Until my apartment is ready on Wednesday I’m staying at Hotel de Edge in Sheung Wan. I have to admit, I’m getting quite used to this hotel, which is surprisingly cheap right now despite getting four stars from Priceline. The room is tiny, but it’s immaculately clean, modern, and overlooks the harbor. Well, it wasn’t supposed to overlook the harbor, but when I checked in (well before check-in time), it was the only room available and I was either able to sweet talk the front desk clerk, or she felt pity for the guy who had just endured 20 hours of travel, depending on how you look at it.
The time difference is an issue. Despite my best efforts, I fell asleep last night around seven at night and woke up at two in the morning. It was nice watching the harbor light up outside my window. And I got some writing done and selected my classes (more or less). But boy, I’m getting tired already.
Around seven this morning I went out for a walk and for breakfast, ending up at an HK Cafe called New Five Green Dragon. I engaged with one of my eastern promises and went in, despite seeing no apparent Westerners, and despite the menus not being in English (something I’m scared of). Turns out, the guy handed me a (limited) English menu when I went in with four breakfast sets on it, each $27 HKD.
I have some familiarity with HK Cafes from my time in Vancouver where they are quite popular. I had not been in one until today, but have heard and read about them extensively. Suanne and Ben from Chowtimes write about them frequently. From what I understand, they serve diner food reflecting the East meets West cuisine of Hong Kong. You can get things like instant noodles with a pork chop, eggs and toast, spaghetti with tomato sauce and various Chinese dishes. They are often served with strong black tea flavored with evaporated milk, with an small upcharge if you’d like that tea iced.
Back in the day I was obsessed with authenticity. It was part of the reason I dragged Desmond out to the Sichuan province when we went to China in 2006. I wanted to taste the purest expression of the food I’d come to love. I even wrote a piece about authenticity of tacos for my old website, Eat Vancouver. I’d link to it now, but it redirects to a spam site for a reason only apparent to the individual I handed the website off to.
I haven’t softened on authenticity as much as I’ve come to understand it’s much more complicated than I thought it once was. I used to decry the Americanized Chinese food served at so many restaurants in the US and Canada. But who is to say they don’t provide an authentic form of culinary expression themselves (much in the way that HK cafes were born of a melding of Eastern and Western tastes in this capitalist haven in East Asia, an idea that itself was then ported to Vancouver)?
These are thoughts best left to someone with his wits about him. Let’s just say I just copied the Chinese guys next to me and got noodle soup with beef and iced tea. The total came to $30 HKD (a shade above $4 CAD). It was delicious. The noodles were instant, and the broth had a bit more depth than what you’d get out of a packet. The beef was type that’s dipped in corn starch and then quickly sauteed in some sauce. The tea was cold and creamy with an herbal note from the dark tea. I found the texture a bit muddy, almost grainy, which was somewhat off-putting.
I don’t know. Maybe it was the brutally efficient service, the fact that some grizzled HK cafe vet in the kitchen, who had surely put together thousands of these in his life, made it, or the fact that I was sitting in a beat up little room across the street from a skyscraper, but I loved it.