Unlike the typical immigrant experience, when we moved to Hong Kong, I did not seek out or try to recreate a Little India. My kitchen did hold Indian spices and I figured out where to replenish them from, but we never needed enough Indian stock to meet the HK$200 minimum order for home delivery, which should tell you how much Indian cooking we did. We imported a pressure cooker after almost a year. I had an equal number of Indian and non-Indian friends. In the matter of friends, I’ve almost totally gone Indian, but in a very select way so I’m not part of any of the big Indian groups of events.
All these years, what I’ve missed most about India – apart from my family and my besties back home for whom I have never entirely managed to find local replacements – are idlis, dosas, waxing and threading.
There are plenty of nice restaurants doing Punjabi/Mughlai food in Hong Kong (though my favourite Jashan shut and Great Indian Kebab House which started out great seems to have become an MSG fest), but almost none doing South Indian food or chaat. I heard about Woodlands, Brantos and Indian food in Chungking Mansion but never really checked them out until quite late in the day. Woodlands the husband dismissed as being too unsanitary. Ditto for Indian food in Chungking Mansion – the food we tried wasn’t very good and gave us tummy upsets. Later, we discovered good samosas there though, and of course, I patronize the Indian stores to get our spices etc. Brantos we went to even later and while V gave it his stamp of approval in terms of quality of dosa, the experience of waiting outside in the corridor till there was space deterred us from visiting again.
I pretty much gave up on waxing and threading. We never lived in areas close to the bulk of Indians so I could not convince the one lady everyone seemed to use to come home on a weekend. Waxing in the spas in Central is crazy expensive and I once tried getting it done in my Chinese beauty parlour but they used cold wax and it was painful. I started shaving, relied on Veet strips for my arms and gave up on my eyebrows except for unsatisfactory pruning during facials. Chinese facialists just don’t know how to shape an Indian eyebrow.
Almost eight years later, a lady in my building asked for waxing contacts and I realised I actually knew of a chain of Indian parlours that I had thought were shady except they had expanded to several branches and had a website so probably weren’t. There are a lot more Indian people in Hong Kong now compared to when I first got here, and so the number of stores and services catering to South Asians as we’re called has grown. It turns out there is another Indian parlour not too far from where we live. What galvanized me was that my legs seem to have developed this aversion for shaving. And my arms reacted badly to the Veet strips the last time I used them. So I decided to do the trek to a parlour, and finally chose the one in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Since I was going there, I decided a trip to Brantos was in order. We had eaten dosas at a restaurant in Chungking and I realised then that the idlis in Brantos had been quite good.
First stop was the parlour. It was in an apartment, and while clean looked like one of the older school local parlours in India. This did not deter me as I’ve begun going back to one of those when I’m in India. Waxing my arms is actually a pleasurable experience for me. The lady doing it convinced me to do my underarms as well and while not so pleasant, I love how they feel sans hair. And my eyebrows, my eyebrows. I can’t stop admiring them. I can’t believe I haven’t done this earlier.
Then Brantos. There was no line this time and the restaurant without the crowd is quite clean and pleasant. I arrived before V and had already polished off a plate of idli by the time he got there. As he sat and perused the menu, I gobbled half a masala dosa. I was in heaven. I speedily ordered sev puri and then V and I split a chole batura, which for me was the lowest point because it tasted a bit tikka-ish.Basically, all we needed was momos to make it a pan-Indian meal.
I washed everything down with a Coke, which is a trick I learnt from a New Zealander friend who swore that the dubious chemical content of Coke/Pepsi serves to kill whatever pests might try to inhabit your tummy from dodgy food. Unscientific as this might be, it seems to work well with me. V had a tonne of gas that night, but I was fine.
We then went to Chungking Mansion where V bought gulaab jamuns for dessert and I bought a box of Haldiram’s kaaju katli. I have developed a taste for kaaju katli after my mom brought me some from Mumbai, and while I feel quite smug about easing off on chocolate, apparently, I’ve just replaced it with this mithai. Hmph.
V then decided to try and acquire halim. Alas, he was two days too late – apparently, they only make it during ramzaan. So we bought mutton curry and paayas to take away which I swore I would not eat, but I couldn’t resist and my tummy is a tad off now. I’m trying to beat down the fear of having contracted Ebola. Maybe another Coke is in order.