Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Taste of Sham Shui Po



Since my spectacular fall from the vegetarian wagon during an overly exuberant Cumbrian Christmas, Sham Shui Po, a district in Kowloon, has started to look a little different. When I first moved here I was distinctly unimpressed by its garish displays of neon lights and the promises of foot massages on every corner. Perhaps this is unsurprising given my only previous exposure to cosmopolitan living has come in the form of Shrewsbury and the leafy suburbs of South Dublin, however in recent months I have come to appreciate all of her perks and count myself very lucky to live here. Mingling with the bankers and insurance brokers on my rugby team who reside in the more traditional expat enclaves, I have begun to see just how unique our experiences as CNETs are. We have an opportunity to live and work in areas rarely seen by outsiders, allowing us to sample a true taste of Hong Kong life.
Sham Shui Po (hereafter referred to as The Po) fits this bill entirely. I have always found a certain pleasure in wandering around aimlessly but, being conscious of the lack of time that I have perhaps left in Hong Kong, I have decided to make these meanderings a little less aimless by coupling them with my search for exciting and authentic food. In doing so I hope to gain a clearer picture of the unique and eclectic place that I have called home for the past seven months.
Whilst traipsing around The Po I am reminded of my impatient seven year old self, already three years into a relentless Haribo addiction that would refuse to release its nectarous embrace until my teenage years. I remember the huge crowds of people blocking my path to Space Mountain on a family holiday to Disneyland and my mother leaning towards me and saying ‘Queues are a good sign, you know.’ This was too much for my sugar-addled brain to handle at the time however when I saw the snaking line outside Lau Sum Kee I finally understood what the poor woman had been talking about. In The Po long queues are your Tripadvisor, your bread and butter, your Church. They are the embodiment of a pleasure worth waiting for although, in retrospect, Space Mountain was rubbish.
Lau Sum Kee, however, is not. A Kowloon institution, be prepared to share a cramped table with complete strangers. In true Po fashion the atmosphere is convivial and lively, it’s a great place to people watch and to eavesdrop on conversations that you have no hope of understanding. They are particularly well known for their shrimp roe noodles and slow-cooked beef brisket. Being the maverick and trend-setting figure that I am, I went for neither of these options, instead opting for a wonton soup. For around 30 dollars it was a steal so I even treated myself to a Coke (other carbonated beverages are available). The soup itself was laden with an impressive depth of flavour reminiscent of long simmered beef and an array of spices. This cacophony of deliciousness was complimented well by the homemade pickled radishes whose jars adorn every table. They even have an English menu for those of you who don’t like to adhere to the point and hope method of food ordering.
Next on my culinary Hajj was the Kashmir Curry House on Yen Chow Street. The Po has a large South Asian community and as such is one of the best places in Hong Kong to sample some fare less commonly available, in a setting less foreboding, than the den of iniquity that is Chungking Mansions. For more information on Chungking Mansions please see also ‘Inferno’ by D. Alighieri.  I was originally attracted to this unassuming place as they had some nice looking samosas and parathas outside and the friendly proprietor was only too happy to stop and have a chat when she saw my admiring glances (at the samosas not her you understand). The restaurant itself is fairly cramped but the food more than makes up for this with its hearty portions and excellent service. As for its authenticity, please remember that this article was written by someone who was once a regular at University rugby socials held at the Curry Lounge, Nottingham. Needless to say I am an expert and Kashmir Curry House definitely gets my highly sought-after seal of approval.
For those, like myself, who have Mediterranean blood, there are also some al-fresco dining options to be enjoyed in The Po. One such place is Keung Kee, a traditional ‘dai pai dong’ street food restaurant and one of the few left in Hong Kong. Essentially this means that you might end up enjoying your food in the close proximity of an overflowing skip so be warned. The skip aside, I feel that these places encompass all that is so special about Hong Kong and The Po in particular. The tables on the street are packed every night of the week with families and friends laughing and joking over plates of shared food. It reminds me of a Madrid tapas bar or an Irish dinner table where the social aspects of eating are really emphasised, perhaps something that is missing in a more conventional restaurant atmosphere. This is a place to bring a few friends on a warm evening, order a few bottles of Blue Girl and have a good old giggle.
So there you have it, not an exhaustive list admittedly but hopefully some food for thought. If you missed the pun, re-read the last sentence. Happy eating.

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