Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hong Kong: Chungking Mansions

There was so much to do and see...and eat...on our recent trip to China, that it was impossible to post it all as it happened, because that would have cut into my eating time. There are still a couple of things I'll get to, so if you find yourselves in Hong Kong, there are delicious destinations to keep in mind. Today, I have to mention that in the midst of our Chinese food frenzy, we were both feeling the need for a break. Before we left we had read about a building called the Chungking Mansions, which supposedly housed many of the best Indian restaurants (which are ironically called a "mess" in this gritty setting) on the Kowloon side of the harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui. If you find yourself there, forget everything you think of when you think of the western definition of "mansion". In Hong Kong, mansion refers to usually large...really large...residential building, most of which look like they've seen much better days. Chungking Mansions is famous for its mix of businesses on the lower, non-residential floors, which house businesses that cater to the ethnic minorities of Hong Kong like Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, etc. Higher up are residential units and super-cheap youth hostels.

Walking in the front entrance, you are immediately greeted by a seeming chaotic mass of businesses, with crowded corridors branching off packed with electronic store, money exchange places, clothing merchants, food stalls of every ethnic stripe, except seemingly Chinese. It's absolutely fascinating, like you're in some movie set, where everything is available. We wandered around trying to find one place we read about, but not surprisingly after taking the elevator to one of the upper floors had no clue where to look. We ended up on about the second floor, walking past stores packed with cell phones and watches, travel agents and DVD sellers, and so tiny restaurants to choose from, with chairs and tables spilling out into the walkway. We finally, almost out of sheer exhaustion, picked a spot called Sher-E-Punjab, which I believe is Punjabi for really cheap, delicious food. The highlight for me was the best chana masala (right) I've ever had, EVER! So rich and tomatoey and complex. Wow! Absolutely fantastic. I wanted to lick the bowl clean, but luckily they also supplied with is perfect garlic naan (below) so I didn't have to embarrass myself. We also had one of their curries, also incredible, and something else that I know was good, but in my post-vacation haze I have no idea what it was. Bottom line: some of the best Indian food I've ever had. Around $15 US for both of us. And this place is littered with spots that I'm betting are just like it. Absolutely worth a visit because you've never seen anything like it!

Here's a youtube video some euro made that will give you a good feel for what it is like:

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One year ago today: Warming up with this awesome Chicken Avocado Tortilla Soup!


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Ha! I thought you were gonna show us some big fancy houses. :)

bb said...

Somehow, even though you don't leave the house much (ha!) I have a feeling you know better!!

Anonymous said...

I was in Hong Kong in 1980 and was taken to a similar place, through a shopping arcade, up a creaky elevator, down a dark hall to a couple of dining rooms. My guide, an American living there, ordered a selection of fiery and tasty curries. It got me interested in Indian food. Glad to see the prices haven't gone up much.