Top 5 – Gastronomic Options for the HKU Student
As the famous Chinese saying goes, “hunger breeds discontentment, and food is the first necessity of the people” (i.e. 民以食為天), even as a hardworking Uni student, food remains a high (if not – the top) concerns of our lives. We know uni life can be stressful, and decisions are endless, especially those that concern where to eat, what to eat and how much to eat, I’ve come up with the top 5 options – gastronomy-wise – for the HKU student. Hope this helps!
#1 – QUICK AND EASY – CHOP CHOP!
Essentially, you’re looking for something quick, cheap and easy… food, I mean. You just got off a two-hour lecture on Finance learning about derivatives (it bored you to death, especially given the Monday blues) and you have exactly fifteen minutes till a formal interview where you’ll have to be your best self. So you’re starving and in great need of something to fill you up, but being the person who demands something more than a cold, dry amalgamation of bread stuffed with yellowing lettuce and chicken breasts whose texture resemble rubber, of course you’re going to say no to a boring sandwich from Starbucks. At this point of the week, you’re also kind of broke. So here is my suggestion: pop over to any canteen (I suggest the CYM Canteen since they offer the best among the selection) and order a “Char Siew Farn” – in other words, Cantonese Barbecued Pork Rice. To sound like a veteran, ask for less rice, more veggies and extra gravy.
“Char Siew Farn” is a Cantonese favourite to an extent where we people in Hong Kong take it as a necessity, a form of comfort food. It’s very affordable – won’t cost you more than HKD$20! – even cheaper than a simple boxed sandwich from any cafe. It’s also incredible how quick this meal is presented to you after you order it from the counter. It basically only takes two minutes max for the chef to chop up the Char Siew, top it on your rice and serve it to you – Chop Chop! – and here you go. This is one of the reasons why I love having “Char Siew Farn” on campus – it’s so incredibly efficient!
I’m also actually really impressed by the quality of the food offered by the Cantonese Barbecue section in our canteens – the Char Siews are always roasted beautifully with such a precision that it’s moist enough so that the juice of the meat is retained while the exterior is gracefully coated with a light honey glaze. (Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit but yeah, I guess you get the point.)
Another thing about “Char Siew Farn” is how filling it is, and I’m not just talking about the portion, which is extremely worth-mentioning. As one of the Cantonese staples, one of the reasons why people are so in love with this dish is because it fills you up remarkably. There’s enough carbs and protein to help you sustain your day. The other thing about it is how mentally satisfying the whole thing is, I mean, just look at that piece of Char Siew…
#2 – WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE SPLURGING A LITTLE… (A LA GOURMET THERAPY)
Yes, we all have those days that we feel we deserve something better, nicer, fancier, because, well, maybe the weather isn’t doing its job to cheer us up, or maybe because we’ve been craving a girls (or guys) day/night out since forever; or maybe we’re trying to impress an object of affection at a fancy little ristorante that has a nice(r) ambience (Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying this is the only way to win a special someone’s heart…) So yeah, regardless of your intentions, it’s always okay to splurge a little to enjoy all the good things that life has to offer. In this case, if you have an extra hour or two to spare, it’s always nice to go down to Central or Soho (also known as HKU’s little backyard of hidden gems) to honour your palate.
Here are a few suggestions for different occasions.
If you’re craving sushi for lunch (and if you absolutely despise the over-refrigerated packed sushi ParknShop sells – I do.), take the minibus or trek a little bit to Sushi O, a chic sushi bar on the fringes of Soho that offers scrummy sushi with an Australian twist, located at the end of Staunton Street (where it intersects with Bridges Street). The interior is very sleek and modern – a black sushi bar softened with low lighting and dark wood panelling, accented with quirky touches such as a dated Japanese pinball machine. If you’re already impressed by the description of the interior, wait till I tell you about the food. This is not one of those places that restauranteurs use to fool and rip off the city’s expatriates with cheap, lousy raw fish – their sashimi and sushi are incredibly fresh, and most of the sushi/rolls offered are always given a unique twist, such as pairing Kingfish with a Yuzu-balsamic dressing. I’d recommend going to Sushi O for their lunch sets, which are very reasonably priced (HKD$108 per person) for a five-course meal that includes soup, a Japanese appetiser, sashimi, main course from a various selection of rolls, and finished off with dessert. I’m being very generous here to share with you my all-time favourite restaurant in the HKU-hood, so don’t break my heart and go check out the bar.
For a posh little “girls only” get-together sesh, I’d recommend afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel located in the heart of Central. MO’s Clipper Lounge is famous for its traditional British afternoon tea sets, and their scones, their glorious scones, have won themselves a special place in my heart – they’re warm, buttery and fragrant, and even more glorious when topped with MO’s famous Rose-petal jam. You have the choice of getting your tier of sandwiches and pastries and basket of scone with tea from the menu, or, if you’re feeling extra fancy, ask for a flute or two of Moet. (This meal is going to cost you a bit cash and a few extra sessions at the gym, but I honestly don’t see why this should be the reason that keeps you away from life’s guilty pleasures.)
#3 – YOU JUST DON’T FEEL LIKE STAYING ON CAMPUS, BUT ALSO CAN’T REALLY LEAVE THE AREA…
When the minute hand of the clock strikes half past, every single food outlet on campus is packed. Packed, with a capital “P”. Just So. Ridiculously. Packed. Why is life so depressing?!!!
Calm, girl (or guy), calm. Don’t panic.
There is always an option, an alternative. Just gracefully proceed to the East Gate to leave the campus, and walk down Water Street or along Bonham Road for some food from the local-hood. When you go down Water Street, you’ll be greeted by a handful of nice, cosy restaurants manned by neighbourhood residents. There’s a South-east Asian restaurant when you’re in desperate need of a Pad Thai fix or, as one of my best friends from Singapore puts it, “her regular fix of Morning Glories and Balachan”. There’s also a Shanghai/Beijing dumplings place that serves the most comforting Chinese dumplings and noodles – “餃子源”. (Top tip: eat them with loads and loads of “Douban Jiang”, a savoury-spicy fermented bean paste.) The options on Water Street are endless.
When you’re feeling extra generous about walking, trek along Bonham Road (eastbound) and treat yourself to some Japanese Ramen, curry, or American food. A friend of mine took me once to a restaurant called “Awakening” that serves American-style burgers, fries and pasta – finished with a laid-back, Californian vibe. One thing I don’t like about the place though, is that their pasta tends to be quite overcooked sometimes, but apart from that, there’s not much left to complain about.
#4 – PICK-ME-UP, BABY.
Being on campus all the time can be quite depressing sometimes, especially when your Philosophy professor speaks in a tone that resembles a straight line with no wave movement whatsoever. The problem, however, is that after two hours of Philosophy lecture, a whole line of courses awaits. (Why can’t they be suitors?!) Well okay. I understand, I really do. This, is when you need a pick-you-up, baby.
Problem, however, is not everyone of us have a whole army of suitors standing at our door, waiting to be so terribly blessed to cheer us up. We therefore resort to gastronomical stimulation, our best friend. (Sorry I got a little carried away again… but yeah, point noted.)
Often times, the reason why you’re feeling all down and depressed is because you’re low on sugar. So I’d suggest getting yourself a nice serving of pastries or Madeleines or Financiers from Delifrance with a good old cuppa. Another option to tea or coffee from the campus cafes is Masala tea (known also as “Chai”) from Ebeneezers. It’s a fragrant Indian tea infused with herbs that has enough caffeine to actually keep you awake.
#5 – VEGETARIAN OPTIONS / ON DETOX
Last but definitely not least, are a few options for my vegetarian friends and those of you who are on detox cleanse or simply trying to consume a healthier diet. I personally am not a vegetarian, because I have a very, very soft spot for meat. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy vegetarian food. I’ve gathered information from my friends who are vegetarians or half-vegetarians (either by choice or religion), and here’s what I’ve got:
At Subway, instead of ordering a sandwich with processed meat, ask for a Vegetarian Sub, and have fun filling your panini with lots and lots of lettuce, peppers and olives. For those who favour South Asian food, the Samosas and Dal Rice are not bad. If your diet is influenced by your religion, note that Ebeneezers food are all Halal.
In case most of your classes take place at the Centennial Campus, go to Bijas for their tea sets. They’re very reasonably priced and their portions are incomplainable. Lastly, for my fellow Chinese vegetarian foodies, the dumpling place aforementioned in Water Street offers really good vegetarian dumplings, and I assure you: their dumplings will instantly warm you up and fill your stomach.
That’s all for now – bon appetit!