With my newfound freedom, owing to the fact that my little one is busy and distracted in school, I gamely set off one morning to rediscover the little nooks and crannies that dot the Mid-Levels escalator, my preferred destination when the exploratory bug hits me.
While walking jauntily down Stanley Street, I spied a dark, quaint-looking tea house peeping hesitantly from a hefty building overhead. To the unseeing eye, it looked like any entrance to the myriad shops, eateries and buildings that lined that section of road. But amongst the filthy, bustling Chinese fastfood places, camera shops and tired-looking lobbies, and to the trained eye of a perpetally hungry foodie searching voraciously for new, exciting gastronomical finds, the antiquated tea house stood alone, incongrous in its lighting and design.
As I stood by the entrance, taking in the high ceiling fans with their constant whir and the old Chinese ladies merrily calling out the contents of the trays hanging from their necks, it felt nowhere near 2006 Hong Kong. No trolleys here bursting with endless dimsum delights, no brightly-lit aquarium with crustaceans and fish packed like sardines, no background music, and, it seemed to me, no... English menu?! HELP! I approached the counter by the door with trepidation. How could I partake of the culinary magic this strange place had to offer? Then I spied English menus, thank goodness! For a while there I thought I would have to barge into Maya's place and threaten her with my ballpen, just so I could have someone translate for famished me.
Satisfied that I could order what I really wanted (and not have to point at inaccurate pictures and devour an array of "surprises"), I set about surveying the menu. Strangely enough, there were no prices, but how could this little place be expensive? It was clean, it was charming, but elegant it was not. It was also called Luk Yu Tea House, and in one of my magazines I remember a food critic state that the food was "authentic, unpretentious, generous and inexpensive", and there were spitoons all over (which the old-timers actually used). Was it my hunger-induced state, or were the spitoons hiding from me? Needless to say, I was semi-relieved that I could enjoy my meal sans the spitoons (and the spit).
Ravenous and expectant, I dug into my sticky rice with Chinese sausage and dried shrimps, BBQ pork bun and spare ribs in black bean sauce. Waiting for good reviews? Don't. Hereafter my tale will be spiked with bitterness and disappointment.
I have tasted much better sticky rice from a roadside vendor in Wan Chai. The one before me was a tiny, tasteless portion with a few slices of sausage and a couple of dried shrimps. The ribs, though tender, sadly came from an undernourished hog. More bones than meat. And I had to spoon the remnants of sauce as I searched for the black bean flavor. The bun, oh the poor bun, which is my favorite HK snack, was papery, dry and the filling smelled all herb-y and medicinal. Not very attractive to the taste buds. I finished what I could, bearing in mind the millions suffering from famine, all the while cursing my fate, the food critic, the bubbly, portly waiter, and the poor lonely pork bun that I was forced to take home. My only consolation was the knowledge that the whole ghastly meal would probably cost only HKD 80. I was willing to lose 80. Imagine my horror when the bill arrived, and to my utter chagrin saw that my breakfast of three minute portions of inedible mush I would'nt feed my worst enemy, cost a whopping HKD 140!!!!!! I felt cheated, stupid, angry with myself and the world in general. How could my exciting day have ended like this? :(
I hurried home, vowing never to enter that tea house again, never to believe that liar of a food critic, never to have breakfast alone... until I remembered that the tea house the magazine so magnanimously praised was called Lin Heung and located not in Stanley St, but in Wellington St. Ooops, there go my vows, because when little boy goes back to school I will most assuredly have breakfast alone at a small, charming, quaint tea house along the escalator, and I'll enter the right one this time.
Here's to more culinary adventures in the HK underbelly (to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain)!
P.S. I would love some company on these little foodtrips. If any of you are awake by 8:30am, give me a call. We can experience gastronomic highs and lows together.