Introduction to Chinese Hot Pot. Hong Kong Diary 6

We all love Chinese food but what I am talking about is real authentic Chinese food. It is know by the way it is cooked, Hot Pot. I tried this meal on my recent visit to Hong Kong and I instantly fell in love with it.

Hot Pot is actually of Mongolian origin and was started about 800-900 years ago. The primary ingredient in their pot was mutton and horse meat and their broth was not spicy. However, when it spread in China, it underwent a slight change.

The Chinese way of cooking is to place a simmering pot of Soup stock at your table, which also contains a variety of foodstuff and condiments. While the hot pot is kept simmering on your table, ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. You can choose what you want, like sliced beef, lamb, goat, pork, chicken and seafood or vegetables like bok choy, choy sum, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, carrots, winter melon, bean sprouts etc. Additionally you are given condiments like sesame butter, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, vinegar (both black & white), coriander, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, pickled tofu, chili oil etc. You leave them for a few seconds there, till they cooks and then you take them out in your bowl and eat it.

It is also called Chinese fondue and contrary to popular belief, even vegetarians can enjoy this meal as there is a huge variety of vegetables and other stuff like mushrooms, tofu and corn.

You can imagine its popularity in China by the fact that last year Chinese spend over 3.5 billion Yuan (over USD 500 million) eating out.

I tried it in a restaurant called Top Grade Hot Pot in Tin Hau area of Hong Kong. Their Soup base was good and the Australian Angus Beef served to us was awesome. We also tried the Chicken which was also nice. We were a group of four, with me being the only meat eater. Being the first experience we ended up ordering a bit more. The server’s English was not good so he was not of great help. But we have no regrets as we really enjoyed our dinner. Next time for sure I will not make a mistake of ordering both Beef and Chicken together.

The Legend of Din Tai Fung – Hong Kong Dairy 5

We all love dumplings but how long are you willing to wait for them? Well, if you are at Din Tai Fung (DTF) your wait can be for even one hour. This one Star Michelin restaurant attracts food lovers from all over the world.

The story of Din Tai Fung started during the Chinese Civil War in 1948, when Yang Bingy left China and moved to Taiwan.

After working for an oil retailer for ten years, he suddenly found himself unemployed as his employer shut shop. So he along with his wife Lai Penmei started a new company Din Tai Fung and started retailing oil.

Things went fine till 1970, when oil started being sold in tins. His business suffered immensely and he had to shut half of his shop in 1972.

People waiting both inside and outside the restaurant.

He hired some chefs from Shanghai and started selling buns (Xiaolongbao). The buns were so good that he finally shut his oil business and set up a restaurant, Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road, Taipei.

With these buns getting popular he open his first international store in Tokyo in 1996 followed by a US store in Arcadia in 2000.

Standard items on each table.
Spring roles.
Legendary Pork filled Steamed dumplings, the Signature dish.
Fried rice.
Michelin Star.
The Bill, I could not comprehend.

Since then there has been no looking back and DTF now operates in Australia, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, US, Thailand and UAE.

DTF is listed as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. Their steamed Pork Dumplings with 18 intricate folds is now a legend in the world and they have been awarded One Michelin Star for their Hong Kong restaurant. Simply put, their steamed pork dumplings contain minced pork wrapped in a delicate dough which is pleated, twisted at the top and steamed. They have a minimum of 18 exquisite folds and each weighs exactly 21 gms.

It is now a must visit for people visiting Hong Kong.

 

 

 

 

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The Unsung Heroes of Hong Kong – Hong Kong Diary 4

After reaching Hong Kong on Saturday, I decided to go for walk on Sunday morning. It was a bit late in the morning when I got out and reached Victoria Park. I was surprised to see a number of South Asian ladies gathered there. They were sitting, eating, talking and dancing while some were lying down and resting on cardboard boxes. At first I thought they were protesting against something but on a closer look, I realised they were celebrating life with their friends. They are the “unsung heroes” of Hong Kong, the Helpers or maids.

Most of these foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong live with their employers. They form a very important part of the Hong Kong society and perform household tasks such as cleaning, cooking, serving and looking after their employer’s children.

There are about 340,000 foreign domestic workers from countries such as Indonesia and Philippines. More than 60 percent of them are young mothers, who have come to Hong Kong for a better future for their children and families back home.

Increasingly the human rights groups are scrutinising their working conditions and working closely with the authorities in framing laws and regulations.

During the 1970’s, Philippines passed a law legalising export of labour in the form of overseas workers. Around the same time Hong Kong started prospering more as a result of China implementing wide-reaching economic reforms and increasing trade with the rest of the world. With prosperity, came the requirement of domestic help, which was fulfilled by labour from Philippines.  So it was a win win for both countries.

A British documentary film maker, Joanna Bowers has produced a documentary on these workers called “The Helper”. Some of these women are so talented in music that it is treat to watch them perform (check out the video above). She also helped to form a choir “The Unsung Helpers”, who performed at a premier Hong Kong music event, Clockenflap.

Do check them out if you ever visit Hong Kong.

 

 

Tai O Fishing Village – Hong Kong Diary 3

After you finish with the 360 degrees view of Hong Kong in the cable car, the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery, you can either hit back home or visit a surreal fishing village of Hong Kong.

You can catch a bus from the bus terminus behind the Bug Buddha or hail a cab, like we did till Tai O, a fishing town on the western side of Lantau Island.

Tai O Fishing Village.
A eating joint in the local market.
The village museum.
The village museum.

Tai O, in Chinese means a large inlet of water as the Tai O river splits to the north (Tai O creek) and west, and this fishing village lies at the fork. There is pedestrian bridge that connect the north and west of the fork. Earlier it was a rope bridge which has now been made of steel and concrete.

When British came to Hong Kong, this village was called Tanka village and was an illegal entry point to enter Hong Kong for people escaping from China. It was also used by the smugglers due to its strategic location to smuggle guns, tobacco and people. Due to salt marshes present here, salt was also produced here.

The village museum.
The village museum.
The village museum.
Dried salted fish and shrimp paste.
Dried salted fish and shrimp paste.

Although there is a public school here, most youngsters move out of the island, on attaining adulthood. Fishing is therefore on the decline here.

There was a huge fire in 2000 on the island, which destroyed a large part of the village houses and all you see now are squatters’ huts or dilapidated stilt houses.

Looking at the current situation of the village it is difficult to comprehend that once this was called the “Venice of Hong Kong”.

There is village market where shops sell traditional salted fish and shrimp paste. You can also go for a boat ride here and if you are lucky you might see the Pink Dolphins. On stilt houses there are some eating joints where you can sample the local eats.

There is small shop in the market housing old stuff used by the village and visiting it you get the feeling a visiting a village museum.

The village market.
Stilt houses.
Boat ride showing Stilt houses.
The fork, either side is the village on stilts.
Stilt houses.
Stilt houses.
A local food vendor.
This was a rope bridge which is now been converted to a steel bride.

 

 

Po Lin Monastery – Hong Kong Diary 2

The Po Lin Monastery, I talked about in my previous blog was established in 1906 by three monks who came to Hong Kong from China. At the time it was established it was known as “The Big Hut” but was later renamed in 1924 to its current name, Po Lin Monastery (means precious Lotus).

Po Lin Monastery.

It is a beautiful monastery which houses many Buddhist scriptures apart from three bronze statutes of the Buddha representing his past, present and future.  On the ground floor, on its right is a very beautiful and old tree under which there is fish pond. You have to actually see it to believe, the size of the gold fish here.

People who come to pray burn incense sticks here.
You have see to believe the size of gold fish in this pond.
A very old and beautiful tree.
People who come to pray burn incense sticks here.
People who come to pray burn incense sticks here.

There are also large vases and  places where people burn incense when they come to pray.  There is a smaller temple which leads to the main courtyard facing the Temple Gateway. There are also some deities and guards, who protect the main gateway.

The deities and guards who protect the main gateway.
The deities and guards who protect the main gateway.
The small temple before the the main hall.

Inside is the massive hall called the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas with a beautiful carved ceiling. No photography is permitted inside.

The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas(no photography is permitted inside).

Outside there is a Wisdom Path where series of wooden posts form a figure eight, which is used for prayers by Buddhists, Taoists and Confucians.

The day we visited it was very hot and humid, otherwise on a good day you can spend quite a lot of time strolling through the gardens.

 

 

 

 

Ngong Ping 360 – Hong Kong Diary 1

Lantau Island is one of the biggest island of Hong Kong and lies at the mouth of Pearl River. Till late 1990, it was a sleepy fishing village till construction of Lantau Link to main Hong Kong Island started. This was followed by the International Airport in 1998 and Disneyland in 2005.

In 2006, on the western side of the island where Po Lin Monastery is situated, development of a major tourist attraction, the cable car started. This was a ideal spot as there is a 34 m tall Buddha statute, looking North over the Chinese people. This can only be reached by a long stairway.

From Tung Chung Bay, a cable car started to this point, which is now known as Ngong Ping 360, as it provides a 360 degree view of the surrounding Tung Chung bay, the International Airport , the Hong Kong-Zhuai-Maccu Bridge, Ngong Ping Plateau and the Big Buddha.

The main escalator to the cable car platform.

 

The beautiful journey of 5.7 kms in the cable car starts from downtown Tung Chung and take 25 minutes to reach the traditional cultural Chinese themed Village Ngong Ping. As you alight and start walking, you first encounter a beautiful Tea House followed by various restaurants and souvenir shops.

360 degree view from the cable car. Breathtaking view of the Tung Chung bay from Tower 2B.
360 degree view from the cable car.
360 degree view from the cable car.
360 degree view from the cable car.
360 degree view from the cable car.
360 degree view from the cable car. Hong Kong International Airport. You can see a take off.
The beautiful tea house, Li Nong.
A beautiful tea pot outside Li Nong Tea House

These are then followed by the multimedia attractions, Walking with the Buddha, VR360, Stage360 and Motion360. Then you walk into a big gate which leads to the stairway to the Big Buddha on your right followed by the Po Lin Monastery further on your left.

I will talk about it in my next blog.

360 degree view from the cable car.
360 degree view from the cable car.
360 degree view from the cable car.
The Big Budhha.
The big gate before you enter the monastery and the Big Buddha.

 

Most birds species in an Avairy.

While we were in Mysore, I got a chance to visit a very unique place called “Shuka Van” (Parrot is called a Shuka in Sanskrit), a rehabilitation centre for birds in the beautiful Chamundi Hills area of the city. .

Inside the Aviary.
Dr Sri Ganapathy Sachidananda, the founder of the Aviary.

This centre was set up Dr Sri Ganapathy Sachidananda, the founder of Avadotta Datta Peetham and has a number of colourful birds, mainly Parrots from all over the world.

It provides shelter to injured and abandoned birds. Dr Ganapathy believes that the birds are vital for existence of humans and their alarmingly diminishing numbers can have serious trouble for mankind. His message is to save them and the depleting forest cover to save humanity.

There is small entrance fee to the aviary, which in my view is very necessary for its upkeep. Inside after paying a small fee you can feed the birds in their enclosure and get yourself photographed. The hard copy of the photograph can be yours upon payment of a small fee.

The aviary, established in 2012, is covered by 50 m high free flight mesh and has about 2100 colourful birds made up of 468 different species. It recently set a Guinness World record for “most bird species in an aviary” (see the Youtube video below).

You are not allowed to photographs the birds.

 

A big statue of Hanumanji outside the Ashram.

The beauty of Gumbaz.

While going to Mysore from Bangalore, we briefly stopped at Tipu Sultan’s tomb in Srirangapatnam, which is 15 kms short of Mysore. This majestic structure was built by Tipu Sultan in 1784 and it looks quite similar to Golconda tombs. The Gumbaz has been built in Persian style and around it is the Lalbagh gardens.

The day we visited the monument happened to be Friday so the garden were full of families who had come to pray. The whole place looked so happy and thriving.

The Gumbaz as seen from the entrance.
The Gumbaz surrounded by Lalbagh.
The Gombz.
Outside the monument.

Originally the entrance door was made in gold and silver but it was looted during the British rule and it is now housed in Albert Museum in London.

The Gumbaz is actually the tomb of Tipu Sultan’s father, Hyder Ali. On either side are the tomb are the tombs of Tipu himself and his mother, Fatima Begum. There is also a mosque inside the complex called Masjid-e-Aksa.

It is quite a beautiful structure and if you are travelling between Mysore and Bangalore you must stop here and enjoy the beauty of India’s heritage.

Panoramic view of the monument.

 

 

 

 

The second Golden Temple.

In 1960, the Government of Mysore, as it was called in those days, gave 3000 acres of land to Tibetan Refugees to set up a camp in Bylakuppe, 6 kms from Khushal Nagar on Mysore-Coorg highway. Later with some more land grants this became the largest Tibetan settlement in Karnataka and second biggest in India after Dharamshala.

The Hording outside the Monastery.

Lugsum Samdupling established Namdroling Monastery, also known as the Golden Temple, here in 1963. Till I visited this place, I knew of only one Golden Temple in Amritsar. Clearly it was lack of knowledge on my part regarding south of India.

The Monastery is huge and houses a 40 feet high statue of Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche. It is the largest teaching center of Nyingmapa, a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and has over 500 monks and nuns.

Main gate of the Monastery.
The Golden Temple.
Golden Temple.
Golden Temple.

The Monastery is quite beautiful with ornate walls and colourful paintings depicting Gods and Demons from Tibetan Buddhism. Not only it attracts tourists from across the world but also young Tibetans who come to study here.

There are well landscaped gardens and during the Tibetan New Year the whole town is decked up and many celebrations including traditional dances are performed here.

Inside the temple.
Paintings on the walls.
Inside the temple.
Tassels on the main door of the temple.

 

 

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A night like a Royal.

On way to Coorg, we stopped over for the night in Mysore and stayed in The Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel. I am glad we choose to stay in that heritage property, located near the Chamundi Hills. It is the second largest palace in Mysore and is really beautiful.

We reached there in the afternoon and the moment our cab turned in to its driveway, we were bowled over by the beauty of this 100 years old property. Our modern-day state of art buildings are definitely no match for the grandeur of our heritage buildings.

On 18 November 1921, Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore laid the foundation stone of this majestic palace for the exclusive stay of the then Viceroy of India.

Mr. E W Fritchley was appointed as the Chief Architect of the project. He modeled it on the lines of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He built it on a raised platform giving us a beautiful view of Mysore from its front porch.

The plaque outside the Heritage Hotel.
The corridor on both sides of the main porch.
An antique in the Reception area.
The room key.

In 1974, it was converted into a Heritage Hotel and since then it is being managed by The India Tourism Development Corporation. The banquet hall is huge & elegant and has cut glass windows. A lot of furniture of that times tells us the story of how magnificent it would have been in those days. I was not too happy with the maintenance of the property and show it is being sold to its guests. Definitely more efforts are required on both the fronts if we are to maintain this heritage.

The Laliha Mahal Palace.
Main Dining Hall.
The Ballroom – 3 domed skylights made of Belgian glass.
Wash basin in our bathroom.
The Royal Coat of Arms.

We stayed in a suite in the front and slept on the huge heritage bed under a high ceiling giving us a really royal feeling. Although there are a few modern-day facilities in the bathroom and dressing room, they still retain their old world charm.

The garden around the swimming pool has definitely seen better days but an early morning walk there really made my day. The breakfast later was super and left me wondering why more tourists do not check in the property.

It should definitely be sold to the foreign tourists looking for a taste of the erstwhile Raj.

Antique lift.
The columns and ornate frames inside the banquet hall.
Antique clock (still working) in the main lobby.
The Lalitha Mahal Palace all lit up in the night.