Eastern Promises 13: People I Will Remember
Being what people call a “foodie,” I feel as if dining should be all about the food for me. Indeed, my philosophy about eating has long butted up against that of traveling companions as I get dead set on finding the absolute best, most authentic place to eat when in reality we are starving and just need to find somewhere to refuel. I’ve also spent time with people more interested in the atmosphere – is there a view? is bright and airy? – than the food itself.
I’m not here to say that any one of these approaches is right (in fact, I’m still highly resistant to the last view above). But I have begun to realize there’s more to a dining experience than the food. I came to this conclusion as I was moving out of my first apartment in Hong Kong. In particular, I noticed that despite my desire to try the best food that area (Quarry Bay) had to offer, I was doing a lot of repeat dining. And it wasn’t because I thought the restaurants I had found were the absolute best in the area, but because I really liked the people running those restaurants and wanted to support them.
So here they are, the people I’ll remember in Quarry Bay.
Mr. Chris at Yo Bago (80 Pan Hoi Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; call him at 2561 7700)
Mr. Chris grew up in Canada but moved back to his family’s home of Hong Kong a few years ago. Pulled in many directions professionally, entrepreneurship eventually called the strongest. And missing Canada, he decided to open up a bagel shop steeped in Canadiana. Allow me to draw your attention to:
Mr. Chris told me it was rough going at first. Quarry Bay is a tough nut to crack with a tremendous number of restaurants packed into a small area and a clientele that disappears when work lets out and the office buildings nearby begin to clear out. Things were touch and go for Yo Bago until the office drones slowly began to gave this little Canadian bagel shop serving Tim Horton’s coffee a shot. And when they did, Mr. Chris won them over with his product and congeniality.
Indeed, Mr. Chris had learned my name by my second visit to his shop. I often stopped by before ten to take advantage of the breakfast special, which includes a bagel sandwich and coffee for about $3 Canadian. A hard deal to beat. But living abroad can be lonely and sometimes I just wanted to come in and chat with Mr. Chris about business, news, and reminisce about our respective times in Canada.
Rina at Q-Bay Burger (Shop 5D2, ground floor Dragon View House, 6-16 Hoi Tai Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; call her at 2568 7196)
Unlike Mr. Chris, Rina isn’t the outright owner of Q-Bay Burger. But she did develop the concept and manages the place. She also does pretty much everything else including cooking, serving and cleaning up.
Q-Bay dropped into my radar during one of my nocturnal nourishment-seeking walks. As I mentioned above, lots of Quarry Bay shuts down in the evening, as early as seven, so finding dinner could be a chore. Fortunately, Q-Bay stays open until about ten, making it a key part of my rotation.
Rina and her operation impressed me because of the quality and quantity of their output in the tiniest space that you could expect to hold a first-class burger joint. Her and “Auntie” operate out of a slim piece of real estate flanked by an electric griddle, a bit of counter space, and a fridge. This is not a job for the claustrophobic.
Still, she serves fresh grassfed New Zealand beef along with fresh and sometimes elevated ingredients, like a truffle mayo. One night they didn’t have any sweet potato fries ready, so Auntie pulled one out of the fridge and sliced it up in front of my eyes. The inside of the fries weren’t completely cooked, but it was still a great experience.
Bandy Cheng at Kam Heung Vegetarian (hop D10 & D11, 18 Hoi Tai Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; call her at 2880 0173)
(Bandy didn’t want me to take a photo of her)
Bandy corralled me one day as I was walking by her vegetarian restaurant. It operates as both a cookery where you pick out your food and then a dining room next door with a few tables and an area where you can serve yourself all-you-can-eat soup and rice to go with the meals. I wasn’t particularly interested in vegetarian food, but I was taken by this restaurant’s charms. If you walk by in the morning you can see them cooking the food, the staff is sincere, and it’s a pretty good deal for about $5 for a sizable amount of food and unlimited rice and soup.
So there you have it. As much as these restaurants defined my time in Quarry Bay, the people behind them left a deeper impression. I still think about them often.