Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Not a laughing matter

Or the challenge of chasing down a decent chunk of ched.

When I named this blog a year ago, I was under the impression that Hong Kong, and Asia in general, was a dairy-free zone. The vacuum which would once have been Wensleydale, St. Agur and Morbier would be nutritiously yet unsatisfyingly filled with various forms of bean curd. However, as the weeks went by, I was time and again delighted to come across shops that stocked my favourite foodstuff– from Seriously Strong to Port Salut, it seemed that all my favourites had their niche in the presupposed Land of No Cheese. I’d nip out to buy fermented milk frivolities in a supermarket near my workplace in Causeway Bay, which boasted a cheese counter worthy of your local Waitrose at least – and would return home to greedily scoff these western indulgences with crackers. In the largely Chinese neighbourhood of Sai Wan Ho where we used to live, even the local supermarket had a perfectly respectable mature New Zealand cheddar on its shelves – indeed, it appeared that all my cheese needs, from the everyday to the gourmet, were satisfied during my daily to-and-fro through the city. Admittedly, these were imported luxury substances, and hence somewhat pricier than I’d have liked to pay back home, but they were there, and I could eat cheese every day if I wanted. I was beginning to think that my blog’s name was based on foolish predjudice. That is, until the events of Monday afternoon cast a whole new light on the local cheese-flow situation.

My eyes would not have been opened if it hadn't been for two recent changes for me – namely a new flat and a new job. The latter is an exciting change from my last position and the former is a bright little space in Quarry Bay. This pleasant, authentic district is full of handy shops and restaurants, near a seaside park and conveniently less than a ten minute walk from the new office, passing three supermarkets on the way. Therefore I had been feeling quite smug as I strolled to work for my first day, enjoying the gentle early sunshine whilst others sweated in a tube below. Little did I know that my new, ideal location was also the Black Hole of Cheese.

Monday 19 July 2010, 6.03pm. I leave work and, remembering that I recently consumed the remainder of my cheddar ration, I think to myself that I will replenish locally. I pop into Supermarket Number One and head for the chilled cabinet. There is quite a range of flimsy processed 10x10cm sandwich slices in plastic wrapping. This is Not Cheese. I leave the shop.

6.12pm. I cross the road and enter Supermarket Number Two, a different chain. It’s got a chiller cabinet with a few cartons of milk, some low-fat yoghurts and enough tofu to feed the inhabitants of the housing estate across the road and their extended families… but no Cheese.

6.16pm. A few paces along to Supermarket Number Three. This is a bigger store. It must have something that can call itself cheese without blushing. As I approach the chilled cabinet I can make out a pale yellow rectangle! Could it be? I get closer. It’s unexciting, generic, non-flavour-specific cheddar! Oh my goodness! There’s one pack left! Have I really become this desperate? I pick it up… it’s two months out of date. I give up, and go home with nothing but a round, dented box adorned with a facetious crimson heifer.

Therefore, one year on, I can definitively affirm that, though cheese there may be, the soul of Hong Kong is categorically cheeseless.

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