Friday, February 26, 2016

Sun Hing Sek Ka: chaos 3am dim sum

So, I'm in a good mood! My laptop says it's 12:17pm, so it's...4:17am. Right? Yes, right.

I'm up, and I'm staying up. 

I'm not going to be hard on myself about getting back on home time. But I slept a few hours and it's noon back home. 

I'm staying up. Also: I'm FULL.

There's a well-known dim sum place in Kennedy Town called Sun Hing Sek Ka although everyone seems to just call it "Sun Hing". It's famous because it opens at 3am (actually earlier) and closes at 4pm--its clientele is often described as being "taxi drivers and students" or some such formulation; I only saw students (from nearby HKU which, wow, needs to work on its website). Mostly Chinese; a decent smattering of white kids.

I've had the idea of coming here since I arrived, but the combo of (a) wanting to work in the morning, (b) wanting to work out in the morning, and (c) not wanting to be just totally freaking shattered with exhaustion in the afternoon, pulled me off doing it at 3am. With the work sched, I couldn't do an afternoon trip--and who wants to do "an afternoon trip" to the 3am dim sum place anyway?

I've also, as noted, had the idea of getting back onto Cali time this last weekend. I don't have to work, meaning I can sleep from 4pm - 10pm if that feels right.

Lastly, I was so tired last night that when I got home around 830pm, instead of going for a run and then going out to eat as I'd planned, or doing even one of those things, I slipped from my clothes and into my bed and slept for a few hours.

Sun Hing is a little hard to find: various listings put it at the wrong address, no address, or the right address. But with an approximate location and no guiding technology on my person I set out into the pleasantly-not-totally-empty but still-very-quiet 3am Kennedy Town streets. I went to the wrong address first, but it was not hard to find the bustling dim sum place with magazine writeups all over its storefront and students spilling out of the door.

What was so nice was that it was chaotic and "crazy" but not at all stressful; have cake, eat it (literally. you'll see). Its appearance is exactly...google it: a fluorescently lit jam-packed plastic tabled mess of a 3am dim sum place. Exactly what you'd expect. 

There was oh my gawd NO where to sit, but actually there was; I kind of walked to the back and the front (a benefit of places like this is that no one gives any shits what you do; the servers literally move you with their hands if they need to be where you are so you don't even have to worry about getting in their way) and I found this awesome table right by the door. 

I also then got a demo in how to use this restaurant that was practically contrived in its clarity:
  • to my right was the food station, where servers brought out stacks of steamed dim sum dishes (there was some kind of mechanism for ordering not these things, but I was not going to f#ck with that) and placed them down on a table that maybe was heated or something. And customers just kind of chaotically queued to grab them and take them back to their tables; as I watched, one young white woman overdid it and lost a little basket of shumai from the top of a tall stack
    • this food delivery mechanism had a satisfying simple setup for takeout, as well: styrofoam boxes next to the food, with plastic bags and chopsticks. Which made me think that maybe taxi drivers do come here, snatch food, and go.
  • paying: also simple! I watched the party before me do it, as I camped at the table, claiming it. The waitress comes over and tallies your baskets and gives you a bill. You pay the dude at the front. There are a couple of basketless goods that I'm not sure how she tabs, but I was not worried about being overcharged, or about ripping them off; the floor ops @ this place seemed to be well in hand. Also a thing that is nice in general about Hong Kong is that every single transaction I've conducted has been surprisingly transparent, given how clueless I am with the language; it just does not seem like a place where they rip off the white guy who has no idea what's going on, I think because there have been so many of us here for so long.
Here's what I ate, with overthought exegeses of how I felt about eating these things qua my usual dietary restrictions:
  • chicken feet: delicious. Felt fine; I've eaten fowl a few times here already (preserved duck, roast goose). I have absolutely no misconceptions about the terribleness of the farming that brings me this fowl. I feel bad about that. But I also feel--I don't think that this is a rationalization--that a life of complete abstemiousness is hard for me to maintain, whereas a life of near complete abstemiousness is actually pretty consistent and doable. E.g., it's not like every time I travel I break my rules about meat. It feels particular, here; I freaking love things like chicken feet, and places like this, and you really just can't do them if you're totally veg. Anyhoo.
  • chicken feet wrapped in bean curd with CRAP IS THAT PORK no, no it's turnip. DeLICious. I think I've basically told you how I felt about eating this, in its description.
  • Liu Sha Bao - salted sweet egg buns. These are a signature of Sun Hing and I was excited about trying them (see long thing about chicken, above, re: egg). Exceeded expectations. Perfect spongy delicious bao, small; salty sweet runny egg custard inside. I ate three of these; I could have eaten 15.
  • Ha Gow (steamed shrimp dumpling) - delicious. No particular feelings; I do usually avoid shrimp, and these were almost certainly shrimp sourced in a way I'd rather avoid. But, again: near abstemiousness. 
  • Pai Gwut - Okay so yeah: bad. Not the food; it was tasty. This is another signature dim sum dish: steamed pork ribs snipped into 1/2-inch pieces. I took it thinking it was chicken. I don't like eating pork; I'm well aware that when you're traveling in east Asia it has a way of popping up unannounced and I try to be very careful about that. The difference for me is in realities vs. first principals (I'm sure there's a formal way of expressing this distinction, but I'm not an Ethicist); meaning: the reason I only eat certain fowl/fish is because of what I perceive to be excessive cruelty to the animal itself in how it is reared, caught, or slaughtered; and/or excessive damage to the human or natural environment in the supply chain. But there's a separate ruleset for things that I would not, myself, kill, and that rule set is simple: do not eat those things, you f&cking hypocrite. I would not kill a pig, cow, rabbit, deer, etc. I know from practice that I'll kill fish, crustaceans; I have never in fact killed a chicken, but am confident I could and in fact like the idea (in theory) of a setup where I rear/slaughter the poultry I eat. But basically I don't want to eat mammals. I never want to. I feel bad about this pork dish, still, but by the time I knew what I'd taken I was back at my table and had popped a piece in my mouth; even at a place like Sun Hing y'can't really put it back @ that point. Lesson learned.
  • Mah Lai Goh - Steamed Cake, which the internet variously identifies as "Chinese" or "Malaysian". I almost passed this by because meh, bread. Glad I didn't! It's a sweet spongy delicious delicious cake/bread thing, perfectly suited for sopping up sauces. I took a hunk of this home, along with one of the chicken's feet wrapped in bean curd &c. and some
  • Deep Fried Milk Custard - Friend, reader: holy $h1t. This stuff...I mean it's exactly what it says. It's like a custardy slightly slippery bit of milk pudding lightly fried and...how this came to my table is that it was one of a few things that weren't in little baskets (the Mah Lai Goh was another) and I wasn't sure I was going to take it just because I was full and then a waitress running past had some in her hands--you put it on plates with some tongs and then clip it up with big scissors--and wagged it in my face and said something in Cantonese and I nodded and she put it down on my table. I'm glad that she did.
  • Some kind of maybe shrimp thing wrapped in a long thin wonton thing - in the set-up with the milk custard, not in baskets. I'd grabbed one of these, coming back from the food station proper. Crunchy, tasty.
So I devoured these things until I was very full, and put overflow into a takeaway box. I have enough that I'd say it comprises a meal (certainly calorically; not super-strong on um nutritional baalance). All for 136HKD, which is about $17.50.

I like having a pot of steaming hot tea to sip from small cups as I eat. They of course do this in Chinese restaurants in New York, too. I really miss that; I don't go to Chinese food much in L.A., the best places are kind of a trek. I miss it.

As I finished up the waitress conveyed with great clarity things like "Are you done? Can I wipe this down?" "Here's your check" in Cantonese, shouting constantly with other waitstaff, over all of our heads. At one point a different waitress just put a platter of food she was preparing for someone else's takeout (or something) on my table, nudging my food--she said something that I'm almost sure was a quick friendly "sorry gotta do this" and I was like "hey whatever", eating my awesome food.

I got up and paid the silver-haired dude at the front; I reached behind the counter to grab the roll of toilet paper I'd seen him pop out for a young white guy who'd approached him earlier, barely able to stand on his feet. There are no napkins on the tables, nor visible anywhere else in the restaurant. I took some toilet paper to wipe my hands; I'd been worried about reaching behind the counter but again I think, long as I was not literally putting my hand in his cash drawer, my man here did not care what I did with myself.

I walked home; I actually saw the wobbly white guy who'd taught me where the napkins were making his way...somewhere. He looked less wobbly--got some food in him.

Sun Hing is wonderful. If you're ever in K-Town (HK edition): go.

Parting thought: 

I have 84HKD, cash, in my pocket. 

I have 3 full meals in my fridge. I just ate a ton. I have also a lot of sequestered snacks. It's Saturday morning; I leave Monday morning and Sunday night I'll be at a place with more free snacks. I could easily spend no more money on food, on this trip. Which I'm tempted to do, just cuz it's so clean: drawing down the reserves, avoiding fees on additional cash withdrawal (nevermind credit card transactions. f*ck that.). 

But...that doesn't feel like the smart play, on this trip. Who knows when, if, how I'll be back in Hong Kong. And I really like Hong Kong. I like setting out, finding a place and eatin' some stuff, here 

So I don't get the satisfaction of "drawing down the reserves" on this one. I think it's bank fees and wandering and a city of plenty.

Just gotta watch out for pai gwut.

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