Ever since my parents found out that the Durfee’s on my Bursar bill was not, indeed, a bookstore, I’ve been on the look-out for cheap, tasty eats. This is not an easy feat; obscene G-Heav prices have made it hard to make my Bat Mitzvah money last. And then I found Hong Kong Grocery, on 67 Whitney Ave., a Chinese supermarket packed with authentic staples from raw quail to frozen dumplings to dried shrimp crackers. If you can get past the abrasive fish smell and cramped quarters, you will find delicious, satisfying snacks, meals, drinks, and desserts that are (gasp!) more authentic than the dining hall’s General Tso’s tofu.
I decided to investigate whether any of the products sold at Hong Kong would be accessible to college students; that is, cheap, microwavable and delicious at two in the morning. The Red Bean Paste Shao Bing excelled in all three categories. Found in the freezer section, these thin, flaky, sesame-covered patties are filled with sweet red bean filling, and when heated in the microwave evoke the taste and texture of toaster strudels and fried dough. Four of these sizeable, heart-warming snacks will only set you back $2.50.
The turnip buns are another freezer success story. They’re everything a bun should be: doughy, soft and filled with savory-sweet turnip filling. Easily microwavable, but not so easily resisted, these snacks are light and flavorful. Also check out Hong Kong’s frozen dumplings, but don’t even think of microwaving them (you will create something resembling animal innards). These chicken and mushroom filled half-moons taste best when pan-fried in oil (like most things). While the pan is hot, crisp up some scallion pancake “pizza pies,” which puff up and become crispy, flaky and chewy.
Outside of the freezer section, Hong Kong has aisles of boxed, microwavable meals, most of which are under $2. I was a particular fan of the Marinade Soy Bean Cake, described on the box as “a well-known Chinese traditional delicacy made of high quality a soybean … an ideal snack that everyone would enjoy in family and friends gathering, vacation, or as a gift.”
I don’t know if I would give these marinated soy bean curds as a gift, but I would sure as hell eat them. A long marinade in a sweet, soy-based sauce transforms these tofu bites into something meaty and satisfying. Eat them over boxed Glutinous Fried Rice, if you can get over the rice’s cat food consistency and chunks of cuttlefish.
As for on-the-go munchies, Hong Kong offers crispy dried seaweed, a wallet and waste-friendly alternative to potato chips. Or if that skeeves you out, try the dried sticks of haw, an apple-like Chinese fruit. These sticks bare a striking resemblance to beef jerky, but not to worry, their sweet and tangy taste does not. And then there’s the taro mochi, soft and squishy Japanese rice cakes made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into balls. But nothing beats the fluffy, crème-filled coconut buns. Pre-packaged and less than a dollar each, I’d so rather munch on these than a Claire’s cupcake. Yeah, I said it.
Hong Kong isn’t just a place where you can eat well and cheap — this shop could hold its own in any respectable Chinatown. For those looking for canned chow mein or deep-fried egg rolls, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. But I hope their delightful, golden moon cakes filled with sweet lotus will console you.
These cakes commemorate the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, celebrated by the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese, dating back over 3,000 years to moon worship in China’s Shang Dynasty. And worshipping the Shang Dynasty is still quite tasty.