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Showing Good Taste in Hong Kong : The city's culinary tradition even includes a passion for oranges.

March 22, 1992|By JUDITH MORGAN

Like the proverbial workhorse returning to the barn at day's end, the green and white 747 touched down at Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong. This was home base for the plane and for many of the elated crew.

Inside the terminal, over the clutter of a thousand voices at the luggage carousels, I heard my name on the loudspeaker.

"Please report to a Cathay Pacific agent," the message said.

Although I had arrived on schedule in Hong Kong, I learned that my suitcase had not. It was still in Los Angeles. The airline was not at fault, I should add; the mix-up had been in the transfer from a commuter flight coming into Los Angeles.

Gently, the Chinese agent explained that my suitcase was due in Hong Kong the next morning. If I would write down the combination of its lock, the airline would take it through customs and deliver it to my hotel. In some cities, I would refuse. In Hong Kong, I accepted the offer and it worked.

The lessons of this travel tale are worth remembering: always carry a toothbrush, medicines and other overnight essentials with you in case you and your luggage are parted. And travel in clothes that fit the climate and demands of your destination. On my first day in Hong Kong, I toured in my flying outfit: linenlooking pants, a striped cotton pullover sweater and a linenlooking jacket. They seemed neither more or less wrinkled than they had before the nonstop, 14-hour crossing.

I wore them around the island for a dim sum lunch at the Hei Fung Terrace restaurant on the site of the old Repulse Bay Hotel, where George Bernard Shaw used to hold court and William Holden smiled at Jennifer Jones in "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing."

The original hotel is gone, there above the sparkling bay, but its memory lingers in a sprawling new look-alike that holds elegant restaurants and shops. Louvered doors, ceiling fans and polished brass add to the yesteryear mood. The Verandah Room, with its view of the South China Sea, is a popular gathering place for afternoon tea and the Sunday buffet.

The luncheon crowd at Hei Fung was a mix of business suits, fresh-faced women with young children and tourists who had come over the peak from central Hong Kong on their way to the bargains of Stanley Market. Women and children, I learned, frequently pack up and head out for dim sum lunch; restaurants welcome families.

A three-generation group of 16 arrived at that moment; some carried presents.

"Few people have room to entertain that many at home," said Jenna Ko, a sprightly Hong Kong native whom I met at Repulse Bay.

"It may be a birthday. Dining out is a family tradition."

It was Jenna who told me of the Hong Kong passion for oranges.

"We eat more oranges than anyone in the world," she said with a laugh. "Orange juice is the most popular drink with meals. Say, you are from California. What happened to the crop? Why is the price up?"

Sometimes I avoid topics I don't understand and so I asked her to pass the steamed shrimp dumplings and then the sauteed broccoli. The next course was a baked orange that had been hollowed out and filled with rice, slivered orange peel and a little egg.

Then came tangy orange sherbet.

Surprising tastes are a happy discovery of any Hong Kong trip.

On my last night, I took a boat to the village of Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island, a 20-minute ride from the sampan village of Aberdeen.

Lamma is home to at least 20 seafood restaurants. Some friends in Kowloon had chosen the waterfront Lamma Fortune, a casual, open-air place with tanks of live fish near the kitchen and a chalkboard list of specials. We ordered a succulent white fish called garoupa, steamed in bright green cilantro, and shared plates of garlic prawns, peppery calamari and crisp noodles. San Miguel beer won over orange juice on that humid night. Private yachts bobbed in the harbor, and I found myself remembering romantic cafe tables on Mykonos and other Greek islands.

I could give you the address for Lamma Fortune, but it's easier to give directions: Turn left from the dock at Sok Kwu Wan and you're there. You'll probably hear the cheery English accent of the tall owner, Colin Goddard, or the warm laugh of his partner, Johnny Kwok. You'll undoubtedly smell seafood being charcoal-grilled on a barbecue they've just added, or see the strings of lights at their new pub and roof garden.

This scene and other images of my Hong Kong trip became magically blurred at the edges, like the dream sequence in a film: red-tasseled lanterns and golden statues of Buddha, bamboo scaffolding and Rolls-Royce limousines, a million cellular telephones and miles of pulsing neon.

At Kai Tak Airport on departure day, I was still wrapped in wonder.

It did not help to read the name of the agent who checked me in: Cinderella Poon.

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