HONG KONG – You’re running in the pouring rain in the streets of a large city, maybe in Asia, or perhaps in England. You guide a somewhat eclectic group of Europeans, from a side of the street to the other, trying somehow to avoid the soup, which falls like strings of melted cheese from the sky; you climb a steep hill, going against the direction of the water flowing constantly down the street and past the already-full gutters. Night has fallen and the few passing cars, reflecting headlights on the wet asphalt, are strewing water near your feet. And you endure, you and your cronies, this wet torture, because you have a purpose. The guys don’t exactly know what they’re getting into, but they’re following. And you are absolutely confident that the two Germans, the French and the Italian will love it.
My Impressions of Hong Kong: What’s for Dinner
Moving from one street to another, across an intersection, checking the map on a smartphone and making sure you’re on the right track, rushing towards the next street on the left, and you are here. Once inside, it is a revelation.
In a small dirty white room, the decor is shocking: daddy piggy, mommy piggy and seven suckling pigs are hung up to dry, like t- shirts out of the wash, right there in the dining room. To the left of the entrance, a few whole geese are also drying, hanging from their twisted necks. Nobody asks “What’s for dinner?” It’s pretty obvious. There will be no vegetables on the menu tonight.
Since you’re a little too greedy, and your enthusiasm exceeds your reason, you order a half-goose and a whole Hong Kong suckling pig. The man, a Chinese about fifty years of age, looks at you with skepticism. But you insist, and you add that you need a good amount of beer to go with it.
The goose is ready to be served. With his huge cleaver, taking excessive swings, the man breaks bones and slices the already cooked meat, cold, dripping with fat. And he serves it to you, and then goes around the corner to fetch bottles of beer at the corner store. Once the bottles wet with condensation are on the table, he turns, goes to the deceased family, takes one of the Three Little Pigs, our own little Hong Kong suckling pig, a torch, and heads to the nearby warehouse.
The goose is delicious and perfectly cooked. The taste of the bird is a lot more intense than chicken, but absolutely light. All are hungry, but you know very well that the pièce de résistance is coming and deserves all the space it needs to navigate in your stomach.
After a short wait, Babe has a different look. The white hairless skin, comparable to the rest of his family still hanging, has become brown and golden under the influence of the torch. And the smell of the dark brown caramelized skin turns your mouth into the Niagara Falls of saliva. A few violent and expert machete chops; bones crack, skin splits, flesh separates perfectly. The man places flawlessly cut mouthfuls of meat – shoulder, butt, ribs, belly – on a large plate, then sits the head of your dinner comfortably on the pile of meat. He then brings it along with chopsticks, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and a bittersweet condiment. And another round of beers.
And then the moment has finally come. You take your first bite, an absolutely perfect combination of caramel-like brittle burnt skin, fat and partially melted pink meat, sweet, impeccably cooked, and the revelation comes over you and your group. You can almost taste the mother’s milk in the flesh of the Hong Kong Suckling Pig. The skin is so perfectly crispy and the meat is so tender and –oh, my – that perfect fat, which stays on your tongue and palate between each bite, and washes away so deliciously with each sip of beer… Bacon just took second place in the wonderful products of the pig.
My Impressions of Hong Kong: One of The Best Meals of Your Life
The decor is absolutely unique. The meat is absolutely delicious. The meal is not cluttered in manners, politeness, elegance, obligation towards others. After several minutes, teasing between the French and the Germans, laughter heard around the block, two liters of beer each and almost a whole suckling pig in Hong Kong, all are happy, satisfied, excited and ready to get on with the evening. Contrary to what you would have thought it was not a strenuous or heavy meal. After all, it’s only beer and pork. The two best things in the world, at the top of the charts along with sex and rock & roll.
And you can only get this experience in Hong Kong.