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Published: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 8:38:02 AM

Food, glorious food, on our mind and itinerary

Street snacking: Gorge when you're on holiday.

Street snacking: Gorge when you're on holiday.

IT was the first time I’d bought a goose, a whole goose, and my heart sank when I saw it.

H and I were at Hong Kong International Airport two Wednesdays ago. We had spent a nice four days eating and shopping and eating, and were on our way home.

After we went through Immigration, I had a brainwave.

Let’s buy a roast goose, I announced.

You sure?, he asked, looking sceptical. It wasn’t the sort of thing he thought people bought at airports. You don’t even really like goose, he added.

It’s for my mum, I said. Everyone buys back a roast goose when they visit Hong Kong, I added confidently.

I asked a woman at the information desk where I could get a goose and she pointed to the airport’s restaurants.

We saw two outlets selling roast meat and joined the one with the shorter queue.

The cashier said they did sell goose for travellers to take away, and asked if I wanted it whole or chopped. Whole, I said.

We paid S$80 (RM205) for it. Ten minutes later, our number was called and we were handed a cardboard box.

It was a much bigger box than I’d expected, about the size of three iPads.

Through the plastic portion on the cover, I saw our goose. Its skin was red, crispy and crackling with oil. Its long, thin neck was curled up like the letter O and its head, complete with battered beak and beady eyeballs, flopped to one side.

The goose was still warm and smelt rather nice.

I soon realised why I could smell it. The goose wasn’t wrapped and the sides of the box it came in were perforated with a row of holes the size of 20-cent coins (to keep its skin crispy, I suppose).

That was when my heart sank.

I wasn’t expecting our goose to be so exposed. I thought it would be packed in cling wrap or something, but here it was, naked and sitting in a holey container.

I had visions of all kinds of bacteria entering the box and descending onto its skin. It didn’t help when H muttered something that sounded like salmonella.

Can you try and stuff Mr Goose into your bag, I asked. At least it would be covered.

But there was no way we could squeeze it in. I had already packed four boxes of Hang Heung wife biscuits into his bag and it was bulging. We had gone to get them before we went to the airport.

When we boarded the plane (we were the only ones with a box of goose), I was at a loss where to store it.

Should I place it under the seat, which seemed really unhygienic, or in the overhead compartment, where I imagined a million airplane microbes were on stand-by to attack it, not to mention how it had to sit next to tatty travel bags. And what if the other passengers complained about the smell of goose? We opted for the overhead compartment.

We arrived in Singapore four hours later, goose intact.

I’m a pig when I’m on holiday. In the four days in Hong Kong, I chomped down egg tarts, mango desserts, milk pudding, milk tea, pork buns and assorted dim sum.

We went to Hong Kong a few days after we came back from Seoul with my mother.

Much of that trip to South Korea was also spent eating.

To learn more about Korean food, I signed us up for a food tour. It was the third food tour I’d done, after Bangkok and Osaka, and like the other two, it was loads of fun.

It confirmed to me that there’s no better way to discover a new city than through the food the locals eat and the restaurants they go to. You also get to meet like-minded (i.e. greedy) travellers on these tours. Little wonder that they get such high ratings on TripAdvisor.

In Seoul, we opted for a night food tour organised by O’ngo Food Communications.

Our guide was Christina, an energetic young Korean who spoke English with an American accent. Also in the group were an American man who was with the US Navy based in Yokosuka in Japan, and his wife.

First stop was Gogi Golmok, or Meat Alley, an old, narrow street lined with grungy-looking eateries with outdoor seating.

We went to a barbecue shop which specialises in galmaegisal, a cut of pork between the pig’s liver and midriff. It didn’t sound or look appetising but it was juicy and tender. We ate it with lettuce, mushrooms, garlic, green chilli and a range of dipping sauces.

The effervescent Christina made us cojinganmek, a cocktail comprising one shot of beer, soju and Coke each.

Next was a restaurant specialising in tteokbokki, a spicy rice cake stew. We had two big servings which were cooked in front of us.

We then headed to the dark alleys of Pimatgol, to what looked like a makeshift canteen housed under a very old tent.

We sat on stools under fluorescent lights and tucked into omelette and grilled mackerel. Bottles of soju and makgeolli, a milky rice wine, were brought out and drunk from dented tin bowls. It was very atmospheric.

The next stop was supposed to be the traditional food stalls in Gwangjang Market, but as H, my mother and I had already been there, we went to Beautiful Tea Museum, a cafe in trendy Insadong, for green tea patbingsu, which is like ice kacang.

By then, it was past 10pm. We took a taxi back to our hotel, stuffed and happy.

I had a similarly satisfying experience in Osaka last December, when we went on a food tour organised by All Star Osaka Walk.

The guide took us to places such as Tsuruhashi Fish Market, which we would not have gone ourselves. We sampled home-style dishes, bought kimchi, had a huge plate of toro from a fish stall and an excellent sushi lunch at a tiny restaurant.

The year before, we signed up with Bangkok Food Tour to explore Bangrat, the historic part of the Thai city.

The menu included duck rice, halal noodles, green curry and roti, fabulous salads from a dingy waterside eatery along the Chao Phraya, and buns straight from the oven that were oozing with pandan-flavoured custard.

We wanted to go on a food tour in Hong Kong but the two companies offering them were booked for the month of June. Still, we ate a lot.

Besides, we had our roast goose. Airplane germs or no germs, we finished it up – crackly skin and all – when we got home. It was delicious. — The Sunday Times/Asia News Network

Tags / Keywords: Regional, Reflect, Sumiko Tan, food

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