Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 HK Trip - Pier 88 (稻香超级渔港)

Location: Mong Kok (旺角), S.A.R. Hong Kong

Staying at a hostel near the busy corner that is Mong Kok certainly has its perks. Apart form the rows of vendors peddling their trade, shops of all kinds lined Nathan Road, and if you did your homework properly, you may be able to dig up some nice dining spots hidden among the jungle of signs.

The name transliterates loosely from 稻香超级渔港 (Cantonese reading: dou heong chew kap yee guong) to "Paddy fragrance super pier". 稻香 is the name of an F&B group, 稻香集团 (Tao Heung Group), one of the major F&B group in Hong Kong. There are branches of Pier 88 all over Hong Kong, but this branch is the nearest to our hostel.

Despite it being one of the famous dim sum spot in Hong Kong, we were initially surprised to find that the building which housed Pier 88, Grand Tower, to have a shabby front. It was later that we learned through experience that most buildings in Mongkok are in such state. It was when we went past the lobby and entered the lift which took us to the 3rd floor that we were surprised once more. 

The lift doors opened into a world well decorated and well-lit by crystal lamps and could safely be considered as a restaurant. The whole 3rd floor was bathed in an amber wash and the only impression which float to my mind was that of a luxurious restaurant entirely in contrast with the tower's front. Feeling a little unnerved by the potential huge spending when the bill was totaled, we stepped in. We were again surprised to find that with some controlled choice of food, the bill wasn't as high as we suspected.

From Pier 88/Tao Heung, with love...

Of all the variety of Hong Kong items known throughout the world, dim sum has become synonymous with the Cantonese and Hong Kongese. So after being guided to our seats, we pored through the 2 sheets of menu - one a pictorial array of food in vivid color and individual pricing, another a word only menu with each item only listed as "small, "big" or "special". For visitors with a lack of understanding in written traditional Chinese, the former will be helpful though limiting in choices. For one who is interested in ordering the dishes I did in my trip, a copy of the menu are available at the end of this blog, with the checked items being the sampled dishes.

The area easily get crowded with people, and we got our first experience in sharing a table with strangers in Hong Kong.

One of the more famous scene in a Hong Kong dining spot is the sheer amount of people. Cramped within the small piece of S.A.R. is over 7.1 billion people (as of 2012), which makes crowded scenes a norm. Table sharing with strangers is quite usual, and waiters usually will just guide the other party to your table without asking if you are OK with it. People come and go quite fast, with meals being served and consumed in record time. Most patrons will not take their time to dine and can get their stomach filled within half an hour if they did not order too much.

If another party sits at your table, do not be alarmed, and just smile politely back when greeted with a smile. Most of the time though, they will just mind their own business, keeping the informal personal bubble you and them.

A pot of Chinese tea to serve our dim sum with.

To avail ourselves of our Hong Kongese breakfast experience, we got ourselves the main dishes which Hong Kongers as well as Cantonese loved to start their day with - porridge, Har Gau and Siu Mai. The porridge which we ordered was one with slim pork and century egg, a usual combination for Hong Kongese porridge, transforming an otherwise bland dish into  a tasteful one. Their Har Gau and Siu Mai are nothing to scream about for Malaysians used to ordering it back home. For travelers who seldom get a chance to get a bite at them, these offered items do meet your criteria for getting a decent try at them.

皮蛋瘦肉粥 (Cantonese reading: pei dan sau yok juuk) (Porridge with century egg and slim pork) is one of the way Hong Kongers start their day with. If you aren't a fan of century egg, there are choices of other porridge for one to sample.

原蝦燒賣皇 (Cantonese reading: yuun har siu mai wong) (King of Siu Mai with prawn) (HKD 19.80) - Siu Mai is one of the all-time favorites of Hong Kong dim sums, so you should order this in order to safely claim that you feasted on dim sum in Hong Kong. With the succulent prawn embedded within the meaty content, feel free to salivate with every bite.

Even though Pier 88's Xiaolongbao is not exactly a Hong Kongese item, we ordered it anyway since we aren't getting anywhere near to fill our tummies. Once again, the buns are decent but not exactly best-in-class, and we could get it back home as well. But then again, the experience is definitely different since you will clearly be dining at a foreign land, biting into a foreign bun. For us who are looking for such experience, even a decent dish could be an experience worth savoring.

稻香鮮蝦餃 (Pier 88's signature fresh Har Gau) - Along with Siu Mai, the duo forms the main itinerary of dim sum hunters. This is also another must-order for one to stake his claim over dim sum hunting in Hong Kong. Despite the unimpressive outlook, the interior of the dough wrapping is a succulent meaty content that you will not regret ordering for.

京滬小籠包 (Cantonese reading: geng lou siu loong bau) (Beijing Shanghai Xiaolongbao) (HKD 14.80) - Not particularly a Hong Kongese item, but it doesn't hurt to supplement our breakfast with this liquid-filled steamed bun. The soup wrapped within is not the best I ever savored but it is enough to award it with a pass.

With only these few ordered dishes in Pier 88, we got easily hungry again into lunchtime. Most people would have ordered more, but there lies the danger of dining on dim sum. Most dim sums are barely enough to fill one's stomach for breakfast, and coupled with the fact that the price looked cheap for each item, it could encourage one to order too much and be surprised by the bill later.

For budget travelers, dim sums could be considered somewhat of a luxury - to be ordered to sample but should not lose count over the final bill. If you are not on a budget though, feel free to sample more of the dim sums offered as well as some other dishes offered in the menu. The porridge will be more fulfilling than the dim sums, so if you are a hungry bear, get yourself a bowl of their porridge. It is more worthy of your money per percentage of stomach filled. Leave the dim sums as one of your luxurious choice.

Menu 1 - the colorful arrays of pictures will be helpful in knowing what you are ordering without the need to understand written traditional Chinese, though the choices here are limited.

Menu 2 - This menu has a lot more choices, but will be a challenge for non-Chinese readers. The waiter may help you, but it is best not to expect them going though patiently with you to explain which dish is what. If you really don't have a Chinese reading friend with you, keep yourself to Menu 1, or just order the ones I did, which are checked with a number '1' in the menu here. The one of the leftmost column is 稻香鮮蝦餃 (Pier 88's signature fresh Har Gau) and the one on the 2nd column is 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (Porridge with century egg and slim pork). There are a total of 4 types of porridges, with  256 and 360 being those with century eggs.

Note: This piece is written based on experience from the branch in Grand Tower, Mongkok. Experience may differ between this branch and that in the main branch.

Suitable for:             breakfast with friends and family
Cost:                              price - affordable

Website:                     Pier 88 official website in English

Contact:                      +852 - 8300 8168
Address:                       Shop B, 3rd Floor, Grand Tower, 639 Nathan Road, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Operating hours:   Daily (7.00 a.m. - 12.00 p.m.)
Getting there:          Exit at Mong Kok MTR E1 exit and walk against the traffic along Nathan Road. Look for the sign above mentioning "稻香超级渔港". No worries if you couldn't see it or recognize the sign, there will be English name for Grand Tower, and you will see the same Chinese name on a yellow signboard in front of the tower.

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