I was born in Hong Kong but we moved to New Zealand when I was 9 months old so I never really called Hong Kong home. But even though it’s not quite home to me, it’s special in other ways and being brought up by Hong Kong born and bred parents means that there a lot of things in Hong Kong culture that I relate to.
I know there are a lot of cultures that claim this, but Hong Kong citizens are absolutely obsessed with food. It’s like a religion. I don’t know if that’s one of the reasons why I am the way I am. I haven’t always been like this. So it must be more nature than nurture?
Here are 10 culinary experiences I hope to revisit or try for the first time during my next Hong Kong adventure (in no particular order):
1. Stinky Tofu
I’d like to try Stinky Tofu next time I am in Hong Kong. Stinky Tofu or chòu dòufu is fermented tofu and eaten as a snack. It can be found at night markets and from street vendors. While smelly, the taste is considered pretty mild. You either love it or you hate it. I don’t like blue cheese though which some people liken stinky tofu to. So maybe I won’t even like it. But I’d like to try it to see.
2. Dim Sum
Yum cha for brunch is an institution in Hong Kong and it should be against the law to visit Hong Kong without trying dim sum.
Bunnies eating dim sum drawing by Argyle Academy.
Cantonese banquets are a show of culinary skill, wealth and gluttony. As a guest, you will not order any food, that is for your host to do, but prepare to be dazzled as dish after dish comes from the kitchen and is placed in the centre of the table for everyone to share. A banquet is a great time to try and range of fabulous Cantonese dishes. If you happen to try a dish you don’t like, you can just not eat from that dish again. You’re not stuck with a whole dish to painfully get through. Be prepared to take some home as there is always more food than can be eaten.
4. Claypot Chicken
Southern China, Malaysia and Singapore all serve this hearty dish. Rice is cooked with chicken in a claypot along with Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms, dried fish and soy sauce. This dish is a great feed for the whole family.
5. Barbecue style rotisserie meats
Some Westerners dislike the shiny, red and brown silhouettes of Cha siu, roast duck, roast pork and various chickens hanging in shop windows, but the vision makes my mouth water. The meats are basted in their own unique sauces which really bring out the flavour of that beat. Always great value and really, this is fast food. All they have to do is cut up the already cooked meat and lay it on top of your choice of white rice, noodles or noodle soup and you are ready to go.
I remember when The Koala tried duck for the first time. He was really pissed off that it was his first time because it was so delicious. I think he has made up for lost time now. He orders roast duck (with plum sauce) every time we go to the BBQ Noodle House up the road.
6. Roasted Chestnuts
A healthy, simple snack from street vendors. Perfect for a winter’s day.
7. Vegetarian meat substitutes at Buddhist restaurants
More of a novelty than real food in my opinion, but these buddhist monks have got the art of fabricating meat-like textures and portions (and whole animals) into a fine art. I remember eating from a whole fake roast duck. Complete with textured goose-bumpy skin. These vegetarian restaurants can be found inside temples and monasteries.
Also be on the look out for vegetarian yum cha. Where traditional meat filled dim sum are recreated using soy and other vegetarian things.
8. Dai Jahp Hai
I know they will be absolutely out of season, but I can’t help but hope that by some miracle I get to eat hairy crabs again.
9. Super Fresh, Barely Dead Seafood
In Hong Kong, if it’s not alive, then it’s not fresh. Westerners don’t seem to mind eating fish that’s been dead a while.
How fresh is too fresh?
There are a few districts in Hong Kong where there are screeds of live seafood restaurants. Rows and rows of stacked glass tanks are on display for diners to pick a fate for the seafood that dwell within.
See a fish you like? Don’t point to it unless you want to eat it!
In Western society, the cook and the killer are not the same person. Killing and cooking are done at completely separate times and places. Days, weeks or even months apart. It seems almost inappropriate to kill inside the kitchen when you can have a factory someplace else dedicated to killing.
Not so with Chinese cooking. I once read that the Chinese don’t kill and then cook like Westerners do. Instead, the Chinese start preparing their meal, and somewhere along the process, the animal happens to die. There’s no exact point when the animal is killed. With the death of an animal as a part of the cooking process, maybe it’s an easier way to deal with buying live food as they do?
This refers to seafood mind you! I don’t think it’s appropriate to start preparing a meal of live pig in your kitchen and have it die somewhere along the way.
I’m sure these days with the Westernisation of many places, there are plenty of Chinese that would rather boil a pack of instant noodles than have to kill and cook a live fish. I’ve never prepared a fish before. But I would like to.
10. Wonton Noodle Soup
Simple, maybe too simple? I eat Wonton Noodle Soup a lot at home. So isn’t it natural to eat it where it is super popular? I hope a bowl of delicious Hong Kong style Wonton Noodle Soup doesn’t spoil it for me for ever.