By Fiona Sims
main pic: rice rolls at Hop Yick Tai
“Meet me at the Sham Shui Po MTR,” instructed our guide Carrie Poonki on the phone that morning. We had arrived in Hong Kong the day before, during an unseasonal heatwave that instantly warmed our autumnal European bones. We were craving a dim sum lunch, but not before a breakfast – or five – in a Kowloon hole in the wall with Hong Kong Foodie to hold our hands.
Stomachs rumbling on the 15-minute metro ride from Central deep underneath the harbour, we are deposited into one of Hong Kong’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, Sham Shui Po.
Built on reclaimed land 30 years ago it was once the heart of the garment industry, businesses here acting as middlemen for Chinese factories. But since China opened up, they have been struggling to survive, with empty shops now the norm here.
People are coming back though, from artists and budding fashion designers, who seek out the cheaper rents in peeling low-rise tenements and plunder the colourful fabric stalls that are still left for inspiration, to food tourists, like us, keen to find street food nirvana.
pic: breakfast at Kowloon Restaurant
Our first stop is Kowloon Restaurant on Yu Chau Street for a cup of ‘milk tea’ and a ‘bor lo bao’, a pineapple bun (think finger buns). It’s one of a dwindling number of authentic Cha Chan Tengs (Hong Kong-style Cafes) that are still left in Hong Kong, a product of colonial times when the British imposed their questionable diet on a Hong Kong that was demanding increasingly sophisticated dining options. Several have survived, like this one, and now it’s become a ‘thing’, a trip down memory lane, for the French toasts, club sandwiches and Hong Kong-style spaghetti Bolognese.
I think I’ll stick to Cantonese culinary heritage, especially if I could start each day with a bowl of rice rolls from Hop Yick Tai. Only the number of Kweilin Street, 121, etched on the pillar will alert you to its location (unless you can read Cantonese characters). But burn it into your memory once you’ve found it, because it is certain to become a pilgrimage on every future trip here.
Pic: rice rolls at Hop Yick Tai
At a cost of just 90p, this is one of my top three Cantonese dishes of the trip, alongside the crispy salted chicken at one-Michelin starred Duddell’s, where the tasting menu is around £150 a head, and the squid with minced pork and salted egg at Kin’s Kitchen (£11).
“It’s the most signature dish of Hong Kong,” declares Carrie, between mouthfuls, as we work our way through a bowl each, covered in slick of homemade peanut sauce, a drizzle of hoisin and a few dobs of chilli jam, finished with a scattering of lightly toasted sesame seeds. “I used to come here for a plate every day after school,” grins our affable, hugely informative guide. Little tip: don’t come at the weekend, as there will be queues around the block.
pic: tofu dessert with ginger syrup at A1 Tofu Company
We continue our tour of Sham Shui Po’s culinary highlights at the A1 Tofu Company further down Kweilin Street for its signature tofu dessert, which we demolish with an accompanying drizzle of ginger syrup (yes, good), then move on to a dried seafood vendor nearby where dozens of swim bladders suspended from the ceiling flutter gently in the air-conditioning.
Alongside the jars of shark fins and slivers of deer horn (a male libido thing), and a couple of crucified lizards (the broth is beneficial for asthma sufferers, apparently), we clock vast numbers of dried seahorses. “It’s good for the blood,” informs the shop owner.
We’re not really in the mood for snake soup at the neighbouring café (good for circulation, says Carrie, who eats it regularly)– maybe if they hadn’t been slithering all over the cage at the front of the shop we would have been game, so instead we head to the Goose Shop on Un Chau Street for pork knuckle, which we dip in vinegar, and unctuous pork belly, which we dunk in soy sauce and gobble up with rice.
At the Eight Angels Cake Shop on Nam Cheong Street we bite through pleasingly crumbly ‘walnut’ cookies that aren’t made with walnuts at all (just moulded into a nut shape) but with five spice and pork fat, before hitting Fuk Wing St, or ‘Food Heaven’ as locals call it – Sham Shui Po’s main scoffing street.
pic: shrimp roe noodles at Lau Sum Kee
There’s just time before lunch (yes, really) for a small bowl of ha zi lo meen (shrimp roe noodles) at Lau Sum Kee. Named after the 86 year old owner, who turned his home into a noodle factory – Carrie shows us a video of Mr Lau bouncing on a large bamboo pole to knead his noodle dough – it has become rightly famous, and it lives up to its reputation, we agree, as we work our way through the umami-rich dish, with its punch of dried shrimp eggs.
As we work out way through the teeming streets to our lunch destination, dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wan, touted as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world, we stop by Leung Tim Choppers Factory for a couple of medium-sized cleavers to stash in our checked-in luggage (about £20 each), which are made right there on the premises.
There are five different branches of Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong, with a further 30 outlets around the world – such is the demand for chef-proprietor Mak Kwai Pui’s outstanding dim sum. This one in Kowloon boasts a Michelin star, and it has become a must-do for any self-respecting food lover – and for any top chef passing through - we bump into (and dine with) Gaggan, currently No 1 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, who never misses a visit when he’s in Hong Kong.
pic: Chef Mak Kwai Pui and Asia's No 1 Chef, Gaggan
There’s not enough space to go through the progression of superior dishes, which are presented on a tick box menu with dim sum’s trademark simple names, but highlights include the beef balls, fish soup with dumplings, turnip cake, chef’s take on wonton soup (one huge dumpling) and the pork buns. The latter is more pastry than steamed bun with an addictively sugary fine crust, which I can still taste sitting here at my desk in south London. Ho May, as they say.
For information about Hong Kong Foodie’s Sham Shui Po Tour visit hongkongfoodietours.com, or call on +852 2850 5006. Tours cost HKD720 per person for a half day tour. For more about Hong Kong go to discoverhongkong.com
It’s difficult. We sympathise. Despite being an entirely different shape and size we have an uncanny ability to turn up in the same outfit (usually black) and order the same dishes. We both wear glasses, swathe ourselves in scarves and fancy Daniel Craig.
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© 2015 Fiona Beckett & Fiona Sims (the2fionas.com), photography © Gary Latham, website by Scend