Kowloon Culinary Wanderwalk with Urban Discovery Asia
Food walks are undoubtedly one of the best ways to gain an insight into the real culinary world of a new culture. In fact scrap that, to gain a better understanding of a familiar culture too. Having lived in Hong Kong since the summer of 2013 there’s still many-a-thing I wish I knew about Cantonese fare to impress my hangry (hungry and angry) and jet-lagged visitors.
I recently took part in the Kowloon Culinary Wanderwalk with Urban Discovery Asia, a food walk designed to whet the palates of tourists and expats alike which takes you from Jordan to Yau Ma Tei, and from ravenous to food coma. The walk took place on familiar stomping ground for me, just a 10 minute walk from where I’ve lived for the past 9 months, so I was intrigued to see what it could show me that I didn’t already know! The Hei Fai food walk takes 3 hours, 5 stops and one adventurous soul to try the ‘surprise’ dish.
Immediately greeted by our bubbly guide April, a local with perfect English (and not bad Spanish either), she led us swiftly to our first venue clearly a little peckish herself.
First port of call, Wong Chi Ka, apparently that’s what the above sign says, a one minute stroll from our meeting point at Jordan MTR station. Between the seven of us we had a couple of bamboo baskets full of Xiao Long Bao (or Shanghai dumplings), rice noodles in peanut sauce and some turnip pastries. The Xiao Long Bao was incredible as per and April taught the tourists amongst us how to eat these soupy dumplings the Chinese way (and without dribbling soup down one’s chin).
A few photos outside Wong Chi Ka and we were off to our next haunt, Mak Man Kee. A sophistication step down from the last place, which had wooden tables and a toilet, Mak Man Kee is about as local as you get. No airs, graces or smiles accompany your food here but that’s the authentic way. Turnaround is quick as the locals eat at these places on their lunch breaks and usually in a hurry.
We were seated immediately as a group which isn’t always a given. This style of ‘eating to live’ rather than ‘living to eat’ sees the primary function of the establishment to serve food not to have a leisurely chat. Usually this means being seated wherever there’s a seat, even if that’s alone on a table with a bunch of strangers!
We were served the most delicious (and huge) helpings of chewy noodles made with duck eggs, Mak Man Kee’s speciality. And of course it wouldn’t be a trip to a local noodle joint without a serving of the classic prawn wontons in soup.
After a stroll down Temple Street we came to our ‘surprise’. The façade was a pretty glamorous affair, ornate décor and gold cauldrons greet you on entrance. But don’t be fooled – what you are about to eat is far from glamorous. Served to us in a single bowl to share was turtle jelly.
Made from the crushed bottom shell of a turtle, this bowl of brown sludge is supposed to keep skin looking young and is used in many a Chinese medicine. Lured in by the promise of an age-defying miracle (or just to save embarrassment in front of the group of fellow foodies) we all reluctantly had a taste.
Add some syrup to your turtle and I have to say it’s not actually that bad. Washed down with a drop of almond milk and I’d actually go as far as recommending it.
Yep that is pickled snake in a jar…
The turtle must have put me in an adventurous mood because I convinced our guide April to let us road test some snake soup, even though it wasn’t actually on our list. When in Rome…
Our final stop for the savoury dishes was a Dai Pai Dong near the Yau Ma Tei end of Temple Street. Hong Kong’s Dai Pai Dongs are notorious for their chaotic atmosphere, fast service and less-than-high-standards. However this is where you find the best Cantonese fare.
Rice cooked in clay pots is an iconic scene on the back streets of Kowloon which are littered with Dai Pai Dongs. A personal favourite, there’s some odd satisfaction in scraping the slightly chargrilled and blackened rice from the side of the clay pot, and the rice tastes incredible burnt too. You can even make your own egg-fried rice at your seat by ordering an egg separately and cracking it into the rice as you stir. So simply yet so fun!
Fried seafood combinations are also the order of the day at these local joints…
To round everything off we stopped by one of the city’s many bustling dessert cafes, a popular past time of Hong Kongers. The menu was an east meets west fusion, primarily consisting of desserts made popular in the west with an Asian twist. However the green tea chocolate brownie wasn’t tickling my fancy so I remained entrenched in my western roots and plucked for a classic Belgian chocolate cake.
The Kowloon Wanderwalk has armed me with a whole host of new haunts to take visitors, and thanks to the wisdom of April a wealth of knowledge to impart on them too – hopefully my memory will serve me well in regurgitating everything she told us!
The Kowloon Culinary Wanderwalk with Urban Discovery Asia is every Tuesday and Friday 6-10pm. The price is $650pp and $250 for children 6-16 (children under 6 go free). Price includes insurance, 5-course walk, drinks and souvenirs. Maximum group size is 8 people but if you have a private group of 4 or more people you may be accommodated separately to suit your diary.