My favorite thing about travel is the chance to experience the iconic, local food. Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to enjoy some international travel to Southeast Asia, specifically Hong Kong. My brother, sister-in-law, and I joined a woman from Australia, a family of three from Sweden, and our native to Hong Kong guide, Ed, to take part in a food tour across Hong Kong Island. Our tour took us to six different stops throughout the Central and Sheung Wan neighborhoods of Hong Kong Island.
Our first stop on the tour was at a local wonton noodle shop, a third generation family business now under the management of a brother and sister team. The wonton noodle shop menu is not extensive, offering just four menu choices: three different types of wontons with noodles and broth, or a combination bowl of the three. We sampled their best seller, the tiger prawn wonton noodle bowl. Our guide, Ed, suggested we try the noodle broth in three stages each enhancing the flavor of the last; the first as it comes, the second with some red vinegar added, and the third (for those craving some spice) with a homemade chili sauce. The wontons, having been prepared that morning, with prawns caught even earlier in the day, were the best and freshest I have ever tasted.
The second tour stop was Mr. Lee’s roast meat restaurant. While waiting for our char siu pork dish to arrive, Ed offered some trivia to the group. “How long does Mr. Lee roast the pig?” Used to the American BBQ style where a pig is roasted anywhere from eight to twelve hours, my family’s guesses were all in that general range, and were all very wrong. After everyone guessed Ed asked another question. “Have you noticed how people in Hong Kong seem to be hurrying no matter where they’re going?” As it turns out that attitude plays into their cooking as well. Mr. Lee roasts a full pig for only two and a half hours…in an oven that is 400° Celsius (752° Fahrenheit for those unfamiliar with the conversion)! The char siu was delicious, the pork tender and topped with a secret sauce (we were able to deduce it at least included honey, soy sauce, and spices).
After the heavier fare at our first two stops, we ventured next to a fresh juice shop. Here we were treated to 100% sugar cane, pressed just before we arrived. The juice had just the right amount of sweetness and was a nice refresher between our stops. The shop is operated by a father and his two sons, each taking turns working the press and serving customers. Also unique to the shop, the family leaves the recipe hanging on the wall for all to see. Included in the information is where in Hong Kong to grow the sugar cane, what time of year to harvest, and how to properly serve. Due to the substantial manual labor involved, they aren’t too concerned with someone stealing the recipe.
A preserved fruit shop was the fourth stop on our tour. We took our time getting there, learning the rich history of the Sheung Wan district on our walk. The preserved fruit shop serves traditional Chinese preserved fruits including plums, peaches, lemons, ginger, and many others. Though delicious, the fruits all had a very bold flavor that caught me off guard on the first bite.
Our fifth stop proved to be one of my favorites, and one of the more filling. The Dim Sum Corner is another family business, including fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, and in-laws. We enjoyed a traditional array of plates with dumplings, pork buns, spring rolls and much more. I did especially well at the Dim Sum Corner while seated with the Swedish family on our tour. They had an upcoming dinner reservation shortly after our food tour (rookie mistake) and only tried a couple of the items. I, never wanting to leave food on the table, took care to finish off all our dishes.
The final stop on our tour was a traditional Chinese bakery, where even though I was quite full, I was able to enjoy a tart fresh out of the oven. A superb finish to a great tour.
The food tour proved to be not only a favorite memory of the trip, but a unique way to immerse ourselves in the history, culture, and cuisine of Hong Kong. I look forward to future travels in the US and abroad and to hearing the stories behind my food and those dedicated to its creation.
– By Jonathan Squibb, Communications & Engagement Specialist, Compass Group USA