Literary City Guide | Hong Kong, China
Tour Guide: Sara Tomovic
Originally from the Balkans with fourteen years in Prague, Czech Republic; currently living in South East Asia. Discovering and documenting the differences of the west and east in Hong Kong at enjoythewait; hoping to become a full-time writer one day. (All photos by Sara Tomovic)
Relationship to Hong Kong: A localized gweilo (meaning a white foreign person in Cantonese); permanent resident of Hong Kong. Eight years and counting.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Janet Fitch; the author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, my two favorite books.
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Anthony Bourdain, absolutely.
Writing soundtrack: Lately, it’s been lots of Hawaiian reggae. And Lokua Kanza.
Pen or Pencil: A black pen.
Coffee or Tea: I drink both. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. The locals here introduced me to a sweet combination of coffee & tea, and I like that, too.
Paperback or Hardback: Depends on the book, but generally, both.
Kubrick Café & Bookstore. My most frequented bookstore. Located straight down from my apartment in Yau Ma Tei, this gem of a store stocks foreign as well as local literature, films, musical releases and movie posters. The best part? They have coffee and quick bites in an artsy, indie environment. And yes, it was named after Stanley Kubrick.
Flow Books & Music. The oldest second-hand bookshop offering titles of all ages and quality, covering all possible topics you could think. If you need a Swedish-Chinese dictionary, they have it for the cheapest price. Location changes as the rent increases.
Swindon Book Company. My personal favorite; great selection of books on history, politics, medicine and business. Apart from specialized books, their ever-growing collection of fiction always ensures I leave with a new book in my hands.
Parentheses. A bookstore entirely focused on French books; you can find anything here: encyclopedias, fiction, photography books, English literature translated into French, language books, dictionaries, children’s books, films and music. I always go there when I need to motivate myself to study French.
Books & Co. A bookstore, but also a coffee shop, where you can come in and read any book they have for hour without being interrupted. A tiny place located in the hills of Mid-Levels on Hong Kong Island, it is rarely ever packed, and thus still remains an undiscovered secret in the city. I don’t go there often, but when I do it’s for the whole afternoon.
Central Public Library. My secret hideout place when I was in high school. Over 2 million titles in various media, although not the largest library in Asia, it is quite impressive. Additionally, there are 65 public branches in all districts of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Film Archive. Archiving old films, both Hong Kong and international titles, as well as books on various film-related topics, it is a great place to relax for any cinefile.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Peel Fresco Music Lounge hosts weekly poetry readings. People read their own poetry as well as their inspirations from other poets. Live music on daily basis, famous and prominent musicians can be spotted there any night of the week. No other place in Hong Kong has defined me as much as this one.
Roadside Bar. an old, local bar, with jazz playing on the stereo. Drinks are double in strength, for half the price than anywhere else. Feel free to bring your own dinner. Perfect chill out spot for a Saturday night. But me? You can find me here on any given night.
Castro. A Cuban bar with authentic Cuban cigars. The staff wear Che on their chest and Hemingway mojito is the best drink all around. (Two locations in two different neighborhoods.)
MUJI. I spent a lot of time and money here. Stationary (pens, pencils, notebooks, calendars, stacks of washi tape and more) clothes, underwear, hats, shoes, cosmetics, soap and shampoos, towels, bed sheets, white ceramic kitchenware, Japanese snacks, pasta and noodles, ready-to-eat meals and so on. Everything can be found here and it’s better than anywhere else.
Broadway Cinematheque. Part of the forementioned Kubrick Café, it is the one cinema in Hong Kong where foreign and classic films get screened. It also serves one of the venues for any of the film festivals that are hosted in Hong Kong. French, Hong Kong International, German, New Zealand, Spanish film festivals and others take place throughout the year and this is the cinema where you will find it all.
Makumba. I’ve been going to Makumba for almost the entire time I’ve been in Hong Kong; one and only African bar; live music, African cuisine and the most mixed bunch of people you will ever meet. Recently relocated to a more prominent location in the city.
"Hong Kong is a wonderful, mixed-up town where you've got great food and adventure. First and foremost, it's a great place to experience China in a relatively accessible way." –Anthony Bourdain
Classified. My quiet, small oasis is the one located on Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan. A quick walk from the bustle of Central. Busy on the weekends and during lunch hours.
Petit Café. Unlike the name indicates, it is not particularly small. Located in the roof garden of Pacific Place, it is where businessmen, artists and tourists (in other words, everyone and anyone) come for a cup of coffee.
The Coffee Academics. Opened relatively recently, this place really knows their beans. It is a mix of excellence and surprises. Created by coffee-enthusiasts, you will find the best roast in the city. The best part? There are classes and a brewing room where you can learn how to make the perfect cup of java yourself.
Initial Café. I feel a little bit sentimental about this place, as back in the day, it was this first coffee shop in my Caffeinated Opinions series that I reviewed. I used to go there on a weekly basis for a smooth cup of cappuccino. Beautiful ambient, definitely recommended for a break whilst on a shopping spree in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Café Deadend. A recently discovered place for a coffee. Located in the beautiful neighborhood of Sheung Wan, it is my favorite place to come in for a cup of coffee, write, read or hang out with friends.
Mido Café. One of the oldest cafes in Hong Kong. Not exactly famous for their coffee, but sweet tea milk and rice noodles are worth a try. Also, dirt-cheap.
A PROPER MEAL
The Stoep. A forty-five minute journey from Central, but absolutely worth the trip. A South African / Mediterranean restaurant located on the longest beach in Hong Kong in Cheung Sha Wan. Perfect for late lunch, or early dinner.
La’ Taste / Nha Trang. Two different Vietnamese restaurants with locations in Central. It’s difficult to pick my preference between the two. Craving a bowl of hot chicken pho? This is where you need to go. Either one is the right choice.
Brick Lane. This place will transfer you directly into East London. Best English breakfast in town, completed with English paraphernalia. Various locations around the city; perfect for a weekend brunch.
Grassroots Pantry & Prune Deli. Opened by a renewed world-class chef Peggy Chan, the Pantry offers the best local produce and healthy meal options in the city. Designed to make you feel at home, you will love it from the first moment you step inside.
Yardbird. The “it” restaurant in Hong Kong. Specializing in Japanese cuisines, whiskey and sake, this is the place to go. No reservations, they serve while the stock lasts and the boys at the bar are one of the best bartenders in all of Hong Kong. (I mostly go there for the boys and the best gin tonic in town.) You must go there, even if it means you will stand the whole time.
Sift. I am not much of a cupcake person, or a cake person for that matter, but these, I can rarely resist them when I walk past the shop.
Saffron Bakery. Offering a wide array of sweets, bread, cupcakes, pastries, not to mention quality coffee in a creative and colorful environment. Various locations around Hong Kong.
Austalia Dairy Company. Despite the name, it is a classic Hong Kong dessert tea restaurant, serving Hong Kong’s famous sweet tea milk and egg tarts. All over Hong Kong.
Flower Market, Mong Kok: flowers, plants, trees, seasonal, local, tropical, foreign. Green happiness for a bargain.
Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei: similar to the above, however, it is mostly a night market. Smaller items like jewelry, sunglasses, bags and wallets can be purchased her for a ridiculous bargain. Mostly brewing with tourists, although locals shop here as well.
Island East Markets, East Hong Kong Island: starting from September every Sunday until the beginning of the monsoon season; local farmers, craftspeople, designers, vendors and sustainable vendors meet, share and offer their goods in a healthy and interesting environment. Started in 2011, it is relatively Hong Kong’s latest craze and a hip thing.
Western Market, Sheung Wan: One of the oldest ‘markets’ in the city. Situated inside an old colonial building on the west end of the Island, it is a place where you can find local clothes, Indian sari shops, custom-tailoring and similar.
Stanley Market: Located on the southest tip of Hong Kong Island, Stanley Market is paradise to some. Away from the usual Hong Kong bustle, there is a range of restaurants and bars to choose from, a stage where on most weekends live music is organized, including charity events, and a 600 meter long market cramped into a narrow street, which offers at least a tiny bit of shadow and cool in the hottest summer months. Absolute must-visit.
Sara's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: From the highest bar in the world, Ozone at the top of the ICC building overlooking the entire Hong Kong below. It’s pretty incredible. Also, from my living room.
2. Favorite place to write: An outdoor Starbucks in Langham Place, Mong Kok; it’s a pretty busy area of the city, but the store is located on a high floor level and there are usually not many people on the balcony where I like to sit.
3. Favorite museum: I’d only visited the Hong Kong museums once, when I first arrived and never again since. Should change that definitely.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Deadend Café, probably. It varies.
5. Favorite thing about Hong Kong: Everybody is from somewhere else in the world and everybody has a story to tell.