Kowloon is considered by many of us to be ‘the dark side’; a faraway land only to be visited when dreaded visitors appear and demand to go there. Even then, the temptation to hand them a map and claim other priorities does enter our minds, and you know we’re all guilty of that. However, there is so much to be explored, particularly when it comes to food. Yet if we want to eat like the locals, where do we go and what do we order when there is no English menu in sight?
The Sassy girls recently embarked on a ‘Hei Fai Food Walk’ tour courtesy of Urban Discovery. Starting from Jordan MTR station, our knowledgeable guide Edmond led us on a culinary tour of local eats, finishing up over four hours later with satisfied bellies and cultured minds in Yau Ma Tei.
Our first stop, Wong Chi Ka (which apparently translates to ‘the home of the king’) was a cute little dumpling shop not far from our meeting point. Here we not only tasted some amazing rice noodles with chicken in sesame peanut sauce, incredible xiao long bao (my all-time favourite) and ‘turnip crispies’, but we also learnt about important Chinese food etiquette. For example, we learnt that ‘Hei Fai’, which means ‘move your chopsticks’ is what the host at a Chinese dinner party will announce before anyone around the table is allowed to serve themselves food. Try to enforce this around a table of hungry expats each fighting with the Lazy Susan and all you will get is a round of evil glares.
We also learnt the correct way to eat xiao long bao and the secret behind how the chef manages to get the broth inside the delicate dumpling skin. I won’t give away the secret but it is quite a clever one.
Edmond then led us to Mak Man Kee, a popular noodle shop that always has a queue outside. As with most of these noodle joints, the turnaround is so quick that we barely waited five minutes before being seated. The difference with this noodle shop is that the noodles are handmade with duck eggs as opposed to chicken, giving them a distinctive, slightly chewier texture. One of the house specialities is braised pork trotter with noodles. Although the idea of eating pigs’ trotters may not sound appealing, having been cooked for over four hours, the flavour and texture was divine, although sadly there wasn’t enough meat on it. The less offensive sweet and sour pork option was also delicious, as were the prawn wantons.
A leisurely stroll through the night market, where naturally us girls simply had to make a few purchases, took us to a typical Chinese teashop just in time to shelter from the rain. In the beautifully decorated teashop, Edmond had a surprise in store for us: turtle jelly. I think of turtles as pretty cool little creatures (thanks in part to the way they are depicted in Finding Nemo) and perhaps naively assumed that would make them taste good. I can assure you that no matter how much sugar syrup you add to turtle jelly, it will never ever taste good. Determined to make myself like it, however, and encouraged by the fact it is supposed to be incredibly good for you, I kept trying it. Regardless, I can now safely add this to my list of food I dislike, along with chocolate-orange.
A non-food related part of the tour involved having our palms read. We kindly asked our palm reader to only give us the good news, and he proceeded to amuse us with hilarious proclamations of our good health, wealth, careers and love lives. My favourite part was when he told me I would marry a rich, handsome, happy and ‘mentally mature’ man. Yes please!
Dai pai dongs, or street-side food stalls, are gradually becoming extinct. Where there once were hundreds of unlicensed food stalls lining our city’s streets, there are now only about 28 licensed ones (the term dai pai dong in fact refers to the ‘big license’ these restaurants must have in order to function). In a lively dai pai dong just off the market, we tried a range of seafood dishes including delicious deep-fried prawns and deep-fried squid, as well as the restaurant’s famous dish: claypot rice with chicken and Chinese sausage. This is one of the few restaurants that still use charcoal to cook the claypot rice, giving the dish a distinctive flavour.
Our last and final stop was of course dessert, at Gourmet Desserts Café, a bustling place serving both Chinese and Western desserts. When Edmond asked us what we wanted, we pointed to everything on the menu and he pretty much took our word for it! We tried almond soup, a ‘flaming snow mountain’, two types of chocolate fondant (plain and whisky), ginger soufflé and chestnut crumble; needless to say we practically rolled down the stairs onto the MTR!
Hei Fai food walk, at $550 per person for the incredible and fulfilling adventure I have just described, is the perfect way to spend an evening, whether you’re just visiting Hong Kong, have guests in town, or have been here for years. We all need to be taken out of our comfort zones once in a while, and if outside of that zone is delicious food, then what’s the excuse?!