Posts tagged “Hong Kong

VISIT: Island East Markets

Island East Markets, Hong Kong on Vimeo.

If you haven’t made it to Island East Markets, check out the little video* I shot on the last day of their trial period, on October 21st, to get a little feeling of what it’s about.

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Moving back to Hong Kong was a decision that wasn’t completely my own, and one of the things I missed the most about London was its abundance of brilliant outdoor markets. Everyone knows Borough, Spitalfields and Broadway, but I fell in love with Maltby Street in my last year there and, when I was back again just a few months ago, it was even better than I had remembered.

Hong Kong’s wet markets will always be a source of fascination for me, and I’m fully aware of the small independent markets that exist around the city – such as the occasional Star Ferry organic fruit and vegetable market, the Discovery Bay monthly, and the Tai Po market among others.  The problem was that they were either quite small (in the case of the Star Ferry market), or simply too far for myself, an east island dweller.

Markets, like independent businesses, are vital to the spirit of a city. Markets that celebrate local agriculture, enterprise and creativity are even more valuable, becoming not only a community hub but a space where people can come together to learn more about the local businesses available to them. I’m thinking particularly of the brilliance of Simple Market in Taipei, which is so strong in its celebration of homegrown produce and products. So, earlier this year when I heard from my good friend Janice (aka e-ting) that she was planning to set up an organic farmers’ market on Hong Kong island, I couldn’t wait to see it realised.

In Hong Kong, we are so reliant on imported produce (whether it’s the 90 per cent of meat and vegetables from mainland China or the airmiles-heavy products from around the globe) we forget that we actually have a number of sustainable local farms available to us. (For a well-written summary of Hong Kong’s troubled relationship with its food provenance, read Daniel’s excellent piece here). Also, sometimes attitudes don’t help: the SCMP recently ran a controversial piece on whether organic produce is worth its salt in the city, which this humble writer thinks completely missed the point of the movement in the first place (again, see counter posts by Grassroots Pantry and Island East Markets themselves for good arguments in favour of supporting local organic farms, especially the smaller ones).

But I digress (for now). The below shots are from the first day of the market, on September 29, 2012. There’ve been so many fantastic write-ups in both the press and blogs, so I won’t need to regale you with just how bloody successful the whole thing has been. I’ve given a small part of my time here and there to help Janice and Vince (the other brilliant mind behind the market, without whom this couldn’t have been accomplished either!) and I am just in awe of them. They’ve managed to wow the Swire property group (who owns the land on which the market takes place) so much with their professionalism and enthusiasm that the market has now been renewed after the initial four-week trial period – Island East Markets is coming back next Sunday the 11th, and will continue running weekly on Sundays until December 16th!

It just goes to show that if you are determined enough to do something great in this city, anything is possible.

 

 

Island East Markets
Returning November 11th
Sundays 10am-5pm
Tong Chong Street, Quarry Bay
www.hkmarkets.org

 * A little disclaimer: I just really liked the first 30 seconds of the tune I used – ignore the fact that it’s actually a Japanese song used in a video about a local Hong Kong market! But am told it’s a positive tune about doing your own thing and being yourself. And I wasn’t planning on shooting a video that day but just ended up doing it – if I’d planned better I would have had more people in the video. I’m sure there are a lot of people conspicuously absent from this! Well, next time.


DRINK: Rabbithole Coffee & Roasters

Mike Fung at Rabbithole Coffee

Just a little over two years ago, I was writing a major piece on coffee that was a result of London’s growing – nay, exploding – caffeine scene. Necking 50-plus espressos and coffees in one week may have culminated in me pale and glassy-eyed in bed at the end of it all, with the painful realisation that a caffeine hangover does exist, but it also resulted in the revelation that the city had come a long way in terms of providing the perfect cup.

It’s astounding just how amazing the coffee culture is now in London, all within the span of 2-3 years, and I’m pleased to have seen it grow and grow (and do my little part to promote it) to the point where a new place seems to be opening every week. Of course, the challenge is now not also about sustaining the quality (though me-too, bandwagon-hopping cafés soon die out), but breaking new boundaries. While I’m not sure what direction London’s coffee culture might take in the coming years, I know that more and more good coffee is only going to be a good thing.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is a slightly different story; I feel like it’s still several years behind (as it is with most things, but I digress). But I sense something similar happening here, with a slow but quiet growth of a community that is passionate about coffee, and about educating the public about it. With the restrictions that come with high rents and limited space, the growth of great coffee places has been at a trickle rather than a flood like in London, but at least we’re not condemned to the likes of Starbucks, PCC (the ‘perfect cup’, my arse) and Habitu (though I admit a soft spot for their rose lattes).

Right before returning to Hong Kong at the end of January, the lovely Hoi Chi of Coming Soon Coffee tipped me off about Rabbithole Coffee & Roasters, who had just opened in Central. Always looking for an interesting new opening – all the better if it has anything to do with coffee – I was down there two days after landing.


To go down the rabbithole, one must go up [several flights of stairs].

They roast their own beans in an off-site roastery, making them one of the few places who do so in Hong Kong. The other famous roastery here is Coffee Assembly, but others are less well-known, or are as big.

The location is impressive. Rabbithole is on the second floor of a building on Cochrane Street, looking out onto the Mid-Levels escalator. This is possibly one of the best advertising strategies a small café up above the ground can have, as naturally the sight of shiny espresso machines and people chilling on the (tiny) balcony is bound to attract floating passersby.

Even better when the folding doors are completely pushed back. It was a ‘cold’ day in HK, I guess.

Much like Faye Wong in Chungking Express, I now always use the escalator as an opportunity to steal a glimpse into Rabbithole as I pass by, mainly to gauge how busy it is. And lately, it’s always hopping. (SORRY!) There’s room for quite a few people, especially with the outdoor terrace at the back (a little oasis in the middle of Central), but with only one central table for about 8-10, expect to say hi to your fellow coffee-loving neighbours if you draw up a perch.

(As a side note, why hasn’t anyone done a ‘Shit Coffee Geeks Say’ video?)


The narrow balcony is a perfect spot for those who don’t mind being oggled at.

I felt welcomed at Rabbithole from the first visit. Some coffee shops can feel a little intimidating – where cooler-than-thou baristas can make you feel invisible until they deign to acknowledge your presence, or if the menu is a bit too esoteric. There’s zero snobbiness here – in fact, on first impressions the staff seemed almost a bit intimidated by the customers. Fair enough, it was their first week and there was no room to hide any mistakes in the coffee-brewing processes.

Bad-ass barista Mike Fung. Intense concentration.

Over the past two months I’ve dropped in and out several times, but right from my very first visit I was really taken by Mike Fung, the owner, a former media man and utter coffee obsessive who travelled to Melbourne to go under the tutelage of various baristas. An easy-going guy who can strike up a conversation with anyone – on my first visit with a coffee-sceptic friend, he just sidled up next to us and started chattering away. My friend now drinks coffee and recommends Rabbithole to anyone who asks about a great place to chill in Central.

There’s no special treatment – Mike didn’t even know who I was until very recently, when I met up with Hoi Chi and Tom over coffee there.

Special thanks to Alice, who not only is my hand model here, but in a moment of inspiration perched my Yirgacheffe ice drip atop this light source for an intriguing shot!

I’ve only scratched the surface at Rabbithole, but I’ve never come away disappointed. From the refreshing Ethiopian Red Cherry pourover on my first visit to the flat whites, piccolos and ice drips in between, I’ve discovered that this is a place where I’m actually really discovering more and more as I drink. Instead of always falling back on my preferred flat white (I will always feel like a sham coffee drinker for preferring milky coffees most of the time to brewed specimens), the customer/staff interaction encouraged by the shop layout means I often ask what’s good or interesting that day. In the warm humidity of the Fragrant Harbour (which is only going to get worse, oh god), I’m becoming really partial to their thirst-quenching ice drip coffees…

When I first came back to Hong Kong, I was feeling incredibly homesick for London. In my earliest conversation with Mike we joked around about his coffee bar being at least one reason to stay in the city, to be happy that I was here and not back in the UK. It became a kind of running joke over my next few visits, ending each one of them with a laugh, but you know what?There grew a truth in it. It’s places like these, where you can feel comfortable; where you can indulge in a relaxing ritual and be treated like an old friend, that make the transition from one life to another much more bearable. Cheers, guys.

For the rest of you coffee geeks, get down here quick if you know what’s good for ya.

 

Rabbithole Coffee & Roaster
2/F, 26 Cochrane Street, Central, Hong Kong
2581 0861
www.rabbitholecoffee.com / @rabbitholecoffe 

 


EAT: Yardbird, Hong Kong

Chicken hearts skewer

Yardbird. An ode in haikus.

More than just bird bits
No reservations; rock up
Drink loads while waiting.

Sweet, creamy uni
Crisp pinpricks of panko, oh…
Nori completes it.


Shards of chicken skin.
I much prefer the squelch of
crumpled, crisp fat

Flurry of negi
blankets chicken hearts
Freshness and iron

Chicken and egg rice
Like risotto meets claypot
Fried skin for texture

May be a bit dear:
One drink is never enough.
Save up, eat happy.


Yardbird / 
33-35 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan / 上環33-35 必列者士街

 

PS. Put March 6th 2012 in your calendars. 


EAT: This little piggy

This little piggy, from the Kimberly Chinese Restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, did not die in vain.

Being slaughtered at 20 days, gutted, stuffed with fragrant rice, slowly roasted and then disembodied for the delight of some rather greedy food lovers may not be how it imagined to go.

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