What I’ll tell you now, is that you can almost always find the best food in the street side carts, counters, cafes, and small time kitchens. I definitely had some amazing street food throughout my time in China.
What I discovered, is that the best places to get street food are the hardest to order. Let me remind you that I speak passable Mandarin, and that speaking passable Mandarin means jack-squat in Hong Kong. La Lingua Franca is Cantonese, or you can try pointing, especially where the best of the food is. Anyway, I knew a little bit northwest of Victoria Peak I could find some good claypot rice. A student at HKBU had recommended I check out Kwan Kee over here, and I was determined. The problem was that I went pretty late, and everybody apparently gets out of work and goes to line up (or queue) for Kwan Kee claypot rice. Honestly, I don’t blame them.
I tried terribly hard to order, and it seemed like I was right on the brink of just having them make me whatever they wanted, when a really kind older woman stepped in and offered to help me. She spoke very good English with a south British accent, and she helped translate my order, and even made some recommendations for me. With her help, I ordered my claypot rice with scallions, onion, preserved sausage, and peppers. She invites me to sit with her, and I can’t help but accept, since I would have missed out on one of my best meals if it weren’t for her. We sit down, and talk and she asks how her English is and I tell her it’s probably better than mine. I think most Americans think that of English with an English accent.
It takes a long while, but we get our pots. She tells me the real secret is to add soy and then put the lid back on the pot. The steam and soy interplay and a deeper flavor is released. This is an old dish, and it’s brilliant, to say the least. I can’t even emphasize how wonderful the dish is, and you can’t point to the rice or the sausage or any constituent part and say this is what did it. It’s a total experience, it’s the anticipation, and it’s the way the flavors cook into each other in the old clay into something more.
Lao Ai, my foody savior, tells me all about her family and what it has been like to watch Hong Kong change over the years.
“It is always growing up, upward, into the sky. When there is nowhere else to go, it will still go more upward.”
She was great company and it was great talking to her, but I was dead tired from the day, and due to head back for a good night’s rest. With my stomach full and my body tired, I made my way back to central, to the hotel, to my sweet, sweet bed.