Thursday, May 05, 2011

Tea in Asia: Day 1 - Hong Kong and Taiwan

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Asia last year with Humber College. The trip was organized as part of a study-abroad program as well as a trip for the tourism students.

Humber College and the Kaohsiung Hospitality College* have had an exchange program for a few years. Our group was going to their school as representatives of Humber. Although I wanted to eat some amazing things and photograph everything, I knew that this trip wasn’t planned that way.
*The school has since earned the university title and is now called the National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism. I’ll be referring to the school as the KHC (Kaohsiung Hospitality College) from now on, because that’s what it was called last year.

Note: All of the following parts in the "Tea in Asia 2010" series can be found here.


My journey began May 3rd, 2010. I took a flight to Toronto from Ottawa that evening and then early the next morning, my flight departed for Hong Kong. We arrived at the International Hong Kong Airport around 5am on May 5th. It was a harsh 16+ hour trip from home – and we weren’t even in Taiwan yet. Our flight to Kaohsiung was scheduled for 9am, so we had to kill time until then. It sucked that our layover was so short. I would’ve loved to venture outside of the airport.

Other than a few other travelers, the Hong Kong airport was empty. I had never gone overseas before so everything was new and exciting to me. I wandered the airport with JV while most of our group tried to sleep off the jet lag. We window-shopped and I took pictures – nothing too exciting. Two hours went by. The shopkeepers began opening their shops, the smell of food hung in the air, and our stomachs began to grumble.

Since it was my first time in Hong Kong, I wanted to eat something Chinese to start off my journey. The more adventurous people in our group had congee and lo mai gai for breakfast, while other people enjoyed Burger King. Psh… not for me!

My first meal in Asia was… a plate of noodles. Oh ya!

While most of the food stalls were open by 7am, the one JV and I wanted to eat from wasn’t. I swear they were teasing us. We watched the ladies open up the stalls, we saw them wiping down the counters, we saw the chefs preparing food; we saw the chefs put out some dishes on the counter, and then we saw them begin to eat. Wait, what? They aren’t open yet? Well, I guess they needed to eat breakfast themselves first. It was torture. JV and I had to sit with our backs to them.

They eventually finished with their breakfast and began serving customers. We ordered two plates of the rice noodles with beef. I also got the milk tea to wash everything down. After a bit of a wait, our plates were ready to be devoured.

Breakfast is served.

The two plates of noodles looked mighty pretty and smelt amazing! I remember that there the noodles glistened with a bit too much oil, but they were smoky from the wok hei and it wasn’t overly salty. Looking at the time stamps on the pictures, JV and I polished our noodles in less than twenty minutes! After breakfast, we met up with the group, grabbed our belongings and boarded our flight to Kaohsiung.

We arrived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, around 11am. The heat and humidity hit me pretty hard. I wasn’t used to this weather. I felt like I was in a sauna. Okay, it wasn’t that humid but it felt like it. Our group met up with our tour guides and then rode our air-conditioned bus to the KHC.

The KHC graciously hosted us at their school for the duration of our stay in Kaohsiung. The floor that we stayed in looked like a hotel. There were card keys and everything. The KHC students in the hotel management program ran everything on that floor. They were amazing!

We had a brief chance to freshen up before we were taken on a guide through their school.

We interrupted quite a few classes, but the students and teachers didn’t mind – at least they didn’t show it. I felt bad. Anyway, one of the classes we barged into was the barista class. The teacher gave us a pretty great speech in such a short notice. He was quite funny, too. The small class began making us cups of cappuccino, with the teacher leading the way of course.

Latte art made by the teacher.

We also disturbed a cooking class. There was a famous guest chef teaching the students how to prepare some seafood dishes.

Clams in a spicy broth.

Stewed crabs.

Sea cucumber with a wasabi-soy sauce.

They let us sample each of them. I don’t remember trying the crab, but my favourite was the bowl clams. The spicy broth brought out the sweetness of the clams without being too overwhelming. The wasabi-soy sauce was made to cater to our North American palate. They told us that we wouldn’t be able to handle their normal wasabi-soy sauce. I was definitely caught off-guard. The sea cucumber’s texture was similar to jello that was made with too much gelatin. As for the sauce, it felt like it burned a hole in my nose! That’s what I get for underestimating it.

Afterwards, we met up with the KHC students that were preparing to study at Humber and then we had a formal dinner.

We had beef tonnato as the starter. Slices of beef were topped with the tuna sauce. The dish was garnished with some lettuce, capers, toasted pine nuts, diced red peppers and a bit of pesto oil. I was really surprised at how well the beef, tonnato sauce, and capers went together. Every bite was tasty!

Next up: French onion soup. I didn’t enjoy this very much. My soup was on the verge of being bland.

Here’s the prawn roulade with saffron sauce and scallops. This was alright.

There was someone allergic to shellfish at our table, so they got a good-looking plate of salmon with a tomato purée and veggies instead of the prawn dish.

Our last dish before dessert was the Shaoxing wine marinated chicken leg with chestnut stuffing. The menu said there’s was also a monascus chicken ball. I guess that’s the stuff in the foreground. I was so full at this point. I tried to finish the dish, but then dessert came.

Black tea flavoured crème brûlée. I didn’t taste much of the black tea. My caramel was slightly burnt, which made it a bit bitter. Ah well.

Despite the food being mediocre, the dinner was great. The waitress and waiters that hosted us were all learning the trade. The chefs and cooks that made our dinner were also students. What really surprised our group were that most of the chefs and cooks in training were females – not that it mattered. The waiting staff at our table was nervous throughout the night, but did real well!

Considering that we had just spent over 15 hours of travelling, you’d think that the night was over. Nope, we still had one more thing to do. We left the KHC to visit the Love River. We took the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (KMRT) and then walked to the Love River in the muggy weather. That wiped me out. It felt like we walked for hours. Once there, we took a boat tour down the bank. Everyone was exhausted at that point. I was running on fumes. Some people successfully fought off sleep while others lost the fight.

We past the Thew Soaring Dragon Fish Statue along the Love River boat tour. It was beautifully lit with colour-changing lights. It looked really nice with the red lights at its belly. Doesn’t it look like it’s a fire-breathing statue? I would’ve enjoyed the Love River tour much more if I was more rested. No offense, but I didn’t think the walk to and from the Love River (from the KMRT station) was worth it. The walk back to the KHC was a blur. I slept so well that night.


Well, that was my first day - and a bit - of travel. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed reminiscing about the trip. Stay tuned for my second day in Taiwan.


  1. Hi Ladies,

    Any recommendations for great teas around asia?


  2. Hi Rif,

    Sorry, but I can't give any recommendations. I didn't drink enough tea when I was in Asia with Humber College. I hope you find what you're looking for elsewhere.


We'd love to hear your thoughts!


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