Asia&Oceania

Touching down at the Hong Kong International Airport on a mild, overcast afternoon in late April, I expected my brief stay here to be similarly overcast.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) wanted to show Malaysian, Indonesian, and Singaporean journalists, as well as tour agency representatives, just what this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China has to offer Muslim holidaymakers.

I did not expect much, because Hong Kong isn’t obliged to make it nice for Muslim tourists, I thought.

Yet I was pleased to find that the territory has potential to be a great place for Muslim travellers.

Eat

In all of Hong Kong (that is, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories), there are a total of 51 restaurants, 13 hotel restaurants and six theme park restaurants that have so far received halal certification by The Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong. You can see the complete list on HKTB’s website (just type “halal” in the search field).

My troupe visited a few of these, the first being Wai Kee, an outlet that serves halal food in the Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre in Wan Chai district. The food centre is accessible by an elevator tucked into a nook on one side of the building – one floor up and you are there. In this air-conditioned indoor collection of eateries, Wai Kee is easily found – just look for the word “halal” in Arabic script.

Owned by a Muslim, Wai Kee serves roast duck, curry dishes, set dishes with rice and noodles, among others. Visitors here may want to try the roast duck, for which Wai Kee is apparently well-known.

Another good place to eat is the Islamic Centre Canteen, which can be found on the fifth floor of the Masjid Ammar & Osman Ramju Sadick Islamic Centre, not far from the Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre.

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Roast duck rice from Wai Kee, which serves halal food in the Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre. Photos: The Star/Hisham Zulkifli

Simply laid-out, this friendly eatery serves a variety of Guangdong-style dishes, including dim sum. If you ever wanted to try halal dim sum, then this is a good place to start. We were pleased with our meal here.

The centre also has two prayer halls on the floors below; one for men, one for women.

If you like cakes, buns, cookies and other such baked goods, visit Chrisly Cafe on the third floor of the Shun Tak Centre on Hong Kong Island.

This cafe isn’t entirely halal: it is a traditional cha chaan teng (“tea restaurant”) with a halal-certified bakery section, entirely separate from the main food kitchen. This is why it is listed as Chrisly Bakery on HKTB’s online list of halal eateries. The owners hope to eventually have the whole restaurant certified halal.

Chrisly Cafe serves pineapple bun, egg tart, “wife cake” and peanut butter biscuit, among others. These goodies are cooked fresh and will only last a few days. I guess they don’t contain a lot of preservatives.

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(From left) Have some milk tea with pineapple buns and egg tarts at Chrisly Cafe.

For Moroccan fare, try the Casablanca Restaurant & Cafe located on the sixth floor of the Ashley Centre in Kowloon. The address is easy to spot at night – just look for the light projection at the doorway to the elevator. Think, Bat-signal.

The dining area is well furnished, and features paintings with a decidedly mideastern slant. With the hookah available for one’s indulgence, it almost feels like I’m not in Hong Kong. They serve Mediterranian and Asian food; their menu even includes pastas and pizzas.

The helpings are generous, too. I made the mistake of trying to finish my chicken doner with rice all by myself instead of sharing it with everyone, and found it really difficult. This was an unexpected problem I found in Hong Kong – I was often taken aback by how much I had to consume and as a result, wasted food. Terrible!

On our third night in Hong Kong, my group was scheduled to eat in Jashan Celebrating Indian Cuisine (yes, that’s the name) on the island.

Instead, we ate at Ma’s Restaurant in Kowloon. Whatever the reason for the change in venue, I’m sure glad it happened, because if there is one place you must dine in Hong Kong, then it is Ma’s Restaurant.

Everything I ate there was delicious. I was amazed. What to recommend? How about EVERY­THING?

Okay, if I had to pick one thing, it would be the veal goulash, which is a bun stuffed with beef. That description, or even the way it looks, does not do justice to how it tastes. Just one bite and it is almost … heavenly. And that pretty much describes the other dishes we had.

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Every single dish we ate in Mas Restaurant in Kowloon was delicious.

Other than restaurants, you can try Lee Keung Kee North Point Egg Waffles, at King’s Road in North Point. This was recommended by the Michelin Street Food 2017 guide.

In Sham Shui Po, you can eat street food ala Kwan Kee Store and A1 Food Company. Kwan Kee Store offers Chinese rice pudding, white sugar cake and red bean pudding, while A1 Tofu Company gets you tofu desserts.

If you like theme parks, you may be pleased that Hong Kong Disneyland has two halal-certified restaurants, Tahitian Cafe in Adventure Land and Explorer’s Club in Mystic Point. There’s also an outdoor vending cart called Main Street Market. We ate in Explorer’s Club, which seems like a cross between a high school canteen and a fast food joint, only much nicer.

The other theme park we visited, Ocean Park Hong Kong, operates two halal-certified kiosks: Dive Into A Float at Marine World and Panda Food To Go at the Amazing Asian Animals.

However, beware the kiosk called Malay Foods – it is not halal!

Pray

HKTB’s website lists five mosques (four on the Island, one in Kowloon) that serve Hong Kong’s more than 200,000 Muslims (Wikipedia lists a sixth, in Kowloon). We visited three of them.

The Jamia Mosque is the oldest mosque in Hong Kong.

The first was Hong Kong Island’s first, the Jamia Mosque, which we entered via the Central Mid Levels Escalator. Also called Lascar Temple, it was built in 1849 and rebuilt in 1915. We performed our first prayers here.

It is a modestly-sized mosque that is dwarfed by tall buildings on every side. It can fit maybe 400 worshippers (my estimate), with the ablution area in a separate building. The building’s sole minaret sits on top of the entrance arch.

Another mosque is Masjid Ammar of the previously mentioned Masjid Ammar & Osman Ramju Sadick Islamic Centre. As said before, the prayer halls are separated into two floors, one for men, the other for women.

The Masjid Kowloon & Islamic Centre in Kowloon, built in 1896, is a major landmark in Tsim Sha Tsui. From the gate, it was almost as if I was about to enter a stately museum.

You may be surprised to know that the 118-story International Commerce Centre in Kowloon has a prayer room. Located in SKY100, an observation deck on the 100th floor, the prayer room is clean, much like the rest of the observation deck and a little small, but I think adequate. After all, Malaysia has even smaller prayer rooms in certain places – in fact, positively tiny.

Other than mosques and your hotel room, you may have to ask around if the building you happen to find yourself in has a prayer room. It couldn’t hurt. Disneyland has one at the previously mentioned Explorer’s Club (just one, for both men and women), but outside the club there is no obvious indication of its existence. Ocean Park offers prayer rooms, but you must ask Guest Relations via the General Enquiry Hotline at +(852) 3923 2323.

Ocean Terminal, which we also visited, does not seem to have one.

But as we found out, Hong Kong is not without amenities for Muslims. Once you have figured where you can eat and pray, you can enjoy Hong Kong more easily.

As we say our goodbyes to the recent Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018 in Australia, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to bid farewell to our holidays too.

After the momentous event, Gold Coast continues to shine and win, having gone through a massive revamp to welcome athletes and visitors from over 70 nations.

It is without a doubt the ideal time to visit Gold Coast post-Games with the refreshing look over the city, from the upgraded transport links and a massive centre for arts and culture, to the latest dining establishments and lavish hotels.

Though the event has come to an end, holiday visitors travelling to the Gold Coast will be able to benefit from the developments made and feel the newly improved Aussie vibe.

Travel with ease

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Have places you need to be in a short amount of time? Hop on the G:Link.

When in a foreign country, sometimes it can be a pretty daunting task to move around without proper public transportation services. The good news is, a whopping A$420mil was spent on upgrades to expand the route from Gold Coast University Hospital station to Helensvale, carrying the total number of stations to 19 starting from Broadbeach South.

Getting around town has never been more convenient and time efficient. Fifteen minutes is all you need to get from Surfer’s Paradise to Broadbeach South, known as a famous dining and shopping precinct, and home to the newly refurbished Pacific Fair shopping centre.

Best of all, visitors arriving at Brisbane Airport can also stop by the Gold Coast area by hopping on the Queensland Rail Network and be a train ride away from Helensvale station. Upon arrival, simply transfer to the G:Link to get to popular beach precincts like Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach. Exploring such alluring places is now within reach.

Wine and dine at trendy spots

The city’s dining scene has fully evolved and come into its own. With an array of choices to choose from, it can be a bit difficult in deciding where to dine at for the night.

Gold Coast has certainly made its name as a trendy food destination, from chic restaurants to innovative dining concepts to draw in the masses, offering not only tantalising dishes but also a unique and enjoyable experience. Be sure to visit some of these notable restaurants if you ever find yourself on the coast.

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Tuck into your meal as you watch the waves crash at Rick Shores. Photo: Jeremy Kilvington

Rick Shores at Burleigh Heads

Known as a Thai-influenced modern Australian cuisine, the establishment is set on the beach with a million dollar coastal view, serving Gold Coast’s finest fare made from locally-sourced produce.

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Excite your palate with a plate of Crispy rice spicy tuna.

Kiyomi at The Star Gold Coast

Famous for its dining rooms, Kiyomi situated at The Star luxury hotel is one of the well-known hatted Japanese restaurants in the coast. Its exquisite signature dishes are testament to the culinary renaissance and maturing taste buds on the Coast.

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Order a specific drink of your choice or ask your bartender to craft one up.

The Collective, Palm Beach

As a newcomer to the vibrant dining scene, The Collective shot to fame as a trendy group of five restaurants offering a wide mixture of cuisines suitable for all palates. It also consists of a bar and a trendy rooftop bar. Incorporating a communal dining concept into the restaurant, diners are allowed to order from one menu that houses all five restaurants and share in the Mexican, Italian, Asian and modern Australian fare.

Electrifying food markets

If you’re big into food markets like many of us, look no further than Gold Coast as their street food markets are getting bigger and more vibrant than ever before. Every Friday and Saturday evening at Miami Marketta and NightQuarter, you’ll see the streets come alive with patrons at food stalls from all corners of the world. Feast your eyes and bellies on some of the most exotic food in the world, all in one place.

You may grub or quench your thirst along to weekly music and entertainment gigs hosted on stage that will surely get your feet moving to the beat and create an eternal memory with your loved ones.

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Get uniquely crafted cocktails at Miami Marketta.

Top floor lifestyle

Spoiled for choice when choosing accommodations? Known as one of Gold Coast’s iconic landmarks for over 30 years, The Star Gold Coast it is a five-star hotel with outstanding services, equipped with a sleek casino, a day spa centre and a theatre among other amenities. A new suite tower was also recently unveiled. “The Darling”, a six-star 19-floor extravaganza complete with butler services, finest amenities and a A$20mil rooftop restaurant and bar as its crown jewel, is the brain-child of acclaimed restaurateur Simon Gloftis and entertainment maven Billy Cross.

Avani Broadbeach Gold Coast Residences is also one of the many luxurious accommodations, offering 25 floors with 219 one- or two-bedroom contemporary suites. A newly launched concept called “keys to the city” will not only give guests access to their suites, but also insider tips about the area such as where to go by locals through Facebook Messenger. With its affordable prices and location strategically near the coast and Pratten Park, it is also conveniently walking distance to many shops around the area.

If you’re an enthusiastic shopper, look no further than Pacific Fair shopping centre or other nearby local boutiques to satisfy your apparel desires.

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Treat yourself to a classy, elegant suite of your choice.

Heighten your senses visually

Designed as a hub to celebrate all things arts, culture and creative enterprises, the 16.5ha Gold Coast Cultural Precinct at Evandale is the latest addition to the city’s art scene.

Showcasing the best of local talents and emerging artist, Hota is the place to be with some of the biggest names in the industry lined up this year – such as the Tim Minchin in Concert and Concert for the Planet by the Gold Coast Philharmonic Orchestra in March.

Surrounded by a lush environment, the precinct brings people together to spend leisure time by Evandale Lake, enhanced with 110m-swimming lanes, sandy beaches and a children’s pool, along with playgrounds, gardens, picnic spots and boardwalks.

While you’re at it, visit the 14-floor Art Tower that houses a new art museum and several destination galleries that focus on touring exhibitions, regional collections, photography and new media. Visitors can also get a bird’s eye view of the city at the public observation roof deck and viewing platform.

If you’re a fan of musicals and dance performances, check out the Performing Arts Centre which seats 1,200 people and consists of a recording studio and cinema complexes.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to Gold Coast now and travel in style.


AirAsia X flies 7x weekly to Gold Coast, the only direct flight from Kuala Lumpur. This article is brought to you by Tourism and Events Queensland and AirAsia X.

Afghans in need of a caffeine fix line up at Najibullah Sharyari’s coffee cart in Kabul – converts to the drink that is now percolating in a country obsessed with tea for centuries.

Standing on a noisy street among vendors hawking their wares, the 30-year-old barista serves takeaway instant coffee from a mobile machine at his New York-style cart for as little as 28 cents a cup.

Coffee is the “best medicine” to cope with the daily grind in the overcrowded, polluted and war-torn city, insists Sharyari, pouring Nescafe into a fake Starbucks cup for a customer as honking cars crawl past his stand.

The uninitiated often ask for tea, he says, before explaining: “We tell them they can have tea at home. There is a big difference between a cup of tea and a cup of coffee – coffee is better.”

Sharyari’s coffee cart – one of several he operates around the sprawling Afghan capital – is an oddity in a city where most people drink tea and cafes are often protected by armed guards and hidden from view behind blast walls and steel doors.


Watch the video with English subtitles


Afghanistan was introduced to tea because of its location on the ancient Silk Road, and today remains one of the world’s largest tea consumers per capita.

The drink is integral to the country’s famed culture of hospitality, with guests offered a cup of green tea – often infused with aromatic cardamom pods, and a piece of sugar on the side – as they enter homes and offices.

It is ubiquitous at the table regardless of whether the meal being served is breakfast, lunch or dinner.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhDlobQ34J4?feature=oembed&w=770&h=433]

But coffee has the power to pull people out of their daily routine, according to the aficionados at Sharyari’s cart.

“Whenever I go to university I take this street just to drink a cup of coffee while I’m walking,” university student Sayed Millad Hashimi says.

Getting creative

Sharyari launched his business four years ago in the relatively prosperous northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, investing 50,000 Afghanis (RM2,822) in a couple of coffee machines from neighbouring Uzbekistan.

Its success saw him expand to Kabul, where he says he has eight machines and serves more than 1,500 customers per day.

The sight of steam rising from the cart and the rich smell brew excitement apart from the impending jolt of caffeine, says a government worker named Mujiburrahman, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

“I am also happy to see our people getting creative and create job opportunities,” the young and sharply dressed customer tells AFP.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzP1LiYF7vw?feature=oembed&w=770&h=433]

Selling coffee on the streets of Kabul – one of the deadliest places for civilians in the country, where blast walls and traffic choke the roads – is a different prospect from Mazar, which Sharyari says is relatively peaceful and has a vibrant street life.

But in the capital there are grounds for buying your coffee at a street cart, which is accessible to residents in a way that fancier cafes hidden behind layers of security are not.

Rahim, a taxi driver, pulls up to the vendor and calls for coffee with milk without even leaving his car.

“There is no parking lot in this crowded downtown, we cannot park our cars to go to a coffee shop or restaurant,” the 45-year-old says.

“But (it) is easy here, just slam the brake, stop, pick a cup of coffee and go,” he adds.

Security remains a concern. On Jan 27 one of the deadliest bomb blasts in the capital since 2001 killed more than 100 people just a few hundred metres from Sharyari’s cart, he says.

“I was shocked but Kabul is such a resilient city,” he muses. “The next day the people were in the streets again and it was business as usual.” – AFP Relaxnews