A parade of ducks, half a dozen plucked and ready for roasting, hung from the kitchen ceiling. Beside the ducks hung pigs, butchered and prepared for the high heat of an oven’s glowing charcoal.
The roasting of ducks and pigs was the highlight of my Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour, a four-hour walking meal in the culinary capital of Asia that continues to grow as a port for starting and/or ending cruises.
If you have only one or two days before or after a Hong Kong cruise, book a food tour in the Central City. These treks offer not only a great variety of local tastes, but also a peek at life in the city’s oldest district.
For North Americans who are new to traveling in and around China, Hong Kong provides an easy transition, with its western influences and language awareness, big city atmosphere with shops open late, and clean and manageable subway system and ferries. There’s also a new, convenient ship passenger terminal designed to greet vacationers from the Americas, as well as those from China, India and other Asian countries where residents are discovering the expanding fleet of big new cruise ships.
Hong Kong presents a fascinating blend of cultures, especially in its 12,000 restaurants that are the dining rooms for locals who eat most of their meals outside their small homes.
With a day free after a round-trip cruise from Hong Kong on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, I set out to eat, starting with a ferry ride from Kowloon to the Central City.
Owners of the food tour I booked (www.HongKongFoodieTours.com) asked all 10 participants, mostly Americans, not to use social media to reveal the specific names of the restaurants we visited, explaining that some people might go directly to the restaurants instead of booking a guided tour. But in doing so they sold themselves short.
My experience is that the tour is well worth the price, about $100 U.S., not only because of the food, but also the commentary about preparations and back stories of each eatery.
We began our foodie morning with wonton noodle soup in a shop that makes and sells 600 bowls each day. In the kitchen, the cook was ladling a well-flavored soup from a massive, bubbling pot. Beside the pot was a collection of spices, including dried tangerine peel.
Next was a small, bustling restaurant serving roast meats Cantonese style. My group later judged this as our favorite food among our six stops. We snaked past tiny tables into the back room where the owner was roasting pork and duck to a rich brown in an oven as tall as he was. Charcoal glowed in a pan at the bottom of the oven.
These days it is rare for a small Hong Kong restaurant in this part of town to have its own roasting kitchen, as businesses are consolidating and sharing kitchens to save space.
Next to the roaster hung the butchered pigs and parade of ducks ready for cooking. We were served sliced pig, tender and a bit fatty, with barbecue sauce, on a bed of rice, and choices of hot sauces to increase the heat.
As a chaser, at a shop nearby, we sipped sugar cane juice or, my choice, Chinese herbal tea, as passersby arrived for a quick pick-me-up.
We walked for several blocks to a shop that sold preserved fruits, where each of us tasted half a dozen hard or chewy candies with a variety of subtle tastes, such as ginger and pomegranate. (I bought an extra candy box to bring home to my wife.)
Next stop: Chinese dim sum, including shrimp and pork dumplings, deep-fried spring rolls and crispy barbecue pork buns, all of which were consumed with satisfaction.
After our last stop, about 1 p.m., at a bakery that produced succulent egg tarts, we debated when we would be able to eat another meal. One couple insisted that tomorrow would be soon enough.
But this was my last day in Asia post-cruise, and I had an evening appointment with a Peking duck.
My farewell dinner was scheduled at Peking Garden, a restaurant on the fifth floor of Moko, a mall of many floors, in a city of many malls. My 15-minute walk from the Cordis hotel, in the Mongkok area of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, would have been daunting — many paths, turns, escalators, steps, lefts and rights — without the expert directions from the hotel concierge.
I had asked the concierge to make a reservation at the best Peking duck dinner restaurant nearby, the one where locals would go. That’s what I got. The restaurant was packed, and the duck carver kept busy with his knife. To get all the accoutrements, I ordered a whole duck meal, enough food for two and normally shared among four people with some additional items.
Peking Garden’s Peking duck was a delightful culinary end to a trip to Asia, complete with thin pancakes, sauce to spread and vegetables to join the tender, moist duck, as well as soup and fried rice as sides. This final Hong Kong meal was not outrageously expensive, even for one person, at a total of about $44. It was worth every bite.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com.