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Name: Melissa

About Me

Countries Visited (not including Turnarounds): Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, North Korea, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vatican City

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Skin by Falter

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011
So I was fortunate enough to be rostered the 2 day Hong Kong on my July Roster. I knew that the trip wouldn't last for very long as the Airbus 380 fleet were bound to take over the remaining flights in the near future so I made sure that during a high bid month that I would bid for HK. To be honest, back when I was working in the Business Cabin, after being rostered 5 Hong Kongs in 2 months I was kind of sick of the trip, and the fact that the crew hotel had been moved from a great location in Causeway Bay to an Airport hotel made it even less attractive to me. But my friend Paul told me a wonderful thing - Hong Kong was notorious for housing the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. A tiny place called Tim Ho Wan on some back street in Mongkok, signage in Cantonese, a very modest place serving amazing Yum Cha.

The queues outside had become almost as famous as the food - since it refused to take bookings, and refused to inflate the prices after being awarded the coveted star, it was not uncommon for lunchtime crowds to wait longer than 4 hours. So in an effort to avoid this, I turned up to Tim Ho Wan at 10.15am. The original plan was to arrive at 9.30am, but navigating through unfamiliar streets in Mongkok chewed up more time that I wanted it to. Even though I was there a good 2 hours before the lunchtime rush, the crowds had already gathered and after I received my queue number (#31) I was told I had an hour to wait. The last number called out was #4.

Waiting outside is in itself a show of resilience, there's no chairs or benches nearby - you had to stand, so the elderly were already going to find this challenging. A young couple couldn't cope anymore and rested on the seats of some nearby motorcycles, before one of the restaurant staff gave them a verbal smackdown in Cantonese. It was also incredibly hot and humid - you'd think that with living in Dubai I'd already be acclimatised to the conditions, but I still felt gross every time drops of sweat went down my back, or down my neck. The smart ones of the queue had wet wipes with them. And at some point some street workers got a massive hose out and sprayed the footpath outside the restaurant, spraying some grey gunk onto a few unlucky bystanders. But being the stubborn fool that I was, it was going to take something extreme, like a kitchen fire, to stop me having my cheap Yum Cha that day.

There's a fierce looking woman outside whose job it is to keep the tables filled to the brim, to keep the turnover swift, and to make sure no one jumps to queue. To save time, the queue numbers are written on the top of the actual Yum Cha menu, so you can order your meal while you are waiting. I was in an even better position though, as since I was eating alone, I had my queue time cut by 20 minutes as they could fit me in on a table of 5. I was seated in the middle of 5 Cantonese speakers so I felt like a right loner, but it didn't matter - I skipped the queue!!!

So after handing the waitress my queue slip/menu order I was served some pu-erh tea (which I later read was from China's Yunnan province) by the fierce-looking woman, which was super-cleansing and refreshing after 40 minutes of breathing in the Mongkok smog. In your mind it feels strange to be eating lunch at 11.15am, but your stomach knows what's coming, and despite also having breakfast that morning it wanted to be fed again. It didn't take long for the dishes to come thick and fast.

I ended up ordering only 5 dishes. I didn't want to over-indulge and finish my stay with a ton of leftover's I'd have to later lug around with me in Tsim Sa Tsui whilst shopping. I ordered the Har Jiao (Steamed Shrimp Dumplings), Steamed Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce, Char Siu Bau (Baked Bun with BBQ Pork), Stuffed Vermicelli Roll, and Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp. I should also add that there's no drinks menu here, and you can't ask for the chef to do anything special for you (ie Vegetarian) since most of the dumplings are created before the restaurant opens - there's potentially hundreds of customers waiting outside for you to vacate your seat who are more than willing to eat from the menu as-is.

I don't know what to make of the food to be honest. I don't eat Yum Cha often, and whatever I've had here in Dubai has been so heavily altered for the Western/Arab tastes that I can't really tell the difference between excellent Yum Cha and rubbish Yum Cha. But I knew that above all I was there for the novelty factor, to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant and knowing that I didn't have to go through the heartache of booking months in advance (which is pretty darn hard in this job) and pay through the nose. The prices, the restaurant and the staff were all unpretentious which I think was even more attractive to me than their food. It's a proper "Hong-Kong only" experience, that's for sure.

The best part? The fierce lady handing me the bill after my meal. I only had to pay 82 Hong Kong Dollars, a mere $10.50 USD.