Saturday, December 10, 2016

Macau for Dummies

Sunday, November 27th

We had no plan going into Macau other than "we are going to Macau."

This is not normally something I’d advise someone to do.  Let alone something I’d do to myself.  But there we were, on a hydrofoil traveling from Hong Kong to Macau, with NO PLAN in place.

Getting to Macau took a bit longer than we had expected.  The TurboJet Hydrofoil left from Hong Kong (or Kowloon) every 15-30 minutes.  When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we started with Starbucks.  Come on.  I’m no animal.  We didn’t have much in the way of serious food in the fridge at the apartment and I have a tendency to get motion sick when on a boat outside of a river or a harbor.  Having my stomach filled with chai-fueled goodness would be helpful.  Even if the chai is not quite the chai we have at home.  Side note, Starbucks chai in Hong Kong is, well…not great.  But I drank it multiple times because, chai.

Post-Starbucks, we got in line to get hydrofoil tickets.  Here’s the first tip for Macau.  Have a sense of what time you want to return.  If you purchase the round trip ticket in advance, you’ll save some time in Macau.  And you’ll be guaranteed a seat on the boat you actually want.  This is what we didn’t do.  Because we just didn’t know.

Our boat to Macau was scheduled for 1215p or so.  It was currently 1020a.  We were a bit disappointed, cause we assumed it would be much easier to get on the boat.  The guy at the counter said we might be able to go standby if we hurried.  So we started to hustle.  And here’s where the second tip comes into play.  This whole process of leaving Hong Kong for Macau is going to take a while.  Don’t think you can catch a 1030a hydrofoil if you arrive at 1020a.  Why??  Customs and Immigration.  You’re going to fill out forms and get more stamps to put in your passport.

The 1030a boat??  Yeah, we definitely didn’t make it.  But once we were through with customs, we found the next hydrofoil to leave and we stood in the Standby line, which was an actual area duct taped on the floor to show where you needed to stand.  The folks in Hong Kong are nothing if not efficient.  The timing was pretty decent, really.  The people with actual tickets had boarded.  The jerks who wanted to get to Macau a few hours earlier than the time stamped on their ticket (otherwise known as us) were now able to board. 

Oh, hey there!!
We were given a seat number and we walked into the boat, found our seats (after kicking out a couple who said, “What do you mean this isn’t Row 30??”  Come on, people!!  Why are you constantly disappointing me??) and promptly closed our eyes for the next 60 minutes.  And by “We,” I mean me.  I thought closing my eyes and concentrating on deep breathing would be the best way to stave off the motion sickness.  Which totally worked.  Because, Science!!

One hour later, we made our way to Macau.  Remember Tip #2??  Customs and Immigration time.  You need to allot for this.  Which is why we were later getting out of the ferry terminal than we wanted. 

Arriving at the ferry terminal, we still didn’t have a plan.  But we decided we’d hop in one of the hotel shuttles to get us into the city, where we could figure out what to do for lunch.  So we hopped in the Wynn shuttle.  And almost as soon as we hopped into the shuttle, we were off. 

And almost immediately, we realized we were going much further from the center of Macau than what we wanted to do.  Because we were going to the Wynn Palace, the new hotel on the other island.  Whoops.

The Wynn Palace was gorgeous, but we did not want to be there.  We waited for a few minutes to see when the shuttle would arrive again, but we also needed to hustle.  We had plans back on Hong Kong Island at 7p.  So we had the hotel call us a cab to head out to lunch.  Oddly enough, this worked to our benefit.

Our real stop was to the O Santos Comida Portuguesa.  This small Portuguese restaurant outside of Taipa has traditional Portuguese food.  Something we had very much wanted.  We started with some chorizo.  Then we made the rookie mistake of all ordering entrees.  It was SO MUCH FOOD.  I mean, I destroyed the duck rice, but we could have grabbed two dishes and had room for more later.  Then again, we really didn’t eat dinner, but that’s another story for another day.

Duck Rice
There was also roasted pork.
We staggered out of the restaurant in a haze of carbs and meats.  Now that we had food in our bellies, we needed a purpose.  Our purpose was to get over to the other side of Macau.  For that, we had to find a cab.  The expectation was that the cab would be hard to find, but there were a handful of taxi stands in the neighborhood.  For less than HKD$100, we were dropped off in the center of Macau.  The place we wanted to be when we originally left the terminal.

The streets of the "other side" of Macau.
Our taxi went by this place much too quickly.  I'd have loved to visit.
What makes me say the whole “whoops” thing worked out to our benefit was that Macau was SO CROWDED!!  The border of Macau was only a handful of kilometers away from the border of China.  So the mainland Chinese folks come to Macau to shop and gamble.  Which means people are everywhere.  Honestly, I’m not sure we would have easily found food on this side of Macau without so much of a plan.  The crowds would have irritated us quickly and a hangry situation would have gone down pretty darn quickly.

In the main area of Macau, we walked to as many of the sights as we could get to in the few hours we had.

Two musicians were playing in the church.
Spanish architecture isn't often seen in Hong Kong or China.  But it definitely is seen in Macau. 

Kat really wanted to see a temple.  While we may have walked the long way to find one, it was actually pretty easy to find them in the city.

I can't get over the egg tarts in Macau and Hong Kong.  Come on!!  This baby was HKD$9 and was eaten in two bites.  Maybe three.

The front of the ruins.
And the back of the ruins.
The cathedral of St. Paul's was built from 1602-1640 and was destroyed by a fire in 1835.  The ruins still stand and are an important tourist area.  After eating an egg tart, it's an easy climb and even more easy to walk around.  It's only one wall, after all.

Where taxis were plentiful on the other side of Macau, it was not so great in the heart of Macau.  There were a good number of taxi stands.  But the lines were serious and the taxis were not arriving.  So we decided to walk towards the Wynn hotel.  The one we wanted this morning.  I mean, it took a while, but we eventually made it to the hotel.

Not the Wynn
The Wynn
After an epic walk that ended with a tour around a particularly grim parking structure, we arrived at the Wynn.  No one really wanted to gamble.  But we had gotten our steps in for the day, so a lavender and rose prosecco break was needed.

Getting back to the terminal wasn’t difficult.  We found the bus stop at the hotel and they dropped us off at the ferry terminal.  The first hydrofoil we could catch wasn’t until 7p.  It was like 5p.  So we tried the whole standby thing again.  This time, we made an earlier boat to Kowloon.  Sure, we waited in line for a significant time (20 minutes or so), but it wasn’t too problematic.  The boat to Kowloon was a bit larger than the one we took from Hong Kong Island and I followed this morning’s successful non-puking scenario.  Closed eyes and headphones.

We made it!!

We called our day an Adventures in Babysitting kind of day.  Several ridiculous things went down to get us to that ferry back to Kowloon.  For not having a plan for Macau, we had a spectacular run.  And really, had we had a plan in Macau, I’m not sure we could have done much more.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Eating Adventures Hong Kong - An Afternoon in Kowloon

Thursday, November 24th

We had a number of food tours to choose from in Hong Kong.  The idea of getting deep into a completely foreign city and eating our way through the local foods is always tempting.  In Hong Kong, a city known for great food, it was necessary.  I mean, we always knew there would be a food tour.  It was just deciding which one we wanted.

Eating Adventures in Hong Kong made the list early during the planning.  While we didn't have too many things planned for our trip to Hong Kong, the skeleton of the trip was starting to come together.  We knew our food tour had to take place on Thursday.  Eating Adventures fit the bill.

The tour met up in a very crowded neighborhood in Kowloon.  These tours always meet in a busy area to make it easy for the tourists to figure out where to go.  Asking people unfamiliar with the city to congregate on a side street off the beaten path can only lend to trouble.  Then again, asking us to meet up outside of a mall in Hong Kong is also tricky.  The entire city is basically one large mall. 

On our tour were the three of us and a couple from Switzerland.  The guy of the couple started off on the wrong foot with us as he arrived with a lit cigarette in hand.  He redeemed himself slightly during the tour as he was a very tall guy and tended to be in the front of the pack.  So he was very easy to see as we walked through the crowded streets of Kowloon.  He became less great every time he lit up a cigarette outside of an establishment.  Which was more often than he should have done.

Once the group arrived, we were off and running.  Our tour guide Yan was a ball of energy.  She was super cute and very excited to show off the food in her city.

Roasted Goose

Seriously.  The moment Yan said we would be eating roasted goose, Adele, Kat and I cheered.  I'm 98% sure I did a fist pump.  This was all much to the dismay of the Swiss guests.  I didn't worry.  Did I mention he was a smoker??  He can't judge us for anything.  But I digress.  We had been talking about finding a roasted duck restaurant for dinner as it was.  Now, we didn't have to seek one out.

We walked into the Locals Only restaurant and immediately the owners of the place started moving other diners in mid-bite to make room for our group of six.  It was about this time when Yan explained the intricacies of restaurants in Hong Kong.  They don't really care about making you comfortable.  You're at the restaurant for eating only.  You definitely don't linger.  You're also barely welcome.  The restaurant is there for feeding you for as cheaply as possible.  If you want decent napkins, bring them yourself.  Water may show up if you're lucky.  And even when it did, it might be hot water.  Really, dining out is all about the food.

The goose came out and we were immediately happy.  The meat of the goose was good enough.  But that's not what I remember about the dish.  Most important was the skin.  Amazingly crispy.  Wonderful flavor.  But even more amazing was the layer of the fat separating the skin from the goose meat.  It melted in my mouth and was so unexpected that I had to keep grabbing more pieces to make sure I was tasting this correctly.  Seriously.  It was almost like a drug.  I had to keep that fatty high going.  It was a good start.

Egg Custard

Walking down the side street, Yuan stopped in front of a nondescript storefront.  We tried to keep as out of the way as possible (which was not easy) as Yan explained what was next. It was custard tart time.

Egg custard tarts are a dish that I have very fond memories of from years past.  Back when I was a kid, we would occasionally drive into Chinatown from the suburbs of Chicago.  It was always a big event and one I would look forward to being a part of.  Dad would end up in a small store selling woks (or wok supplies).  We would find a place that sold almond cookies.  But before any of that, we'd go for Dim Sum.

The women pushing the carts at the Three Happiness restaurant would hawk their wares.  We'd always grab shrimp dumplings and a roasted pork dish.  There would be other steamed items that would make their way on our table.  But the most important dish was the first and the last one.  And that was an egg custard tart.  Dad and I loved the egg custard tart.

Right from the oven.
When we saw the next thing we were going to eat, I may have made a squealing noise that moved from my throat to the outside world.  The egg custard tarts were gorgeous.  And they were flying off of the shelves quicker than the woman could pull them out of the oven.  Good sign.

Yan asked us to come up one by one to have the woman put a hot custard tart in the palm of our hand.  The tarts were warm (if not hot).  The custard was not overly sweet but was firm and glorious.  I'm sure there were people talking to me while I was eating the tart.  But I heard nothing.  I was in my own world, egg custard pulsing through my brain.  In a way, Dad was there with me in that moment.

So...this was someone's dinner.
Soft Tofu

We walked a little way to the next stop.  A tofu place.  Literally, this place only sold tofu in different ways.  Soft tofu.  “Hard” tofu.  Blood pudding tofu.  Wait.  What??

"Hard" tofu.

Again, the proprietors of the tofu shop moved people from one table to another in order to fit our whole group.  Sure, a little old man decided he had no reason to move, so we had an extra person in our group on this stop.  Rock on, old man.

Blood Tofu
We were given bowls of soft tofu.  Yan asked us to try it first without any accoutrements.  It was almost like an oatmeal flavor, without the oats.  After the first bite, Yan passed around the brown sugar to sprinkle on the top.  That sugar changed the texture and added a bit of a crunch to the dish.  Still though, it was like eating oatmeal. 

These heads were still moving.  I'm not kidding.

Snake Soup

Yan mentioned at the start that we would have snake soup.  She was very cute, basically saying this was the adventurous dish.  And of course it would be!!  Who eats snake?? 

The snake soup is not eaten in Hong Kong because it’s weird.  It’s eaten for health purposes.  When the bowls were put in front of us, we all dove in.  Cause, we are not wussies.  And snake soup tastes like…well, it tastes like chicken noodle soup, really.  Or it tastes like the soup Chad makes and force feeds me on New Years Eve.  When I say “force feeds me” I mean, I’m normally way too full when I’m at her house, because pho.  Not that it’s not good.  Cause it is.  Hmmm…I feel like I’m spiraling here.  Moving on.

The snake soup was served with fried wonton chunks.  And overall, it was tasty.  We didn’t finish everything, because we’d been eating for a while, but it was a good soup.  While I wouldn’t necessarily order it from a restaurant, but I enjoyed it overall.

Dim Sum

Dim Sum roughly translates to “touch the heart.”  Yan grabbed a menu and worked with the group to decide what we should all try.  The shrimp dumplings are my favorite.  No question.  The chicken feet were the “adventurous” option.  I’ve had this before, but these chicken feet were easier to eat than the last ones I had. 

Stuffed Peppers
I did not have the stuffed peppers.  I'm getting better with spicy, but was not down for this one.
Chicken Feet

Shrimp Dumplings
My favorite.
Crispy Rice Roll thing

Honest to god, I don’t know what this was.  But it was amazing.  There was a lovely rice paper outside thing.  With a meat of some sort (I really should have been taking notes) and some kind of crispiness to it.  Amazing.  I’ll be trying to find this dish in dim sum places at home.

Wasabi Dumpling thing

The flavor of the dumpling was excellent.  I'm not sure I ever got to the innards though.  It was so hot, it melted my tastebuds right off of my tongue.

Pineapple Bun

We actually stopped the official tour at the wasabi dumpling thing.  But Kat and I wanted the pineapple bun.  Why??  Pineapples are wonderful.  So are buns.  It’s almost like getting chocolate in your peanut butter.  It's two great tastes that go great together.

Star Anise, anyone??

Fish Ball
Imitation crab ball.  Complete with fake pinchers.
I’m not gonna lie, by this time, we were rolling around in pain.  Sure, we had the extra pineapple buns, but still.  It was a serious amount of food.  And we were not done.  Yan brought us to a street food booth where she pointed out the options on a stick.  Fish balls, crab balls, uterus. 

Fish ball.
We did not try the uterus.

Red Bean Cake

I’m almost not sure how to explain this.  It’s a glutinous pancake of some kind, stuffed with red bean paste.  And when I say glutinous, I mean it.  There’s so much gluten that even people who eat gluten go, “Woah!!”  Again, we were super full by this point.  So we all tore into one cake.  A bite or two on one pancake was enough.  It also meant we could chew on these cakes for breakfast over the next few days.  Which I did.

Green Tea Smoothie with red bean paste

Our last stop was for a smoothie.  Yan said they choose this place not only because it is a nice end to the tour, but because it is a newer establishment with young owners.  The other places were older and owned by older people.  When we got to this stop, we saw the egg waffles on the menu.  Kat and I cheered.  But Yan made it very clear we weren’t getting the waffles.  It was smoothie time.  Boo!!  Not to spoil the trip, but Kat and I never were able to try the egg waffles.  

And a green tea smoothie was pretty great to end the tour.  We didn’t necessarily need a red bean paste in the smoothie, but we liked the smoothie part.

We also did not buy dragon fruit.

As quickly as she swooped in, Yuan bid us farewell.  The tour was exactly what we wanted.  We ate.  We saw.  We ate some more.  Good stuff.  Now, could there be a few extra “adventurous” options??  Sure could.  But I was super happy with what we did.