One thing I noticed here is that it’s really difficult to eat vegetables – I am not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy my greens. However, when you go and eat at a Chinese restaurant (or with Chinese people) you are expected to order meat or fish as a main, with maybe some vegetables as a side dish. There are no pure vegetarian dishes unless you go to a Buddhist temple or eat in a non-Chinese restaurant.
The last couple of days I tried to eat the following:
- Pho soup in a Vietnamese restaurant, but with very little meat (however, it was a meaty soup)
- Char Siu Fan in a Chinese restaurant (I ate more of the rice and greens, than the BBQ pork)
- Fried vegetables in a Thai restaurant (they must have thought I am boring – but to me it tasted nice, just some vegetables with ginger and garlic)
And today I dared myself to eat congee. It’s a type of rice porridge (more like a rice soup) made by prolonged boiling of rice in water. It’s not very flavoursome on its own, hence you add some ingredients to the soup. I went with my Chinese colleague to a place opposite our office and I told her I don’t want fish in my soup but I would not mind some pork (I already realised I have to order meat, otherwise my colleagues find me very strange!). She then asked me if I wanted to try the very traditional style, pointing to the lady who was sitting opposite of us. I just looked at what she was eating, a bowl filled to the brim with white rice soup with some green bits and meat, and I nodded my head.
My colleague ordered congee with pork – but now, after three weeks in Hong Kong, I could guess it would not be my typical soup. I was right, it was a soup with roast pork pieces and some dark pieces swimming in the bowl. They looked like dark jelly to me. I was guessing they were mushrooms. Ok, so I added some soy and black pepper, mixed the soup and under the interesting glance of my colleague, tucked in.
The congee is quite bland (you can’t compare it to a normal soup, it’s just rice with water), but the roasted pork tasted very nice. However, the black jelly did not turn out to be mushrooms. It was an old egg. The so called thousand year old eggs are not that old (of course) but they look like they could have been this old easily. They are considered delicatessen in China, but I have to admit, as much as I like eggs, I don’t like thousand year old eggs.
The thousand year old eggs are preserved eggs, in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green and creamy with a smell of odour of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavour.
Here is a picture I found online, of how a thousand year old egg cut in half looks like (and here is a more detailed blog post from Passionateeater about century eggs in general).
I smiled, told my colleague that the congee is nice (which was true), ate the chicken and spring onions but let the egg sink to the bottom. Next time, no more old egg for me.
Actually, next time (if we go to the same place) I try and see if I can just order soup, with noodles and greens (no meat) – they seem to do this, and then add wonton. Maybe if I just ask them for a wonton soup, but without wonton, I end up with a meat-free dish (I don’t mind if the soup is not vegetarian, I just can’t eat pieces of meat every lunchtime!).
I found a blog post with nice images/descriptions about the same place that I went to for lunch here on the Hong Kong Travel blog. Just imagine me being on these pictures too!