Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2017

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High on Hong Kong

The 10 best markets, restaurants, sightseeing tours and more

Twenty years — yes, 20 — have passed since Hong Kong was returned to China, designated an autonomous territory with Beijing vowing hands-off when it came to the former Crown Colony’s workaholic ways and entrenched entrepreneurial culture.

Doomster predictions haven’t materialized, although political tremors surface on a regular basis, Beijing in cranky control mode, Hong Kong on the barricades to preserve its freedoms.

But China needs Hong Kong as a turnstile to the rest of the world and a conveyer of currencies. This accounts, says the Economist, for two-thirds of foreign investment in China. “Hong Kong,” notes a veteran observer, “knows how to make the money sing.”

Its fascinations for the traveller have never been more alluring. This entity of only seven million people on the lip of China is a tourism juggernaut, drawing almost 14 million foreign visitors yearly, not to mention more than 50 million mainland Chinese. (The worldly Hong Kongese tend to regard the latter as yokels).

Doctor’s Review visited again in search of the remarkable experiences we interlopers can have in the city that reinvents (and recycles) itself at a pace to leave a cheetah feeling like an escargot. Here’s our very best of HK for 2017.

1. Panoramic views

The new ICC Tower (sky100.com.hk.zh-hant) on Kowloon side looms over Hong Kong Harbour at a record 118 storeys, its 360-degree, all-indoors Sky 100 observation deck delivering a bigger-than-IMAX perspective. It impresses, but only when the tsunami of air pollution rolling from industrial Shenzhen stays home.

The unbeatable view remains the Hong Kong panorama from Victoria Peak (thepeak.com.hk/en/home.asp). Catch the aerial tram to the top and hang around until Central’s lights pulse into a glowing cauldron of light and colour and the harbour takes on the appearance of molten lava.

2. Sightseeing tour

HK public transit by trolley has long proven a favourite way to cross-section the neighborhoods, but its 65 stops make for a pokey trip. The new double-decker Tramoramic trolley (hktramways.com.en/tramoramic) streamlines the venture, lurching over the tracks from Western Market to the Happy Valley Racecourse in an hour.

3. Natural attraction

The Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark (discoverhongkong.com/us/see-do/great-outdoors/nature-parks/hong-kong-unesco-global-geopark.jsp) surprises with 140-million-year-old rock formations recalling Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway. A hike among the hexagonal rock columns at the High Island Reservoir East Dam fairly stuns the eye and may just coax out your inner geologist. The unattended cows wandering about? Farmers who abandoned the area simply left them here — and moooooooooo to you.

Moreover, the journey to the Sai Kung peninsula reveals sumptuous scenic beauty showcasing the natural beauty of HK’s many islands. Nine land tours and two boat tours get you there.

4. Temple

Unique among HK temples, Taoist Kwong Fuk I Tsz on Tai Ping Shan St. delivers an armload of culture. You may catch a Taoist prayer or walk in on a blessing ritual in progress. A literally haunting chamber is devoted to ancestral tablets bearing images of the dead. Historically, without a tablet the deceased could not be reborn as human. And a single woman had to marry to attain one or end up a ghost. Will sexism never end?

5. Market walk

The dirty, sprawling, rambunctious street markets that colour early HK memories are gone, all given way to tidiness and order. But a stroll through shops in the Mong Kok neighbourhood (discoverhongkong.com/ca/shop/where-to-shop/shopping-areas/mong-kok.jsp) remains an exploration of revealing fascinations.

The Yuen Street Bird Garden is no longer the social affair it used to be for HK seniors. You’ll see as many tourists as locals making their way among ornate bamboo birdcages and little singing birds. The sidewalk-side Yuen Po Gold Fish Market intrigues with exotic fish hanging in plastic bags for easy take-home and tiny baby frogs for their lunch. Both markets connect ultra-urban HKers to the natural world.

6. Walking tour

Meet HK’s working class in Sham Shui Po, the neighbourhood that feeds folk so poor, as many as 100,000 live in coffin-size “rabbit cages” piled like drawers in a filing cabinet. The leisurely itinerary of the Sham Shui Po Foodie Tour (hongkkongfoodietours.com) encompasses noodle houses, snack shops, hole-in-the wall eateries and Chinese medicinal emporia, all with enlightening social commentary. Did you know gecko soup alleviates asthma?

The HK underclass begins its day with a pineapple bun, a fluffy sweet pastry oddly containing no pineapple. Another fave is rice roll served with soy-and-peanut butter sauce. (The unpretentious eating hole was recommended by Michelin, prompting the rent to soar). Egg noodles from an 87-year-old artisan hit the high notes in a deeply fishy broth with a dash of chili. Pork belly and pork knuckle make a lunchtime duet of crrrrrunch and crrrrackle.

7. Dim sum

Busy, busy Yum Cha (yumchahk.com) is one of countless restaurants preaching the religion of bite-sized wonders and its sprawling menu offers bankable excellence. It’s all about harmony: colours, aromas, flavours, textures, aftertastes. Dancing the yin-yang, eggplant comes stacked like firewood and served cold with hot chilies. Deep-fry, the ultimate Cantonese art, turns up as crisp wontons stuffed with pork and shrimp, a perfect Chinese marriage (and one condemned by two of three Middle Eastern religions). Close with pineapple puffs, delicate little pastries made to appear as birds in a cage.

9. Chinese restaurant

Subtlety still prevails in this most Cantonese of cities, but China’s regional cuisines have roared over the barriers, and the excitement metre soars at Qi-Nine Dragons (qi-ninedragons.hk), owned by Vancouver’s Peter Tsu. It’s Sichuan: chilies, garlic, ginger, star anise, orange peel and Szechuan peppercorns boogie across the stations of the palate.

One of the greatest dishes of 5000 years of culinary tinkering, garlic-and-chili-loaded Sichuan eggplant grabs you by the lapels and has its way with you. Deep-fried pork ribs come zapped with cumin. And how about braised mandarin fish in chili oil soup? As your tongue goes numb — the defining character of Sichuan peppercorns — you’re shocked at how much you’re enjoying it.

9. Seafood restaurant

Sai Kung (discoverhongkong.com/eng/dine-drink/where-to-eat/sai-kung.jsp) on the New Territories coast could be the best of all HK outings, marrying a charming maritime village atmosphere, fishing fleet, fish tanks qualifying as art and seafood restaurants run by maestros. Welcome to Saint Tropez with chopsticks.

Michelin-starred Sing Kee Seafood is the superstar in this august crowd. Find a table facing the marina and let the HK feast begin. An opener of silken, deep-fried tofu floats out in a haze of five-spice. Fat shrimps turn up subtly sauced in cheese. Asian classic chili crab brings sweet crustacean flesh. Whole grouper comes lightly breaded and fried to golden crispness, its bones a delicacy in themselves.

10. International restaurant

Skye (parklane.com.hk.skye.htm) at the Park Lane Hotel is a swank rooftop restaurant with a raucous alfresco bar that bolsters HK’s standing as Asia’s foodie capital. Be prepared to take your time with chef Lee Adams’ dazzling menu degustation.

Heirloom tomato tartare, seamlessly melding heirloom tomatoes, tomato sorbet and tomato foam made from seeds, is the storytelling warm-up for slow-poached New England lobster, the sweet, tender flesh out of the shell and lolling in butter; veal sweetbreads, the celestial gland sauced in Madeira and garnished with black truffle; melt-in-the-mouth Japanese wagyu beef tenderloin; and for dessert, chocolate guanaga with peanut gel and salted popcorn ice cream. Salted popcorn? You bet. And it’s absolutely wonderful.

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