Kowloon is often called ‘the dark side’; a faraway land only ventured into when dreaded visitors appear demanding to go there… and even then, the temptation to hand them a map (or Sassy’s visitors’ guide to HK) and claim other priorities often enters our minds! However, there is so much to be explored in Kowloon, 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 answer? The ‘Hei Fai Food Walk’ tour courtesy of Urban Discovery. Starting from Jordan MTR station, our knowledgeable guide Edmond led Team Sassy 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 gweilos fighting over the Lazy Susan and all you will get is a round of evil looks!
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 eggs, 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. The sweet and sour pork option was also delicious, as were the prawn wontons.
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 their depiction in Finding Nemo!) and 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 persevered. Regardless, I can now safely add this to my list of food I dislike (along with chocolate-orange!).
Next, we took a break from the food to have our palms read. We asked our fortune teller 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!
Hong Kong’s famous dai pai dongs are gradually becoming extinct; where there were once 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 joint serving both Chinese and Western puddings. 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 back home!
The 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’ve been here for years, have guests in town or are just visiting Hong Kong. We all need to be taken out of our comfort zones once in a while… and if outside that zone is delicious food, then what’s the excuse?!
The Hei Fai Food Walk costs $550 per person and runs on Tuesdays and Fridays from 6-10pm, including a 5-course guided culinary tour with drinks and a souvenir.
Urban Discovery also offer cycling tours, city walks and adventure races; for more information and to book, check out their website or call 2214 0011.
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!