restaurants like Amber (Two-star Michelin at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental HK) would be phenomenal (and cost a small fortune), and there are more and more high-end western-style (and owned) restaurants in the high rent districts. But I suppose for the most part, when it comes to noodle shops and HK BBQ, there's only so much one can do, and what I've had so far has been very good. Soups and noodles and rice and all sorts of animals (tripe even made an appearance in a noodle soup last night). I've been finding negligibly legitimate reasons to enter local businesses and upon departing will ask about food recommendations.
So today I ate at this place recommended to me by a lady at a teahouse that was supposed to be a really good true HK noodle place, their answer to a greasy spoon diner, I suppose. It was busy and tables were turning. I sat down and was immediately given a menu with about four options on it: a vegetable dumpling soup, a noodle soup, and a few dry noodle bowl type things, accompanied by a list of about 25 different items to add to the soup, from sliced pork to fish ball to cow stomach to slices of fat. I ordered the vegetable dumpling soup medium hot. The smell and color, accompanied by the reddish oil slick of chili paste on top when I got it was exciting, but it was so hot I couldn't finish it. Dumplings were great. Veggies were great. It was all good.
I've had some extremely hot food before, and love it, but this was a different kind of hot. It wasn't even a flavor-ish delicious hot as much as a caustic sinus-frying experience. I did my best, but couldn't finish it. It was more than my ravenously empty stomach (and my table void of quenching liquids) could take. I did a respectable job with it.
Needless to say, I'm terribly excited to try so much food here. We did 飲茶 (Cantonese: yam cha- literally "to drink tea"/Mandarin 暍茶) dim sum last week, which is more a ritual or experience rather than a meal. It was fabulous, and I love the reckless abandon with which people approach food, and from a Westerner's point of view, oftentimes at the expense of table manners, but it's wonderful.
If something here ever had a bone in it, it's almost assuredly still in it when you eat it. Pork, duck, chicken and (disappointingly) fish. People gnaw and chew on bones and dispose of them creatively, talk with their mouths full, grab for food, eat fast and messily. Food in Hong Kong is wonderful, and I hope to share regular food stories and pictures.