Travels & Traditions: Hong Kong - Part One - #1401

Burt Wolf:

Hong Kong is a major commercial and cultural center with considerable influence throughout the world. It is a very modern city that’s continually being built up. Up being the operative word. Yet it has maintained much of what is traditionally Chinese. Which makes it attractive to tourists.

We came to Hong Kong to see what it looks and feels like to have tomorrow being built on top of a 5,000 year old culture

Hong Kong is clearly a modern world-class city. But its contemporary sophistication is supported by centuries of Chinese history. You’ll find an ancient temple. And across the street a starred Michelin Restaurant.

Antique junks sail through the harbor powered by Mercedes diesel engines. As I walked through the streets of Hong Kong, one of the first things I noticed was the enormous amount of signage. It’s like Vegas or Time Square on steroids. And like just about everything else in Hong Kong, you can see the evolution of something ancient into something modern.

Hong Kong has a number of markets in a layout that has been around for thousands of years. Streets filled with open shops where you can easily see what’s for sale. Communication takes place through direct contact. You can see, smell and often touch what is being offered.

When the ancient market became Main Street the products moved behind windows. You couldn’t touch or smell the stuff, but you could look at it. And because you were walking along a street you could stop and control the amount of time and attention you devoted to what was being offered.

These days, most of the merchandise is inside a store, and hundreds of stores are built right next to each other. People are moving through the area inside a car or they are walking quickly on a crowded street, and more and more they are distracted by some form of hand held device.

In that environment, if you want to tell people about a product a huge and dramatic sign does a great job. It’s intense during the day and even more so at night.

This is the Hong Kong Goldfish Market --- block after block lined with shops that sell goldfish. During the Tang Dynasty, starting in the 600’s, people began the selective breeding of carp that had a genetic mutation. The result was a golden fish, and for over a thousand years they have played a role in Chinese culture.

Goldfish are valued for their extraordinary colors, elegant swimming style and quiet temperament. These days there are over 300 different varieties of goldfish. I understand they can be taught to swim in a line, swarm together for feeding, and appreciate the songs of the Rolling Stones --- especially, I CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION.

Goldfish are a recurring theme in Chinese art. They represent wealth and success, but they also send a signal that it is possible for anyone to achieve whatever they want. If you don’t have an actual goldfish living in your home, the next best thing is a painting of a goldfish. It is considered to have the same effect with a reduced level of maintenance.

The harbor area in Hong Kong is named after Queen Victoria and it dominates the landscape, just like she did. The harbor is a very deep, sheltered waterway --- one of the world’s great natural harbors. In fact, as I was looking out the window of my room, I caught a shot on my iPhone of the Queen Elizabeth sailing through.

The harbor separates the island of Hong Kong from the part of the city that sits on the mainland and is called Kowloon. Its strategic location in the South China Sea made it a major trading center. Today, the harbor offers the most spectacular views of Hong Kong Island from one side and Kowloon from the other. For over a hundred years, the Star Ferry has been running around the harbor. It’s part of the city’s public transportation system, but it’s also a major attraction for tourists. There’s a ferry that runs up and back between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. That’s the commuter.

They also have a ferry that tours the harbor. In English, the word “junk” is used to refer to certain types of bonds and other financial instruments of questionable value, the contents of most kids rooms and clearly everything my Aunt Margaret brings home from the flea market. In China, the word ‘junk” means sailing ship, and it has a very particular and highly successful design that was originally developed over 2,000 years ago. In Hong Kong, a company called Aqualuna offers harbor cruises on a Chinese junk. The ship is a replica of a 19th century design that was used by a local pirate who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Apparently, income inequality was one of his major concerns. It’s one of the few remaining red sail junks and everyday it sails around the harbor. The tour takes about 45 minutes. Each of the sails on a junk has a series of horizontal bamboo strips that run from one side of the sail to the other. They are called battens. At the edge of most of the battens is a rope that allows the crew to control the shape of the sail. The sail plan on a junk also allows one sail to direct the wind into another sail, which makes it possible for the ship to move in more directions and handle better in heavy winds and rough seas. The interior of a junk is divided into separate compartments like a stick of bamboo. Those divisions help prevent flooding and give the hull greater strength. Chinese junks also used stern-mounted rudders hundreds of years before the west.

The phrase feng shui translates as “wind and water”. It is an ancient system for balancing the forces of nature. When feng shui is correct the spirits are happy. But if you have too much feng and not enough shui and you’re in big trouble.

One of the most extraordinary examples of feng shui is Hong Kong’s InterContinental Hotel. During the early stages of its construction a feng shui master was called in to make sure everything in the plan was properly balanced. In general, the design was OK. But the architects were from San Francisco and completely unaware that nine very powerful dragons lived nearby and the hotel was going to block the route they used everyday to go for a swim in the harbor. Fortunately, dragons can easily pass through glass, so all the builders needed to do was put in a row of glass doors at the entrance of the hotel and a big glass wall on the other side of the lobby that looks out on the harbor. Actually, there are eight regular dragons and so there are eight glass doors. The ninth dragon is the emperor who lives with the dragons but tends to bath separately. The feng shui master also suggested that the hotel’s reception desk be placed between the glass doors and the glass wall, which allows the dragons to drop off some of their wealth before they hop in the bay. These days, it serves the same function for the hotel guests.The collaboration between the feng shui master and the architects had some amazing results. In order to avoid blocking the dragon’s route the lobby lounge was created and turned out to be one of Hong Kong’s great spaces. All of the walls had to be aliened with the forces of nature, which had the side effect of giving the rooms a knockout view of the harbor and Hong Kong. The hotel’s Presidential Suite is considered to be one of the world’s most luxurious. In it’s double height living room is a grand piano. U.S. President Harry Truman was an excellent piano player. He would have loved this place. I always identify with presidential suites, you see when I was in the 4th grade I was the class president. Unfortunately I spent most of the term fighting a politically motivated attempt to have me impeached.

In 1900, the tire manufacturers Andre and Edouard Michelin decided to publish a guide for French motorists. At the time, there were only about 3,000 cars on the roads of France and their hope was that their guide would promote the sale of cars and the Michelin tires they road on. During the 1920s, they decided that restaurants should be included in the guides and they hired a bunch of inspectors to make sure only the best restaurants got into their books, with the exception of their cousin Pierre’s place in Leon which really wasn’t very good, but it was a cousin and you know when it’s family the rules change. In 1931, they introduced a rating system based on stars. One star meant it was a very good restaurant. Two stars indicated a level of cooking that warranted a detour from your planned itinerary.

A restaurant with three stars implied a gastronomic level so high that even if you planning on staying in your hotel room and watching reruns of Downton Abbey (or whatever the equivalent was in 1931) you should get up, get in your car (the one with the Michelin tires) and drive to the restaurant.

These days, Hong Kong has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other city in the world with equal population density In fact, three of them are within 50 yards of each other. The Steak House is a wine bar and grill that has been awarded a Michelin star. Its steaks come from the United States, Australia, Canada and Argentina and they are cooked on a charcoal grill. The wine cellar has over 3,000 bottles representing more than 500 labels. But their specialty is the big bottle.

One of the very unusual things about this steak house is that you get to choose the knife you are going to use to cut your steak

Guest: So we offer of the steel one, the powerful with the handle, they differ in the sizes as well so when you enjoy the steak, you’re more enjoyable

Burt: And I can pick whatever one I want? and I’ll get a fresh one

Guest: Can Do.

Burt: The other thing they have that I liked a lot, 12 mustards

Guest: Two of them is very strong. It’s like the mustard with the horseradish also the difficulty of the english mustard. The other is a Dijon mustard, the pomme mustard. and also we have onion, green pepper corn, garlic, chili, herbs, balsamic, grapes, horseradish, and also the honey and dill.

Burt: That’s awesome. They also have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 different salts that I can put on my steak or my baked potato or whatever I want. Okay let’s go get a steak.

Guest: Thank You

Burt: Spoon is a Michelin one-star created by Alain Ducasse, the peripatetic French chef.

tSo Today I will do a recipe of pasta so we have two different kinds of dough

Stephane Gortina is the executive chef and he prepared two of his favorite dishes. Homemade pasta with green asparagus and black truffles. And a Cook pot of seasonal vegetables and fruit.

Stephane: So me and my recipe, I decided to do the pasta round. So just we will cut it. So basically I will use only the head of the asparagus for this recipe. This part of course we don’t throw away we keep and we can do a soup ,we can do a puree we can do a lot of things with this part of the asparagus. When you have this part, we use to say epicote remove this part. Red small baby red onion

Burt: I’ve never seen those, a baby red onion

Stephane: Yes

Burt: Far Out

Stephane: Here you will see so we will start with with olive oil, we sweat a little bit of asparagus, we add the onion and we will deglaze with stock so meat is a is a chicken stock

Burt: Okay

Stephane: and when it is Boiling, now we will add our pasta inside

Burt: so different, really interesting

Stephane: Yes

Burt: Because it’s fresh dough it will cook in a minute?

Stephane: Yes it is cooking very very fast. and now you will see them to cook, we will reduce the juice, and every thing will cook together, and all the flavor will stay together. We just missed one thing and that is the truffle. You must to try every time for the seasoning.

Burt: Sure

Stephane: So we have our puree pot. Just I will put at the bottom, so just we will put like this

Burt: Fabulous

Stephane: We will put the juice on what was the inside. Please take a spoon and try

Burt: Mmmm It’s the dish my grandmother never made. We put the finished pasta dish on a table so we could come back later and shoot what we call the beauty shot. However, while we were filmeing, my son ate it. Yan Toh Heen means the place you like to hangout with the great view It has been awarded two stars by Michelin and is considered to be one of the best Chinese restaurants in the world.
Its signature dish is Peking Duck.
The recipe starts with the duck being boiled in water for a while.
Then the duck hangs around in the kitchen for a day or two.
Then it gets roasted in the oven and basted with hot oil
At your table, the skin is sliced off, placed on a freshly cooked pancake and dressed with an assortment of vegetables and sauces.

Many restaurants have a sommelier that advises guests on the selection of wines. This restaurant has a sommelier that advises guests on the selection of tea and which tea goes with which food.I couldn’t cover the restaurant scene in Hong Kong without visiting Nobu.

The Nobu restaurants feature a style of Japanese cooking reminiscent of the countryside in Japan where Nobu grew up.

Years ago, I worked on a great book about cooking equipment called The Cooks’ Catalogue ,and Nobu wrote the section on Japanese equipment. I’ve been a fan ever since. Sean Mell is the executive chef here and he’s going to make two dishes.
The first is Foie Gras with Pickled Cherry on Homemade Boa Toast
The second is Baked King Crab Leg in Sea Urchin Butter

Sean: This is just a house made boa blend. and boa is typically when you are in Asia, and China you get the pork cha sou stuffed inside the boa. I think It’s steamed.

Burt: Yeah

Sean: So same idea only thing that we are doing here is not filling it with anything. Later after it’s steamed and cooled down we’ll use these as actually a play on if you would get a Foie Gras and brioche, at a french restaurant

Burt: right

Sean: So this is I guess just more asian, more Japanese feel to it. Just to kind of ensure they get the smoothness on top we roll them out and then you kind of fold them in and under.

Burt: Got it

Sean: So it kinda tightens the top

Burt: Okay

Sean: See how it kind of smoothes it out? Gets a little flat. And then you just want to pat it down

Burt: I have a distinct feeling I am going to be in remedial dough making

Sean: (chuckles) This is the boa after it is done. These have been steamed already

Burt: Okay

Sean: They are soft, and then once we start cooking these they will actually get softer. So it will soften up quite a bit. This is our foie gras we imported from France, it’s rougie foie so very high quality, very good. In the mean time, this is actually our sweet onion sauce that we got here were gonna start reducing. So this make in house as well. Start off with caramelized onions we deglaze a little sake, a little soy, some mirin, this actually gets a ah cooked in a wagu fat as well, the sweet onion sauce.

Burt: So you just sauté that for a minute or two?

Sean: Yes just a minute just to kinda get the outside charred. We actually start these in the pan where it is a little bit cold still. The reason being is you know you want the boa to get nice and crispy on the outside. Now the boa are just toasted to our liking. Nice little golden brown. We will start building our mini boa here.

Burt: Wow does that smell good

Sean: Thank You. And then this is just a little bit of micro chervil. Gonna to give it a little bit of herbaceousness A little extra balance there. and that is the foie gras toasted boa.

Burt: Fabulous
And this is the Hong Kong Jade Market. It’s made up of a series of booths selling things made of jade and an assortment of souvenirs.Jade has been an important element in Chinese culture for at least 6,000 years. There are two basic types of jade. One is nephrite. The more iron it contains the greener the color. The second is jadeite. It is softer than nephrite and much more difficult to find. We think of jade as being green, but it actually comes in a number of colors including white and black. the Chinese consider jade to be more valuable then gold.
My favorite jade dealer at the Hong Kong market is Alice at stand #148.
Good jade and good English.

Burt: It’s my understanding that different forms of Jade can protect you and help you with things with your life. We’d like to pick out two things. One to protect Nicholas, one to protect me

Alice: You have looking. This one is a different year with a Chinese

Burt: Oh horoscope

Alice: Yes

Alice: What year are you?

Nicholas: Mine is 2005 so the rooster

Alice: Ah rooster Ok rooster is a happy life

Burt: And I am the Year of the Tiger

Alice: Oh Tiger is a long life and good health. This one is a rooster and it’s very nice. Very fun very heavy. And then you have looking the tiger. Tiger is a very stronger. Tiger is a good health and long life. Is very good.

Burt: you want to put it in your pocket or do you want to hang it?

Nicholas: I want something I can wear around my neck

Alice: You have looking very pretty, the rooster

Nicholas: So many different shades of green and light

Alice: Yeah It’s very nice and very pretty

Burt: A friend, who lives in Hong Kong, told me that if you have a jade charm and it breaks, you should be pleased. It means that a piece of bad luck was heading towards you, and the jade protected you by taking the hit.
Over the centuries jade has come to be associated with immortality, beauty, courage, wisdom, justice, and compassion.
A white jade charm is thought to give the wearer special skills, including the ability to accurately forecast the failure rate of mortgage-backed securities.
Apparently, no one at Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch Ratings were aware of this bit of folklore.
Well thats Hong Kong. It’s kind of like a layer cake.
The Base is 5,000 years of Chinese culture
and there’s a mid-section of modern.
And a light dusting of the future on top.
For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf