First off, I can’t take any credit for the quirky name of the post, because it is the actual name of the Hong Kong walking tour that we took on our first day.
How did I find them? Random Instagram searches ahead of our trip and the phrase: “If you like our name, then you’ll like us”.
I WAS SOLD.
Meeting outside the designated underground station in Whampoa, a neighbourhood of Hong Kong that’s a little newer and a lot less known that the touristy zones of this city, I didn’t quite know what to expect. When we chose our ‘Off the Eaten Path Tour’, I had been a little anxious as it fell on the same day we arrived after a monster 12-hour flight. Virginia Chan, the friendly face behind Humid with a Chance of Fishballs, assured me that a four-hour snacking tour of Hong Kong would be the perfect remedy for jetlag.
Food as adventure on our Hong Kong walking tour.
A relatively young neighbourhood, Whampoa was originally filled with factories and was quite industrialised. Over the years, Hong Kong has developed the area through massive (read: skyscraperlike) housing estates and grants. The result is a very liveable neighbourhood, lots of bustle and an upper- to middle-class population.
Virginia explained that the reason she based this particular tour in Whampoa, is simply because it’s not yet reached guide books and offers an authentic slice of life in Hong Kong. With Hong Kong’s incredible public transport system, it’s pretty simple to get to Whampoa by train or bus and even without a tour guide, it’s easy to navigate for a spot of noshing and shopping.
Virginia joked that it wasn’t even cold enough to be considered winter, yet the chestnut roasters were out on the streets. It was 33 degrees with 85% humidity.
Our first stop was a typical Hong Kong wet market. These are all over the city and generally more popular than supermarkets: the produce is fresher and shoppers can buy the quantities they need rather than needing to store pre-packaged items, especially as many Hong Kong flats are tiny shoeboxes that don’t have fridges, nevermind kitchens!
Fillet o’ fish at the wet market – it was pretty clean and didn’t smell anything like the fish markets in Thailand!
That’s a live bag of frogs at the back, awaiting their tasty fate. I did feel a little bad for them, but it didn’t seem reasonable to buy a whole bag of frogs and carry them around Hong Kong in the hopes of spotting a pond to release them in.
The selection of seafood was wonderful, with almost all of it still fresh and alive. We even saw a lady walking home from the market with a wiggling fish in a shopping bag. Doesn’t get fresher than that!
I don’t recall seeing any beef cuts, but there was plenty of pork on offer.
Dried and smoked fish, tripe and other things we normally consider waste from an animal can all be bought by weight, ready for the pot.
Something we learnt, the Chinese have a sausage similar to what we recognise as salami. Usually, these are made from pork and some kind of liver.
More dried squid and octopus.
Bitter, Salty, Spicy, Sour, Sweet
Virginia’s Hong Kong walking tour focuses on the five tenets of Chinese gastronomy. These five elements are present throughout many Asian dishes and each stop along the tour was for an individual taste experience. In between our snacks, we explored main roads, private housing estates and alleyways, giving us the chance to digest our tasters along the way.
Our bitter starter to this Hong Kong walking tour began with at a traditional tea shop, where we tasted three different teas. We moved between an aromatic five flower tea, through a 24 herb tea and ended with a turtle shell jelly topped with maple syrup.
Turtle shell jelly in all it’s sticky g(l)ory…
I’m still not sure how I feel that I ate jelly that had been made from a poor turtle’s shell, but I believe in trying everything within reason once. I can’t say I’d order it again, but I did it and now you might not have to. It’s bitter, hence the maple syrup, and made up in a very gelatinous jelly which has a pretty stodgy mouth feel, so not overly pleasant.
Virginia did mention that it’s debateable how much turtle is actually in each jelly with restrictions, conservation efforts and price and that’s what I used to comfort my guilt afterwards. Poor turtle.
Virginia dishing out turtle jelly.
Our spicy stop was definitely the highlight for me, plopping ourselves down at a cart noodle store that had a name I couldn’t get that presented us with piles of steaming toppings to mix and match to our noodles and broth. Alessio did the choosing and I think he was more adventurous than I would’ve been, but what arrived at our table was a big bowl of noodleness that we’re still talking about.
Wonton noodles with beef brisket, shitake mushrooms, pig’s blood, pig’s skin, beef tripe and morning glory veggies in a spicy beef brisket broth. I would eat it all again except for the cubes of pig’s blood (top left).
Definitely not in tourist central…
Salty was next, and something I never would’ve had the courage to order on my own. I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was looking at, and of course, wouldn’t even know what had been handed over. Introducing… fishballs (and other friends).
Trio of spicy fishballs, rice rolls with peanut sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and spicy sauce, and fish meat siu mai. There was a lot of chewy vibe here, and peanut sauce.
Would you have guessed what this was?
Ending off the savoury section of our Hong Kong walking tour was a hole-in-the-wall skewer joint. It really didn’t seem to have a name, but it’s incredibly popular with students and late-night revellers. It’s also underground famous for its chicken wing skewers, which are both enormous and delicious.
This lady could give lessons on how to keep fresh-faced while operating over open flame.
The menu for skewers was a good reminder we were nowhere near a tourist area: zero English anywhere.
After all the savoury, sweet had been saved for last with two different stops. I guessed we would be eating Hong Kong’s famous egg waffles, but I guessed wrong! Instead, Virginia insisted on us trying a fluffy pancake filled with butter, condensed milk, peanut butter and topped with pork floss and zha cai (pickled plant stem), it was totally decadent and kicked us with an instant sugar rush.
Crafting the perfect pancake…
Our own pancake to share!
The last stop on the eve was probably the funniest. Sitting in an airconditioned dessert shop, our waitress brought over the most ridiculous looking dessert I’ve ever seen. Albeit very phallic, this icy platter with red bean, mochi balls, coconut jelly, and tofu pudding with a condensed milk sauce, was really refreshing.
I wish I had placed something next to this for the pic, it was about 20cm high.
Alessio dug in and knocked over the ice penis at one point, spilling it on the table and also signalling that it was time for us to get some sleep because nobody should find that as funny as we did. Overexhaustion kicking in, we dragged ourselves back on the train towards our Airbnb and to bed.
Our Off the Eaten Path Hong Kong walking tour cost us R1 200 per person (HK$ 688) and includes your food and drinks. Virginia is incredibly knowledgeable and fun, she even wears moose antlers as tribute to her Canadian heritage and so you can find her in a crowd. You can find out more about her Hong Kong walking tour options on her website, and there’s a free walking tour too, just tip what you feel is fair after!
Whampoa at night…
I was fascinated by the variety of fruit and veg, and even have a story of how I spent R160 on a peach, but I’ll save that for another blog.