Tai Hang 大坑: the hippy valley

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Tai Hang 大坑

Tai Hang 大坑

After spending part of my Sunday afternoon two weeks ago exploring Tin Hau and Fortress Hill, I set out to another area that was kind of a black hole to me on Hong Kong Island: the enclave of Tai Hang (大坑) near Victoria Park.

Previously, I only knew Tai Hang, as the name for Tai Hang Road, leading up to the mountain which forks into the “Tai Hang” drive (now with an opulent new development called The Legend). However, this does not represent Tai Hang proper, as the “real” Tai Hang is in fact a valley accessible by road only through Tung Lo Wan Road from the north side.

If you know the Hong Kong Central Library, then you can locate Tai Hang as being towards the mountain, a tad to the east. It’s out of everyone’s way, a 10-minute walk from Tin Hau MTR.

Tai Hang is perhaps also a remarkable spot because it is very slightly built-up, with relatively narrow streets and little traffic. From what I gather, listening to relatives who lived there, or people of my age living in nearby areas, many of the new businesses opened shop only in the past few years, with the neighborhood’s increasing gentrification. To the north of Tai Hang, closer to Tung Lo Wan Road, trendy bars go elbow-to-elbow with fashionable clothing stores and cute dessert houses.

As you walk further to the south, inside the valley, not only does it get darker (because of the taller nearby buildings on Tai Hang Road), but also the “interesting” businesses aforementioned tend to diminish, replaced with motor shops that service taxis and expensive vintage vehicles alike.

Continue reading “Tai Hang 大坑: the hippy valley”

A stroll on Electric Road, from Tin Hau to Fortress Hill

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Tin Hau 天后

Tin Hau 天后

Two weeks ago, I set out to Tin Hau MTR for a walk in a new random neighborhood that I did not know. When I came to Hong Kong in 2008, I stayed in North Point, with Causeway Bay as one my frequent hangouts, as it is for a lot of returning overseas Chinese. You can either take the tram or the MTR from North Point towards the more popular/international neighborhood to the west. In between North Point and Victoria Park are two MTR stations which eventually lent their names to the neighborhoods they serve: Tin Hau and Fortress Hill.

One is named after a temple to the Chinese deity Tin Hau, and the other took its name from, well, a hill with a fortress on it (although I’ve never seen it). On the mountain side of TH and FH is a relatively well-off high-rise residential area.

AIA Tower

Closer to the sea, around the MTR station and the main arteries of King’s Rd and Electric Rd, lie some more popular apartments. The neighborhood is clearly gentrifying because of the proximity to Causeway Bay and relatively new office skyscrapers around Fortress Hill MTR like the AIA Tower (1999) and the Manulife Tower. While walking on Electric Rd, close to Tin Hau, you would recognize a strip of mid-scale, clean-looking Southeast Asian restaurants.

Bakery in Tin Hau 天后

Bread

Maybe one-third on my way from Tin Hau to Fortress Hill, along Electric Rd, I stumbled upon a bakery, which was by no means fancy, but had a lineup in front of it, while the staff scurried to provide with freshly baked egg tarts, pineapple cakes — I had one of those and it was very good, especially warm, fresh out of the oven. I also bought a loaf of bread, eight slices for cheaper than Garden bread, and also straight out of the oven.

Tin Hau 天后

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As I progressed north, half-way there to Fortress Hill MTR, I passed by a street of motor shops, at the ground floor of old manufactures, probably transformed into office space today.

Loving Hut: Vegan food in Hong Kong

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Loving Hut - Vegan food in Hong Kong

Disclaimer: I am not vegan, let alone vegetarian. But my friend Kim, who happens to be vegetarian, was in town a few weeks ago. Often I would take the tramway from Central to Causeway Bay, and notice this shiny, flashy new fast-food restaurant along it in Wan Chai on same block as the gas station. The restaurant is called Loving Hut and is in fact a chain originating from Taiwan, but with branches all across the world.

Kim told me that the Chinese-style fake meat she gets in Montreal is often imported from Taiwan. In the Buddhist tradition, followers would have these “vegetarian” days, which I know as “sek zai” (my grand-mother would do these once a week or so, and have tofu-based meals for an entire day).

Just like at a Maxim’s or Cafe de Coral, you must order from a menu next to the cashier. Then, you pick up your receipt and present it to the kitchen counter.

When I went for the first time, I had red rice with mini tofu cubes. Now, I probably ate or saw this dish before in its full-meat version. The vegan version was no less tasty (maybe a bit salty) and I would definitely have it again.

Loving Hut - Vegan food in Hong Kong

Loving Hut - Vegan food in Hong Kong

I also had a lemon basil seed (?) drink, which was served warm, and tasted sour with translucent seeds collecting at the bottom of the cup. There were char siu buns too without the char siu.

On a different occasion, now with three other friends, none vegetarians, we tried a larger variety of dishes. One was a classic yu hsiang eggplant, just without the ground pork. And then there was a bunch of noodles and a sweet and sour fried tofu.

===

A days after Loving Hut, we went again for vegetarian food, but this time in a real sit-down restaurant. It’s called Gaia Veggie Shop and is situated in Goldmark, right by the south side of the Sogo intersection in Causeway Bay, in the building next to the empty lot (old Mitsukoshi).

My photos are super low-res, so I am not going to post them. It’s good to know that the goal of this restaurant seems to be to fool you as well as possible. I never had fake sushi fish before, but let me tell you that it practically has the same texture, The menu in fact never specifies that such and such meat is “fake”, and dishes are always simply listed with meat names in it (only that you won’t find any meat in the actual order). Thinking about what we ate already makes me hungry… Aside from the sushi, we had a broth served in a coconut, and beef-wrapped enoki mushrooms. There was perhaps a sweet and sour chicken in there as well.

Bakery renewal or when urban renovation goes through the stomach

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Pâtisserie chinoise La Légende - Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal
Pâtisserie La Légende 麗晶餅屋 undergoing renovations

Pâtisserie Callia - Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal
Pâtisserie-restaurant Callia (嘉莉/麵包茶餐聽)

Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal
Side of Pâtisserie Harmonie 麵包蜜語

Whereas the Chinese “food scene” (you can hardly call it a food scene when a city lacks quality Beijing and Shanghai cuisine) in 2009 has been dominated with the arrival of numerous restaurants and eateries opened by Mainland Chinese immigrants in Montreal’s new Chinatown, that of the traditional Chinatown on De la Gauchetière (between St-Urbain and Clark) was mostly revamped in the past two years with new Cantonese-owned shops, three of which happen to be bakeries.

Already in the winter of 2008, Harmonie (麵包蜜語) shook Montreal’s Chinese bakery standards by opening at the corner of St-Urbain and De la Gauchetière. Buns left to die on a colourless counter were a thing of the past. Now, Chinese pastries and other bite-size delicacies or cakes would be served in a decor on par with at least what you would see in Hong Kong or other larger Chinatowns of North America: lit-up counters, uniformed staff, floral decorations.

A year later in April 2009, a first competitor Restaurant Callia (嘉莉) was opened (by the family owning Chinese restaurant Keung Kee) across the street. It added the dining space and kitchen that Harmonie did not have, serving Hong Kong’s famed Cha chaan teng-style food of milk tea, beef brisket noodles and Italian noodles in Cantonese sauce, under big TV screens spouting soaps from TVB.

Now on my last visit of Chinatown during the Holidays, I noticed that my grandparents’ favourite (and personal longtime favourite, for lack of anything else) M.M. Légende took over the trendy “Asian-style” clothing store next door and hid behind wooden planks as it is undergoing renovations. For the past two years, I believe that it was to become the first casualty of the Callia/Harmonie combination. So instead, it renamed itself as Pâtisserie La Légende (麗晶餅屋) and decided to expand. Follow-ups would be greatly appreciated!

Maybe now this first casualty would be Dobe & Andy (right under of Kam Fung) if they don’t change. I’m now curious to see what is going to happen with this new huge space for a cha chaan teng, in spite of more restaurant space made available with the imminent inauguration of Plaza Swatow (長盛廣場).

Saturation, or serious signs of Chinese Montrealers moving back to Chinatown? My opinion is that this will largely depend on affordable parking space made available in the area from the Swatow building. Right now, paid parking is prohibitively expensive (no incentive as in downtown Montreal) and free spots can only be found four or five blocks away. A pleasure for nearby residents and public transit users, but a chore for a certain class of car-going suburbanites that I grew up with…

De la Gauchetière - Quartier Chinois / Chinatown Montréal