Sunday, 17 November 2013

On the Dragon River: Part one

The Dragon River

I have three major genealogical traditions that flow down through me and into my children; like awa (rivers). These awa carry in their waters all the things that make us who we are: how we look, how we think, why we exist.

visualize it this way: these three awa are the awa of Europe, the awa of Aotearoa and the awa of China. At first I was about to call the European awa, White River, the Maori (Aotearoa) awa, Brown River, and the Chinese awa, Yellow River, but it didn’t sound good; a bit too racial. So I have opted to name them the Bell, Nakuawhia, and Dragon Rivers; the Bell designating the family name, the Nakuawhia because it is our traditional Maori tribal river, and the Dragon representing the Asian branch having joined my family history through Hung Ming Ling, my Chinese wife and mother of our offspring Jared, Miriam and Candice.

I'm in Hong Kong as I write this report, in my waka riding the Dragon for two weeks; in other words I’m on holiday with Winnie visiting her relatives. She is reveling in being ‘home’ even though she has lived by far the greater part of her life in New Zealand which she now regards her permanent home. Still, we all joy in getting back to where we sprouted our roots, especially after a long absence. It seems that no matter where ‘home’ is, returning is always a celebration and we have been doing plenty of celebrating.

Winnie’s sister and her husband have packed our schedule to capacity and we have done the same with our stomachs; the food here is mind-boggling in its variety and sumptuous appearance, aroma, and flavour. The waters of my Maori awa has endowed me, I’m afraid to say, with a great love of food and I have gone completely mad here, munching my way through Hong Kong and gaining pounds at an alarming rate. Wonton soup, Peking duck, Hainan chicken, Sichuan beef…whatever appears in front of me is devoured. I’m like a little brown Pacman chomping up everything in sight and growing bigger by the second. I realise I’ll have to slow down very soon or I’ll do myself an injury.

I’ll start tomorrow because we’ve just been invited to another banquet tonight.

I’m in between meals right now so I’m taking the time to write this report, and since we're on the topic, I might as well begin with the kai.

Our first of many banquets...

Saam-sook (Third-uncle) and Saam-sum (Third-aunt),

cooked a special meal for us in their apartment. It featured some of the favourite dinners Winnie's late mother, Go Lea Hua, used to cook for the family. It was a nostalgic stroll down memory lane for Winnie and her siblings, Lina and Henry - Lina still lives in Hong Kong with Winnie and Henry in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The dishes included spicy fried rice, an oyster and egg omelette, special spring rolls, dumplings, and spiced pork pieces. Not included in this menu, though, is one favourite I had the pleasure of eating when she lived with us for a year in Hawaii when we were university students there. It was her spiced and crumbed Chu-paa (pork chops). Only in the eating could they be appreciated; words just don't do it.

A family friend took us on another culinary adventure. Here, a Peking duck is about to serve his purpose.

It's been said that eating is the national sport of Hong Kong and after two weeks I was convinced of it. Restaurants are everywhere. Just about every second shop on any Hong Kong street is a restaurant and whether swanky or common, proud or humble, they seem always filled with customers any time of the day.

This banquet was in a more swanky kind of establishment and I didn't bother to count the courses. I am loath to tell how much it cost but it was in the hundreds of New Zealand dollars. People think nothing about cost when it comes to food in Hong Kong...not like us kiwis who budget everything. I found it hard to get used to.

This is some of the Peking duck sliced up for consumption.

A really nice lunch was at one of those sushi places where the sushi go around on a conveyor belt and you pick what you want from it. The waiters add up the plates later and you pay for what you chose. The choice of sushi seemed endless: fish sushi, pork sushi, vegetarian sushi, sweet sushi, and on it went. Michael, Lina's husband was determined to keep our plates full an it wasn't until some stern words from his wife that he was persuaded to stop ordering. It was just as well because I had well and truly gone past my capacity to hold any more.

Our Sai Kong Lunch Banquet

Saam-sook, Winnie's uncle, insisted he treat us to a special lunch at his favourite place in Hong Kong. The place is a seaside town called Sai Kong. When he was a younger man (he's now in his mid seventies), he used to bring Henry and the other boys out here every Sunday where he hired a small sampan and motor for a very small cost and putt-putted it across the bay to a small island for a day of swimming and fishing. He said Henry and his cousins used to be waiting for him every Sunday, bursting to get going. It was the highlight of their week.

Hearing these little historical snippets I got the impression Saam-sook was a good uncle who got out and did things with the kids. He said he loved going with them and feeding them was an amazing sight. He would buy some big loaves of bread for the princely sum of thirty cents and they would devour them in seconds after a couple of hours of swimming and play. If they were still hungry at the end of the day he would buy some noodles at a street-side stall and watch them disappear down their throats at incredible speed.

He used to pick them up in the morning and return home around six in the evening.

On this day we caught the bus to Sai Kong which is a long way from the city and on another side of Hong Kong Island. It seemed a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, which was wonderful. It was cooler and filled with old Chinese junks doing a brisk trade ferrying tourists and local day-trippers around the bay sightseeing to the many little islands dotted about. We didn't have time for that but it's definitely on the bucket list for next time. It also had some good wharves and a waterfront crammed with little fishing boats all selling a myriad of fish and other edible sea creatures.

Saam-sook really wanted to treat me to an Alaskan King crab but at $NZ 500.00 each we politely refused. Saam-sook bowed to the pressure and we ate cheaper crabs instead. He was very disappointed we declined the king crab. However, even the cheaper crabs were about $NZ 50.00 each and on top of that a cooking choose the live fish and crabs yourself and have them cooked. So, we ate crab, fish, shellfish and a bunch of other things; it was a seafood feast you only usually dream about! Being a seaside town, Sai Kong of course has the best seafood restaurants to be found and people will travel all the way from the city to sample it.

This is a plate of some kind of shellfish I've never seen before. They are long and tubular in shape with the shell resembling mussel shell in composition, and they taste not unlike mussels. The sign above them in the tanks from where you select them said that they were from New Zealand but I have never seen them before; certainly not around our shores. They could be some kind of deep sea shellfish that anchor themselves in sand rather than on rocks; I say this because of the long (about six inches) tubular shape and the fact they had no signs of anything that might attach them to rocks like a common mussel.

It was a monumental feast with a monumental price I'm too embarrassed to tell because I never paid a penny for it; to offer would have been considered impolite.

There were many more feasts (which I politely didn't pay for) but that's enough for now...I'm sure you get the idea. I'll let you digest this for now and put out another post in a day or two.

P.S. Winnie and I did pay for a couple of dinners later on but they were more modest in price.


1 comment:

  1. The food looks amazing!! We would love to visit Hong Kong sometime! Have a fantastic trip and we look forward to hearing more about it!