Yeah, Why ARE Kinder Surprises Illegal in the States?
Yok Si Cao Mien in Hong Kong
I go home once or twice a year to look for a Hong Kong that no longer exists. I look for stores that are no longer in business and restaurants that have either become bigger and shinier or closed without a trace. I work through a checklist of very minor and very important things in order to convince myself that remnants of my post-Handover childhood survive. My checklist is separated into two categories: packable items and meals that remind me of my place in the world.
On the packable side: I must go to the Wan Chai wet market to purchase a year’s worth of cheap cotton undies. “Why do you do this?” my aunt asks every time. “Can’t you buy underwear in the States?” “Yes,” I tell her. “But in the States you cannot find Calven Klain brand underwear.” She usually laughs at this. Sometimes she tells me that I’m crazy.
I go to Park n Shop and gather things that are either better or readily available in Hong Kong and not in America: cup noodles (better), Maltesers (readily available), Kinder Surprises (why are these illegal in America?).
On the meals that remind me of my place in the world side of the list, I must go to Tsui Wah for breakfast, even though there are much better places. At Tsui Wah, I order hot milk tea, which comes in sturdy cups printed with funny faces and condensed milk toast with butter, which, I know, is the easiest thing to replicate no matter how far away from home I find myself. Step one: make toast. Step two: slather toast with butter and condensed milk. Somehow, despite intense homesickness, I almost never accomplish this.
The most important part of my semi-annual pilgrimage to Tsui Wah is for the yok si cao mien, composed of slivers of pork, mushrooms, and bean sprouts and served over crispy fried noodles. The dish looms large in my memories, my after-Chinese-language-lesson reward as a Mandarin-speaking five-year-old amongst dozens of Cantonese-speaking girls. For years, eating yok si cao mien was a race against the rapidly diminishing crispiness of the noodles. I like when the noodles are fried to the point of nicking the roof of my mouth. Now I’ve learnt to ask for the noodles to be served separately from the glossy pork gravy, so I have control over the sogginess of my yok si cao mien. At the Tsui Wah at the Peak, where everything on the menu costs a few dollars more, the staff is very accommodating. At a Tsui Wah in Causeway Bay, you’ll be thoroughly chastised for dreaming up such madness. Pick the right Tsui Wah.
In my mind, there is no better breakfast (and definitely no better hangover breakfast). I may sometimes be tempted by iced milk tea served in a glass bottle in a silver bucket or some other variant of condensed milk toast, but my longing for yok si cao mien never wavers.