Over a month has passed since I left Blighty to explore Hong Kong and I’ve been diligently eating my way through an array of curious and delicious seafood dishes. Food is everywhere in Hong Kong with food stalls on every corner. The sights and smells can range from the alluring smokiness of street side barbequed sweet potatoes to the repulsive waft of fermented tofu. It is on these food stalls and in traditional cha chaan tengs (tea cafes) that I’ve tasted some of the best and bizarre food on my trip.
Seafood dominates a lot of menus, from classic prawn wonton soups to incredible Cantonese style steamed fish, a Gills gal is spoilt for choice. Below I’ve narrowed it down to four dishes that you’re unlikely to find back in the UK and are absolute must-tries if you are visiting.
A few of our friends visited us from London and when I suggested ordering a side of fish skins with our hotpot, they looked at me in the way I imagine you are now at the screen. A mix of disgust and confusion. This is not helped by my accurate, but slightly unappealing description of them being ‘like pork scratchings, only with fish’.
However, after one bite all fears subsided and this crisp, salty side dish became the most popular at the dinner table. The skin is deep-fried and served either with its own broth or as a side to noodle soups and hot pots. The crispy fish skin is dipped briefly into the broth so it becomes slightly soft with a crunchy middle. The flavour reminds me of ‘scraps’ at the fish and chip shop, but is better for you and made all the more fun to eat with its soupy accompaniment.
Want to try them in Hong Kong? I’d suggest Kong Chai Kee
Whether cooked in a curry sauce and served on skewers at food stalls or swimming in a light spring onion broth – a good fishball is a marvellous thing. They are generally made of a mix of fish chopped and combined together to form a fish paste. The paste is then repetitively slammed on a chopping board (often over 50 times) to make the crucially smooth but bouncy texture of the balls.
They are light, delicious and full of fresh fish taste. I’ve eaten fishballs most days during this trip and cannot wait to get back into the Gills kitchen to have a go at making them.
Want to try them in Hong Kong? I’d suggest Chiu Hing Noodle House.
Stuffed three treasures
A street food staple the three treasures are Chinese aubergine, bell peppers and tofu or (sometimes) sausage, stuffed with minced fish. This dish can either be amazingly delicious or horribly greasy depending on the stall you are visiting. It seems to be pot luck, but a good sign is if the ingredients are raw rather than ready fried on ordering.
Fresh pepper and steamed aubergine provide the perfect base for a fish paste, quickly fried to retain the vegetable’s crunch complimenting the smooth fish.
These bizarre looking bites are sea snails. They are hugely popular during Chinese New Year as the represent good fortune. My first encounter was at a family celebration, they were the tinned version that cost around £15 a can. Tough, a little chewy and overpowered by the oyster sauce that they are swimming in, I wasn’t a fan.
After this experience I was content to never see abalone again. However, I was destined for a different culinary fate when my partner’s mum picked up some raw ones from the market. Still wriggling in the shell I was intrigued to see what she planned to do with them. This time they were steamed in their shell. Simple, fresh and far tastier. The chewy texture was gone and the oyster sauce was replaced with ginger, garlic and spring onion making the dish a lot brighter. Not dissimilar to the snails in France, they don’t have a huge amount of flavour, but rather rely on what they are cooked in.
Whilst I’m in no rush to have abalone again, I’m glad I tried them. If you find yourself in Hong Kong over the new year and are feeling adventurous do try the fresh version – after all, it’s worth trying everything once right?!