Tsim Sha Tsui


Some random street in Tsim Sha Tsui

It’s directly across from Hong Kong via a short ferry ride, and lumping all of Hong Kong’s environs into one category, it’s my #1 favorite place to visit.

First, there’s a lot of English as well as Chinese, both in signage and in spoken language. It’s pretty easy to get help, order food, take a taxi or navigate the public transportation.

Second, unless you make an extraordinary effort to “go native”, it’s unlikely you’ll eat or drink something you later regret — always check the safety of water and raw foods, nonetheless — nor are you likely to end up somewhere you’d shouldn’t such as that quickly darkening alley I backed away from in Genoa.

Third, Hong Kong is big and filled with people a lot like you. They work, have families, send their kids to school, visit the grandparents and generally go about their lives in very familiar ways.

And the food is … well, you’ll find everything here in this one megalopolis.

Not surprisingly, there’s every nuance of Asian, from Cantonese in southern China to Szechuan Province, Hunan, Mongollian and every other variant, not to mention Vietnamese, Thai and Korean. You can get Singapore chicken and rice or a strongly curried Malay dish within a mile or so of your hotel.

And you’ll also find the best, and worst, of American fast food chains and steak houses. And there are plenty of Italian, German — I found a place specializing in Catalonian dishes two blocks from my hotel — and all the other European countries, districts and specialties well represented.

Southern China has been called the #1 best place in the world to eat and Hong Kong is its capital. And with the international trade that flowed in, around and through the city for centuries, they’ve been influenced by every gustatory nuance in the world.

Here’s a tip.

03250033Make an instant friend of someone — not the concierge but rather the head bellman at the hotel will do if you are a stranger. Strike up a conversation, ask about their family, tell them about yours and, when you can see they’ve let their guard down and are being honest with you, ask what’s their favorite local restaurant? Tell them you want to know where they go for food that makes them happy. You can say you’re looking for “local” food, something that people who grew up there would like. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive — in fact, it’s usually better if it’s neither. You want plain, good old “home cookin’.”

That’s the place to go and, when you get there, do the same with the person who takes your order. Quickly reveal that you are a human being who sleeps, eats, has a Mom and a Dad and that you enjoy people and food.

Ask them one or two quick questions.

“How do people get to work — do you walk or take the train or bus?”

“Did you grow up here or did your parents move you here later?”

That’s enough.

Then ask what they like on the menu.

Unless you’re certain you won’t be able to choke it down, order it no matter how “experimental” you might consider their recommendation.

03240004If you’ve really established a rapport, they will guide you to something they like — that they have eaten many times and have survived so you can too — and order it.

I’ve never had a bad meal with this approach.

Of course, you’ll still need to be aware of things you shouldn’t eat or drink — the municipal water supply is always suspect as are raw vegetables and salads in many parts of the world — and you may get some very surprising foods — the little purple squids in Tokyo, served raw, were challenging as was the Tuna eyeball juice in Seoul — but, if nothing else, you’ll receive a fabulous awakening into the possibilities of what everyday people eat.

Say, “Thank you,” and, when the food arrives, do the best you can with what you get. (If they’re standing there watching, you’ll have to try it. You’ll just absolutely have to.) And when you’re done and if it’s appropriate there, leave a nice tip as well as giving them a personal “Thank you” again.

03260007Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that, in just about every part of the world, there’s always McDonalds as backup.

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