Well, on the past 2 Sundays I've done something I absolutely love. Go out for Indian food! While Chinese food is great, it does get a bit tiring. Rice, noodles, fried things, and mystery meat combining themselves in billions of delicious and sometimes frightful concoctions has its limits. Indian food contains many more flavors, spices, ingredients, and for some reason never fails to make me feel happy whenever I eat it.

My ranking of world cuisines right now (it changes often):
 
Indian
Italian
Chinese
Mexican
Mediterranean
All the other stuff
French (The bread is good, but all that wine cheese and pate stuff is garbage!)

Anyway, last Sunday was the 18th birthday of an Italian fellow AFSer (Ludo), and me, him, and our German-Indian AFS friend Ravi celebrated by going out to a deluxe Indian brunch buffet in Central. It was a birthday, so we were all willing to splurge a bit on the price. We knew we were going to one of HK's top Indian restaurants for a buffet experience unlikely ever to be relived, so the 158HKD (20USD) for unlimited food and drinks was acceptable. And a note on HK prices: that was the most expensive meal I've ever had here! Even the 'expensive' places here are cheap for Western standards. Usually a lunch costs below 3USD, dinner less than 5. The restaurant, Bombay Dreams if you must know, was gorgeous. The interior was covered in beautiful Indian  decor with soft Indian-Jazz fusion in the background. It was filled with giant obese white businessmen and large Indian families mostly. We stuck out: an Italian, an American, and a German (but of course he looks Indian) teenager eating together. We sat down at our table, were served an exquisite selection of appetizers (part of the buffet) plus Lassis, Lassis, and more Lassis (Rose flavor!), and began our quest to fill our vacant digestive tracts from the numerous trays of Indian delights enough to justify the exorbitant check we knew was coming our way. It started with heaping helpings of vegetable curries, chutneys, and rice pulao. The next trip to the counter led to piping-hot naan, cold fresh chickpea salad, and some more steaming, perfectly spiced curries containing potatoes, lamb, and chicken. By the third trip, we were already stuffed but forced ourselves to keep chewing and swallowing more of our favorites from the prior plates. After a 10-minute digestion break to make sure we didn't induce vomiting upon ourselves, we asked for our dessert to be brought to us (in nice restaurants you can get them to serve you from the buffet if you just ask!) and gradually sampled all the sickly sweet treats brought to us. The whole venture turned out to be one of the greatest meals of my stay in Hong Kong, if not my whole life. Worth the money? For a one-time treat, yes. Needless to say, dinner wasn't necessary that night. In fact, I felt as though I'd never eat again in my life. But time goes on and rest assured that I haven't skipped a meal since then. After all, I like food. Why skip meals?

So that was the first Indian dinner I had this past fortnight.

The next one, this past Sunday, draws very few similarities to the first one however; it was also enjoyed with my friend Ravi, and the food was delicious and Indian. The reason for its major contrast? Well, let's start with a teensy bit of background information. My friend Ravi is a Sikh. So, he knows about Sikh things including the Sikh Temple in Wan Chai. And we had the fantastic idea of visiting it as a unique experience (for me) and so he could truthfully tell his natural family that he went as is customary for Sikhs on Sundays. Fascinating and unique it was! Of course, I have never been to a Sikh Temple of any kind before in my life, and the Hong Kong Khalsa Diwan Temple built in 1901 by the British Army is truly a grand historical structure. The outside looks like a blue and white mushroom, and the inside is simple and gorgeous as well.

Some tips for anybody looking to visit a Sikh Temple:
-Go with a Sikh so you know what to do
-If all your neighborhood Sikhs are unavailable, observe the following:
-Take off your shoes and socks and put them on the shelves available outside the main prayer hall
-Take one of headscarf/bandannas available outside and tie it around your head
-Have some coins to put into the offering box in front of the altar
-After donating, kneel, bow, wait for a second, and then move away so others can make their donation
-Find an empty place of the floor to sit and pray/think/do whatever you came to do

So yes, we went in. I, under Ravi's supervision, avoided offending anybody, gave my first monetary offering to the Sikh temple authorities, and saw how Sikhs pray. The 'service' had ended when we were there, so only the stragglers were left behind. They appeared to be sitting on the ground, some alone some with small groups, facing the alter, talking, shouting, whispering, singing, wailing, or silently immersing themselves in thought. In the background some Punjabi classical music was humming through the sound-system, calming the mood a bit a suppose.

After that fascinating experience, we went downstairs. To the dining room! It is a part of the Sikh religion to do voluntary service, so the Temple has a free kitchen of simple vegetarian north-Indian fare made and served by members of the community. Anybody is welcome to come and eat their fill, but I'm sure abuse of the system is frowned upon. Anyway, it was perfectly acceptable for us to eat, especially since we had just gone into the Temple and peeked around the place i.e. we weren't just there for the free food. Again, we removed our shoes, put on bandannas, and entered the dining room. This dining room was spartan to say the least. Old red carpets lay in rows across the tiled floor, about half of them with people (all Indians...) sitting crosslegged with tin trays and plastic cups, using the floor as their table and chair and their bread as a utensil, as is normal in India. We sat next to some birds who were picking crumbs off the floor, and after a minute, trays were brought to us. A minute later, some men came around to us with metal buckets of food which they ladled onto our trays. There were 3 dishes: delightful dal, spicy chutney, and some awesome hot vegetable curry. Plus freshly baked chapati bread of course! The food, though simple, was fantastic. It all had a certain homemade taste to it, which I rarely experience with Indian food. Spicy, plentiful (the men with buckets made rounds refilling people's tray), and I'm guessing quite healthful. The food was accompanied by incredible chai tea, perfectly spiced, and constantly flowing from a capacious metal urn whenever a refill was required.

The experience and atmosphere was like none I've had before. The meal and surroundings were quite the opposite of the previous week's pricey jaunt, and completely free of charge. The contrast is really quite stark: while before I was served by a clean-shaven young well-dressed Indian gentleman from silver platters, now I was being served by a barefoot old man with a flowing white beard and a towering white turban from a bucket while squatted next to some pigeons enjoying the leftovers of the last diners. In another way from the last Indian meal, it was wholly unforgettable. Both, however, were great experiences which I probably will never have a chance to repeat.

Two more things on my non-existent to-do-before-I-leave-HK list can be ticked off: patronize the Sikh Temple and enjoy the tastiest Indian buffet in the HKSAR!

So Hong Kong really is an international city. A whole blog entry focusing on Indian stuff while I'm staying in China! Who woulda thunk it?

Ben

Comments (2)

On March 16, 2010 at 9:58 PM , Resa said...

Hey! I`ve been reading your blog for a while- just wanted to say it`s really neat hearing about your Chinese adventures! I hope to study abroad there in college, so it`s cool reading about your exchange ^-^ Thanks for writing!

 
On November 29, 2010 at 4:29 PM , Vidya said...

I've been reading your blog (late, I know) and I particularly liked this one. My dad is Sikh, and I'm actually a descendent of Guru Nanak Dev (aka the founder of the Sikh religion).I personally think Indian food is the best tasting food on Earth and I'm glad someone appreciates it as much as I do!