Monday, February 20, 2012

A.J. Liebling practiced

potstickers to dream about
Hong Kong is bigger and uglier and the potstickers are infinitely better, but it reminds me more of San Francisco than any city I've ever visited. Both are full of people who speak Cantonese and eat dim sum and in both you will find hunched 4-foot-tall old ladies trying to cross busy intersections. I felt much less sure of the culture and my surroundings in Barcelona.

Like I said, uglier.
Last week I started saving room for roast goose and crab and egg custard tarts and noodles when I was tempted to eat a Valentine's chocolate I would ask myself, would you rather have this or try the congee at King's Palace in Happy Valley that Mike Wolgelenter loved so much he moved to the neighborhood? This wouldn't work for some people, but no question I'd rather have the congee. Yesterday, I declined breakfast at the hotel and watched as my companions ate all that boring Western  food. Not one millimeter of stomach space and not one precious calorie was going to be used on toast or fruit when there were xiao long bao waiting out there.

So we went on our walking excursion and around noon we sat down to our first meal at a recommended dim sum restaurant called the Metropole. I was faint with hunger by then. The Metropole features a vast, vast carpeted banquet hall with low ceilings and animated parties of boisterous people eating and gesticulating and ladies pushing roast duck and egg custard tarts around on carts. It was thrilling to behold. Additionally there was a central hot food station where cooks were frying potstickers and turnip cakes and many more exotic savories on hot, noisy griddles. I wanted to try everything, but we started with the crusty potstickers which were incredible, bulging with meat and scallions barely contained by a thin wrapper. Totally unlike most potstickers I've eaten in the United States in which there tends to be a wide pocket between the dense wrapper and puny ball of filling. My father became obsessed with something called a baby oyster pancake and that was even better than the potsticker, but by then. . .

Okay, here is the sad part of the story. When we got to the restaurant I was so famished I quickly ate a dumpling before either of my companions had even plucked one from the serving plate. Then I drank some tea. I looked around at the wonderful, lively restaurant and thought, this is it, I have arrived at the glorious moment I've been longing for since my obsession with Chinese food took root 14 years ago in Barbara Tropp's cooking class. I ate a second dumpling. I put down my chopsticks, sighed in satisfaction.

And realized that after two dumplings I was completely full.

Oh, I kept eating, but it wasn't as easy as it should have been. Dieting in preparation for an epic eating trip makes about as much sense as lying on the sofa in preparation for a marathon. I will hit my stride, but the training strategy was a little cracked.

The gray tower in the middle is our darling hotel.


  1. Please say you'll experiment w/ dim sum when you return? And post recipes of successes, of course?

  2. "Dieting in preparation for an epic eating trip makes about as much sense as lying on the sofa in preparation for a marathon." Hee. Much of my life can be summed up by the phrase, "but it seemed like a good idea at the time."

  3. I have noticed that about potstickers/dumplings! Why do they do that?

  4. Funny: When I got to Hong Kong I thought it was like New York: an island of tall buildings filled with people obsessed with food and shopping.

  5. I just found your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have read. Your description of Hong Kong and San Francisco sounds EXACTLY like Toronto. Change to new-ish buildings with abundant dim sum and 4 foot tall old ladies trying to cross the street, and it's spot on. But here we can walk 6 blocks or so and be in the Ethiopian neighbourhood for dinner :)