Hong Kong! A fragrant island of uniquely delicious cultures that are disappearing day by day

Armchair traveller
4 min readNov 19, 2023

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An influencer, influencing the general population, I hope HongKong dining is ready for the influx

Two years ago I armchair travelled to China, eating and drinking like an Emperor, and ruminating on the extent that a Brit could wade into the political debates surrounding Chinese borders. I concluded that I couldn’t separate out Hong Kong as it was a key part of Cantonese culture which itself is key to China. Since then I have met several born and bred Hongkongers who have escaped the stifling oppression of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and their message was clear — Hong Kong is more than just a “special administrative region”. This does not mean I hold any truck for British colonialism, it means that I was deeply affected by meeting a Han woman at a train station crying with joy that she had escaped Hong Kong and the CCP.

A pineapple bun, free of pineapple

So what is Hong Kong? It’s complicated. Until 214 BCE it was the home of the Baiyue people, then the Qin dynasty took over, then it became part of the Nanyue Kingdom, then the Mongol Empire, then over to the Ming dynasty. When the Qing Emperor took over, the whole area was turned to a wasteland from 1661 to 1683 as part of the Great Clearance, which, as if to prove the fact that history repeats, was to “protect” them from the Ming dynasty loyalists moved to Taiwan… spool forward to 1842 and Hong Kong was ceded to the UK as part of the spoils of the Opium Wars. In 1898 we got a 99-year lease which was interrupted for four years by Japanese occupation. In 1997 China “Took Back Control” and has been slowly reducing Human Rights ever since.

Milk tea and hot coca-cola, apparently it cures everything

This week’s book “Love in a Fallen City” by Eileen Chang covers many of these key moments, painting a wonderful portrait of a world of faded grandeur in which remnants of Qing dynasty sensibilities remain but Hong Kong and Shanghai are changing and fast. It’s an almost Austenian world in which women are only important for their marriage prospects, but thanks to historical events such as the Japanese Invasion, nothing ever quite goes to plan. The style of writing takes some getting used to and some of the references are hard to get, but it’s worth the effort to be transported back to a world that no longer exists.

Peanut butter French toast. Breakfast of kings

This week’s film “Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” was made in 2015, but the world it portrays may also soon to be consigned to history. It is a superficial version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in which street food is everywhere and expat life is thriving. All has changed since Covid as visas are tricky and street markets are closing. If you are the kind of person who can watch two people walk across a city talking, flirting and trying to work out when being friends with an already spoken-for member of the opposite sex becomes inappropriate, then this is the film for you! I absolutely loved it, but realistically would still only give it 5 out of 10 as it’s not exactly a work of art.

A gwei-lo drinking gwei-lo and eating vegan treats in Blow Water

The same cannot be said for Hong Kong food and drink, which is, quite frankly, wonderful. Birmingham has several Hong Kong restaurants, but the two I chose were Hong Kong Dining Restaurant and Blow Water. They couldn’t be more different. One was crowded with a huge menu of fast food dining, serving everything Hong Kong dish the internet says you must try, from hot coca-cola, to pineapple buns (which have no pineapple) to French Toast (which isn’t French but is full of peanut butter), to massive bowls of noodles. It was so good I went back for breakfast the very next day! The other was tiny, stylish, empty except for us and sold pancakes, tofu, dumplings and most importantly the wonderful Gwei-Lo Neon Jungle — the best beer of the trip so far (also the most amusingly titled as gweilo literally means “white devil” and is a Cantonese term to describe a foreigner).

Without a doubt, Hong Kong has landed on the bucket list — with more high net worth individuals there than any other place in the world, maybe one of them would like to pay for the trip?

Another wonderful week then, but what of the music? I started with the unofficial national anthem, but it was as awful and jingoistic as all such things, so instead I recommend some Hong Kong shoegaze, lo-fi weirdness, and Sufjan-Stevensish mellow pop, all of which can be found on my short playlist. And with that, I head to Hungary!

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Armchair traveller

Near-zero carbon travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.