Interview: Virginia Chan, Humid With a Chance of Fishballs Tours
We chat to Virginia Chan, founder of local foodie tour company Humid with a Chance of Fishballs, about life as a tour guide and entrepreneur.
Can you tell us a little more about Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours?
The company name, Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours, is like a weather report of Hong Kong. I wanted a company name that was a bit quirky and Hong Kong-esque and this was it.
We are a company in Hong Kong that specialises in unique, local and authentic foodie experiences for travellers to Hong Kong and expats in Hong Kong looking for that off-the-eaten track. Striving to showcase the best and the tastiest of Old Hong Kong, we love hole-in-the-wall mum and pop shops, quirky old Chinese proverbs and slangs, places guaranteed to give culture shock, and highly Instagrammable experiences.
What is your background?
I’m a CBC (Canadian born Chinese) from Vancouver, BC. Graduating with a business degree, I moved to Hong Kong 5 years ago wanting to discover my Chinese roots and to work in a corporate environment. I spent 4 of those 5 years working at American banks in the Human Resources department. 10 months ago, I left the banking world to start Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours because I wanted to pursue a career that was more creative and to develop something I could call my own.
Where did the inspiration for Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours come from?
My parents’ tales of Old Hong Kong inspired me. All the tours have to be authentic and have a local, Old Hong Kong vibe to them. My personal rule is that I try to only bring guests to restaurants that have no English menus and places mostly only frequented by locals.
For example, dining at a floating restaurant in the typhoon shelter used to be Hong Kong’s popular night-time entertainment in the 60’s and 70’s. Then came nightclubs, karaokes and other more enticing forms of entertainment on land, and consequently, there are now very few floating restaurants left in Hong Kong.
So for our Eat Typhoon Crab on a Sampan Boat tour, we first bring guests to experience a villain hitting ceremony before boarding a traditional sampan boat to dine on typhoon shelter crab, clams in black bean sauce, razor clams and other seafood. The restaurant is still operated by boat dwellers, one of the four native communities of Hong Kong so we’re really taking our guests back to our Old Hong Kong roots.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
I think the biggest challenge is really getting exposure and getting people to know who we are, what we do, how we’re different and what our brand stands for. What I like to say is that if you think our company name is funny, then you’ll probably like our sense of humour and tours.
Nowadays, any company is basically judged based on their online presence, reviews online and social media following. This takes time to build so we are constantly working on it, and if you’re interested, you can check us out on Facebook and Instagram.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
That’s a really tough one and I don’t think I can pick just one thing. There are two things I particularly enjoy. The first one is tour creation and we often get requests for customised corporate or private tours. I love puzzles and I treat putting together a tour itinerary like one, balancing the requests and preferences of our clients against the budget, our Old Hong Kong narrative, the duration of the tour, etc.
The second is the happy smiles and positive feedback we get from our guests. Hearing how much guests enjoyed their time with us is probably the most gratifying part of my job.
Do you miss anything from your corporate role?
Yes, I do! Because I don’t work the normal corporate hours and often work during the night-time; therefore, I tend to miss out on happy hour(s) with friends. Also, as a tour guide, you’re outside in all types of weather, so I tend to dress in my most comfortable and weather appropriate clothing so I definitely miss suiting up with makeup that’s not melted and running down the sides of my face…
Which is your personal favourite tour from your company?
My current favourite is definitely our Local Craft Beer Brewery Tour that just launched last month. Instead of just going to one brewery, guests visit 3 different local breweries – Black Kite Brewery, Young Master Ales and Little Creatures – to try a beer paddle at each location so that’s 14, 100ml craft beers in total!
Each brewery is different in terms of offering and size; therefore guests not only get to learn about the beer making process, but they also get face time with either the brew-master or owner and guests get to know the stories behind the beer they’re drinking.
As a traveller, what’s the most memorable tour you’ve ever had?
In terms of a food tour, it is hands down the Back of the Bike Tours in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. It was just so much fun to whizz in and out of traffic sitting on the back of a moped – scary and exhilarating all at the same time. All the stops were very local, whilst the food and flavours were still tasty for a Westerner’s palate.
What’s your favourite type of food in Hong Kong?
Oh, too many choices… but I think I will have to go with hotpot. The place that my friends and I keep going back to that’s amazing value for money is a hotpot restaurant at the Yue Wan Market’s Cooked Food Centre in Chai Wan. It’s $150 HKD for all you can eat hotpot – including all the fresh seafood you can imagine, beer & they don’t charge you extra for your soup base(s). Make sure to go before 6:30pm so you can fight the oldies for the best seafood.