Hong Kong: Museum of History and Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours

We did a lot better with our wake up time.  This is mostly by virtue of us setting an alarm and actually opening the blinds when the alarm went off. Nick’s sleep had been a little rough the night just gone and he wasn’t feeling 100% sociable first thing – to be fair, he was also feeling a little congested.  However, this faded as soon as we got some breakfast into him.

Over our (much more restrained) breakfast, Nick read an interesting news story about Taiwan airport which we had just come from a couple of days ago.  By literally one day, we had managed to miss the disaster flooding which hit the airport and delayed over 200 flights. I felt so lucky that we left when we did, only seeing one major thunderstorm. The morning of our departure from Taiwan it wasn’t even raining!!  Reportedly, across the Taiwan strait many major rivers reached their highest water levels since 1998. From the sounds of things, we had managed to dodge a honeymoon ruining bullet!! LUCK!

Relieved, fed and ready to explore we decided to visit the Hong Kong Museum of History. A short MRT ride away, we located the museum but almost went into the nearby Science Museum by mistake.  It was lucky we realised in time – we would have to pay to enter the science museum while the Museum of History was free!

For a free adventure, the museum was remarkably good.  The first exhibits on the ground floor were concerned with natural history and there was a fun and informative theatrette which hosted a presentation on the formation of the earth (focusing on specific locations in Hong Kong itself to illustrate several interesting geological formations).  They ran this presentation in intervals in several languages and it was accompanied by a, slightly cheesy but fun, sound and light show.  For example, when the presentation was explaining how lava rose to the earth’s surface, the lights in the floor glowed first orange then red as the lava ‘rose’.  When the presentation was explaining the effects massive weather forces had on the earth’s surface, there were flashing strobe lights to simulate lightning strikes.

Overall, I really enjoyed this section – I have always had a bit of a fascination with rock formation and fossils. There were a lot of tactile displays where you could touch the different rock surfaces.  I am a big kid sometimes in this way. The adult in me though was glad for the many antiseptic handwashes located in the museum.  I didn’t like the idea of every other pair of hands in Hong Kong also touching the rocks I was touching ha ha.

The next section dealt with archaeology and specific archaeological findings pertaining to Hong Kong. There were specimens (and some replicas) of actual site finds which was quite cool.

We then moved onto the ethnography section where we read about the different people and cultures of Hong Kong.  I really liked this section and found it entertaining and informative.

There was a particularly amusing exhibit showing three mountain of lucky buns, 10 meters high!! This was to illustrate the Cheung Chau Bun Festival which is held annually.  As it has the most public exposure, it is by far the most famous of such festivals. In previous years, the lucky bun mountains were constructed and then festival goers were encouraged to climb (swarm) the three towers and grab a lucky bun and eat it.

This festival activity had to be halted when one year, one of the towers collapsed and several people were hurt.  These days when the festivals are held, participants climb professionally constructed towers and grab plastic buns (which presumably they can trade in for real lucky buns later).

Nick enjoyed the exhibit here informing us of the Yeu people whose culture was eventually absorbed into Han Chinese culture and so all but ‘disappeared’.

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The final section of the museum dealt with local history.  It detailed events from the Opium War, to WWII and the more recent reunification of Hong Kong to China (which occurred in 1997).  Nick in particular found this section very interesting.

Overall, I highly rate this museum.  All the exhibits were in multiple languages and there were several high quality audio-visual presentations we watched (again, these were presented in several languages) so it was very accessible for us. It was also free which is amazing for a museum of such high calibre. We both really enjoyed this visit.

We had planned to go and visit a nearby national park before heading on to our next location but we ended up spending so much time at the museum that we had to head to the Hong Kong Foodie Tour straight away!

At 2:00pm, we met Yammy, our tour guide and the rest of the group at “The L Place”. As she put it cutely during her introduction “you can remember it by thinking: Yammy is going to show you some yummy foods!”

These words might have been a promise and one she didn’t break. The other members of our tour consisted of 3 couples from New Zealand (2 elderly and 4 people who were travelling together), a couple from Belgium, a young student from Sydney and a consultant from New York. Overall, they seemed to be an affable, fun group. All in all, there were 12 of us.

Yammy first took us to a wonton soup restaurant Tsim Chai Kee Noodle.  Later research has shown me that this place actually has a Michelin star which based on the noodle soup alone does not shock me.

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The place though seems very low key – not what I would expect from a Michelin starred restaurant.  The wontons are supposedly the biggest you can get in Hong Kong – they were about the size of golf balls.  Yammy advised us on the best way to eat the noodles. We tried the broth first and even plain it was delicious and rich tasting.  You could then add red wine vinegar which is supposed to get rid of the alkalinity of the noodles (which I couldn’t taste) and house-made chilli oil which really REALLY packed a punch.

First stop was unanimously exciting. I was primed for the rest of the tour.

Our next stop was Dragon Restaurant, which specialises in roast meats. The most popular roast meat sold in Hong Kong is barbecued pork,  followed by plain roasted pork, followed, surprisingly, by goose.  However Yammy cautioned us that if we found ourselves a deal that seemed a little too good for goose, it was actually probably duck masquerading as goose ha ha. Here we had barbecued pork rice. Nick and I are already massive fans of Chinese barbequed pork so it shouldn’t be any surprise that we both enjoyed this. Yammy took us through the kitchens as part of the tour and we were able to see the massive ovens they use to roast the pigs/ducks/geese and take some pictures.  It was pretty cool.  Apparently one of those ovens can fit 6 pigs and runs at 400°C.  A whole pig is cooked through in 1.5 hours.

Yammy then took us on a bit of a walking tour before our next food stop through the Wan Chai Market – one of the bigger wet/dry markets in Hong Kong.  It is soon to be redeveloped into a shopping centre with the facade to be preserved so we will be one of the last lots of tourists to see it in its glory days.

She also pointed out some traditional food stalls alongside the road which the government is slowly getting rid of.  Permits for these food carts will no longer be sold and the title of the permit can only be transferred to a spouse, not to a child, so the days of food stalls in Hong Kong are certainly limited.

Another part of the market she showed us was the butcher section.  She said “when I come and buy my fish, I will get a slice from the fish that still has its heart beating” and then proceeded to show us one of the fish which had been partially butchered, with indeed, its little heart still beating.  I suppose you can’t get fresher than that!

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A lot of the fish were still flopping around (out of the water) so were very much alive.  An interesting feature of the partially alive fish was the swim bladder, which keeps the fish afloat. In these fish, the bladders where blown up like balloons.

At another stall, Yammy showed us how people would buy the dried swim bladder of the fish.  Apparently this has a very high collagen percentage so women use it for home remedies for their skin and hair.

After all this walking, our next stop was at Kung Lee Sugar Cane Juice which (as the name suggested) served cups of refreshing sugar cane.  This was 100% sugar cane as evidenced by the fellows using an archaic looking crushing machine to extract every last drop. As we watched, they ran the cane husks through the machine several times before they were satisfied they had drained it.   The juice was thick, but it wasn’t pulpy.  It was refreshing, but I don’t think I could have had more than the single cup I tried.

Other items this shop sold were herbal jellies, some of which had been made of the lining of turtle stomach.  As Yammy was telling us, there is a belief in traditional Chinese Medicine that one can have “too much heat” in their body. Therefore foods and herbs with cooling properties must be introduced to “put out the fire”. Turtle jelly is one such remedy.  Others like teas and yogurts can also ‘cool’ the fire. She showed us the giant pot in which they make the turtle jelly and let us have a smell.

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Unsurprisingly it smelled really herbal and medicine like.  Not really appealing!

Something funny that Yammy imparted to us was that beer is considered a ‘cooling’ drink and so the Chinese refer to it as “western herbal tea”.  I really liked that phrase!

After this stop we did a little more walking and we stopped at a local temple.  This temple was beautiful and really earthy.  It didn’t feel as done up as some of the temples we have visited on this trip but it did feel somehow more spiritual.

We got some nice pictures here of the coiling incense spirals burning from the ceiling and the softly lit paper lanterns.

Very close nearby, Yammy showed us some caskets – Western and Chinese.  The Chinese ones were MASSIVE and shaped like lotus leaves. Yammy explained to us that due to space constraints in the local cemeteries, people would have to pay a fee to be interred for a maximum of 10 years, after which time, they would be dug up and cremated. Due to the cost of this, most people get cremated from the get go but those who choose to be buried do so to be closer to their descendants for a while.

For the next part of the tour, we visited Wong Wing Kee – a preserved fruits shop selling Chinese ‘sweets’.  Nick wasn’t a big fan of this stop but I enjoyed the various things we got to taste. The first was a fruit leather made of hawthorn-berry – this was sherberty and strange.  We also got to try a preserved plum candy and a ginger candy, dried lotus seeds, candied dried juniper berries, salted dried plums and Sichuan powered peanuts (Nick tried the last one, I didn’t touch it obviously).  Yammy told us that these sweets were in the middle of the tour and not the end as the Chinese believe that sweets such as these ‘open up the stomach’ hence we had stopped there before our final couple of stops.

This shop itself has been in operation for more then 100 years.  There was a picture on the wall of the grandson of the original owner meeting Prince Charles which I thought was kind of cool.

Our next stop was Dim Sum Square. Here we enjoyed shrimp dumpling (har gao), pork dumpling (siu mai), deep fried spring rolls (jaa chun guen) and my personal favourite, crispy BBQ pork bun (char siu bao).  These were all served piping hot. Yammy explained that the old style of serving dim sum was from a trolley (some restaurants in Melbourne still do this) but diners started to turn away from this as they thought it was old and stale foods they were paying for.  Now dim sum is made to order. I burned my mouth, but it was worth it. Nick’s favourites were tied between the BBQ pork bun and the pork dumplings.

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Our very last stop was Hei Lee Cake Shop which is a bakery/pastry shop. Here we had egg tarts (daan taat) and this was a lovely way to finish off the tour. The egg tarts were hot from the oven and the pastry was flaky and biscuit light. The egg custard filling was soft and hot!  I really enjoyed the delicate, light taste.

After saying our farewells to Yammy and the rest of the group, we headed back to the MRT and made our way back to our hotel.  Once there, we had no compulsion to do anything more strenuous than swimming in the rooftop pool and having a steam in the steam room. Nick indulged in a western herbal tea and we skipped dinner entirely, being way too full from the tour.

We didn’t stay up excessively late, we wanted to wake up early enough tomorrow have a leisurely breakfast and pack for our very last day of honeymooning.

Stay tuned for the penultimate chapter of this trip tomorrow.

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