From corporate career, to Hong Kong walking tours
Here at Sassy, we love all things Hong Kong, and this month our That Girl relishes in showing off its best bits just as much as we do! Virginia Chan, founder of Hong Kong walking tours company, Humid with a Chance of Fishballs is full of life, and full of tips on all things 852, so we sat down with her to find out more.
From filling us in on the best hidden eateries and her favourite places to take visitors, to all about craft beer and how to beat the HK heat, Virginia reveals all…
Tell us a little about yourself – where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I’m a CBC (Canadian born Chinese), born and raised in Vancouver, BC. I like to say that my parts are from Hong Kong, but I was made and assembled in Canada. I moved to Hong Kong in 2012 because I wanted to discover and learn more about my Chinese heritage, and also for more corporate opportunities.
Your tours focus on all things Hong Kong, but when you’re not working, what are your favourite HK spots?
The spots I haven’t discovered yet! There are just too many things to do in Hong Kong so when I have free time, I’m always trying something new or exploring more of this vibrant city. Usually that means eating my way through Hong Kong…
I particularly love brunch, spicy foods, and Hong Kong retro restaurants. My all-time favourite brunch place is the Green Waffle Diner; Sijie Sichuan Restaurant and Yu Heung Grilled Fish are my go-to places for spicy Sichuan food; and my current favourite Hong Kong retro restaurant is Suppa, a hotpot restaurant that looks time frozen from the 60’s in Hong Kong, which makes for awesome Instagram photos.
What are your top places to take visitors to, and what do you love most about showing people around HK?
If they’ve never been to Hong Kong, I like to give them a quick but comprehensive “Discover the best of Hong Kong in 8 hours” sort of tour.
I love showing off Stephen (the HSBC lion), and his battle-scars from WW2; visiting the Peak and pointing out Hong Kong’s five tallest buildings from a bird’s eye view of the city; paying a visit to local deities at a temple; romping through a wet market to see live frogs, fish and even chickens; and going to old Sino-British cafes (cha-chaan-tengs), like Kam Wah to try their famous “bo lo yau” (pineapple bun with butter). More often than not, dinner is at Tung Po, a wet-market eatery that even Anthony Bourdain has tried.
The part I love most is bridging the East-West culture gap by connecting locals with my guests so that they are able to experience the local Hong Kong hospitality and interaction, despite the language barrier. Some locals here can initially be quite abrupt and aloof, but once you build a rapport from them, they will go out of their way to make you feel welcomed and are actually very ingenuous.
For example, there’s a really cute granny that owns a candy store in the wet market, and now when we visit, she gives my guests a preserved plum, as she wants foreigners to try more old school Hong Kong candy. And she always laughs when the guests make a face if they think it’s too sour (lol).
We have to ask about the name (Humid with a Chance of Fishballs) – are you a big fan of fishballs, and where is your go-to spot in HK to get them?
I’m a huge fan of fishballs! My go-to place is the store right outside of Yau Ma Tei, exit A2 on the right hand side. The shop doesn’t have an English name, but you can’t miss the throng of fishball eaters. Always get the spicy ones – they’re so good.
If you took an adventurous eater on a food tour in HK, what are the top three spots you’d go to?
For sure, I always try to go to places with no English menus because it’s always way more fun. We would start the tour off at Wing Kee Cart Noodles. Cart noodles is basically a Choose-Your-Own-Adventures bowl of noodles where you get to choose your noodles, soup base, your toppings and even the greens on top. Wing Kee is particularly famous for their coagulated pig’s blood, chicken wing tips, daikon and beef brisket.
Then, it’s definitely time to go to an outdoor dai pai dong like Oi Man Sun in Sham Shui Po for the atmosphere, super local experience, and freakin’ delish food. My favourite here is the razor clams in black bean sauce and make sure to order some ice cold beer to wash it all down.
And lastly, how about some dessert at Cong Sao? Their most infamous dessert is the durian icy and it’s so good, you won’t even know it’s durian. I recommend getting the durian or longan icy and the mango and pomelo sago to share.
Are there any local HK foods that you find people are less willing to try?
I think it really depends on the individual traveller, but if I had to choose, it’s probably offal, beef or pig. One of my clients actually said that offal sounds like “awful” for a reason (haha!). I personally love the beef offal that you get from those little snack kiosks – I tell them to give me extra lungs, but to hold off on the intestines and pancreas.
Aside from the local food and street tours, you offer up a craft beer brewery tour, has this made you drink more or less beer?
Definitely way more – exponentially more! We get quite a lot of well-travelled craft beer enthusiasts that come onto our Craft Beer Brewery Tour; therefore, I definitely want to be up-to-date with the Hong Kong craft beer scene. Especially given that craft beer breweries are opening up in Hong Kong at a lightning speed and guests like to ask for recommendations of other local brews to try.
The only slight problem is, I do get the Asian flush so it’s a bit embarrassing when I’ve only had half a pint and I’m already as red and glowing as Hong Kong’s flag…
So, we know that you love dim sum, fishballs and beer, but what’s the one food or drink that you can’t live without?
Old Dutch ketchup chips! It’s probably a Canadian thing. I always open the bag bottom side up because all the saucier crumbs and bits will be on the top; therefore, making the chips extra ketchup-y.
HK is hot and humid for most of the year, how do you battle this, especially when walking around in the heat?
I still haven’t found the sweat proof solution yet… I just make sure to use waterproof makeup, slather on a ton of sunscreen, keep packs of Tempo tissues in my bag, tie my hair into a high bun, and always have a cold beverage, like a Hong Kong milk tea, in hand. But I’m still usually a sweaty mess at the end.
Do you have a must have beauty product that we need to know about?
I can’t leave the house without eyeliner. My HG (holy grail) is Stila’s smudge stick waterproof eyeliner in “sting-ray”. It’s basically a gel liner in pen form so it glides on without tugging on your eyes and then it sets so it won’t budge. It’s a little cheaper in Canada than it is in Hong Kong, so I get my mom to bring back a dozen each time she visits me.
Thanks to the talented Michelle Proctor of Michelle Proctor Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor and Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichelleProctorPhotography.