If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough I can block out all stimuli around me. The rhythmic tapping of fingers as they fall on the keys of well-worn keyboards, the heady aroma of freshly ground coffee and the slight stirring of the air as it passes through the dusty vents in the air-conditioning ducts above my head. When all of these things fade I find I have defied all odds, I have achieved the impossible. I have travelled in time, if not in body then certainly in soul.
On this particular occasion time travel has stripped me of the layers of clothing donned only hours earlier in a bid to wrap up against the wintery cold. My thick tights and leather boots become summery sandals, my woollen tunic a light cotton dress. The walls of our studio dissolve and in their place spring forth a multitude of buildings, low-rise and skyscrapers, their steel structures plunging through the concrete beneath my feet into the earth below.
I am in Hong Kong, queuing in a line which snakes past decrepit shop fronts, past rows of rusty bicycles and motorcycles on a street in the world’s most densely populated district, Mong Kok. I am waiting patiently for place at a table in a tiny Yum Cha eatery, Tim Ho Wan, which unceremoniously boasts the title of the worlds cheapest Michelin starred restaurant. Outside its unassuming doors people stand and wait for what can often be up to three hours before their numbers, scrawled on scraps of paper, are called forth.
I am lucky enough to have arrived early in the day, before the heat of the summer sun has a chance to beat down upon our unmoving heads, and when at last my number is called I shuffle in with a handful of expectant diners to gratefully find my seat. I take great pleasure in pouring over the menu, a simple photocopied sheet, circling an ambitious number of items all of which trigger involuntary salivation. A Philippine woman sitting to my right, who I learn is a regular here, kindly suggests I get two servings of the pork buns which unquestioningly I do. She orders nine boxes for herself, which later she reveals will accompany her on the plane journey back home to share with discerning friends and family.
I sit in quite reverence and savour each mouthful. My companion is correct, these are pork buns like no other. Light, almost pastry like orbs filled with succulent pork. Prawn dumplings, turnip cakes and dainty shui mai, all burst forth with flavour and are washed down with an endless supply of green tea. At last I reach my fill and sequester the remaining morsels on my table for later consumption. I bid farewell to my new friend and after paying a meagre sum for my princely feast I return once more to the throngs of the busy city streets.
These are an ode to my unforgettable yum cha feast. Whilst I am no Michelin starred chef, I have to say that these spring onion pancakes are incredibly moreish. They puff and bubble up in the hot oil and are deliciously light and crunchy with a zesty freshness which comes from the finely chopped spring onion which studs the dough.