Janiqueel wends through central Hong Kong tasting delightful local foods and soaking up local culture on the way

Cheap delicious food served from open-air stalls. Pull up a plastic stool. Crack a beer. Fire up the wok.

Anthony Bourdain

A couple of months ago, we went on a Withlocals food tour in Bangkok – “Bangkok’s Evening Food Tour – 10 Tastings”. Oh, it was soooo much fun and soooo tasty. We had eaten enough to sustain a small Thai village. We declined only because our tummies cried, “Enough!”. Walking amid the street stalls, sitting on stools built for 3 year-olds, quaffing cold Chang beers, and listening to our guide’s fascinating stories about the history of food stalls and their crews. So, when I came across the local things to do in Hong Kong, I thought, Why bother?. Been there, done that. Same Same, right?

SOOOOO wrong!

Actually, I knew it would be as different as Hong Kong is different from Bangkok. It was. Altogether different, but with the same foodie vibe and entertaining patter from our groovy guide, a “people-story enthusiast” and a genuine Hongkie – Armie. His bio-sketch on the web explains that he’s a rapper, actor, and writer. “Pretty darn good credentials”, thought I. Let’s do this thing! With a couple of Hong Kong-based friends leading the way, we headed for Sai Ying Pun station in the heart of central Central (I couldn’t resist that description) to meet Armie. Unable to resist his infectious smile and good humor, we liked him right away. He was neither writing, acting, or rapping, but we knew he could do all three at the drop of a Hong Kong snapback cap.

We were ready to hit the street and do some serious tasting!

FULL DISCLOSURE. We indeed hit the streets, but not without some trepidation. After all, these were the very neighborhoods where many thousands of protesters marched through the summer and continue to march in defiance of the Chinese government. We knew that and were cautious setting out on our non-political adventure. Having surveyed opinions on safety for tourists in this time of strife, I was sure that we would be OK on a weekday evening in early autumn. Should any protest action start to generate, we were ready to cancel plans, change, course, and proceed to safer areas. For any tourists in Hong Kong these days, I think that’s pretty sound advice. “Don’t avoid Hong Kong”, I told myself but approach it with a sense of caution that I hadn’t considered on many previous visits. “Remember” my self-counseling continued, “These are historic times, and I am here to feel the heady atmosphere firsthand.”

Caveats delivered, we headed to our first stop, the Dry Seafood Market. “Exotic” is the word that came to mind. Smells, tastes, and sights of dried seafood products. Mountains of dried seafood products. I bought a bag of dried squid the taste and consistency of which hearkened back to roaming the streets of Tokyo while chewing. Who knew there was a market for all this dried seafood? Well, there are 7.5 million people in this small country (about the same as Singapore) many of whom like dried seafood. And they export!

After choosing three selections from a Michelin Guide-recommended DIM SUM TEA HOUSE (SCRUMPTIOUS!), we hopped, skipped, and jumped to a WET MARKET where Armie filled us in on the cultural significance of vegetables in Hong Kong cuisine as well as the historical aspects of the building itself.

Locally famous for its SHRIMP WONTON, the next restaurant stop did not disappoint. Small round dumplings delicately seasoned and filled with, you guessed it, shrimp – we had just the right amount to satisfy without feeling gorged. That might be our motto of the evening.

Ready for a REFRESHING SUGAR CANE JUICE, we headed for a lovely old (fourth generation) teahouse which would have bee very hard to find on our own without Armie’s the inimitable navigational skills. Sweet, to be sure, the drink is not cloyingly so. Refreshing is the word.

On a fresh market street, we ate EXOTIC FRUIT and savored a DAI PAI DONG EXPERIENCE. The later is beef noodles soaked in the local atmosphere! We capped the evening with what is billed as Hong Kongers’ favorite snack, PINEAPPLE BUN AND MILK TEA. Just right. A fitting end to an exotically unique food experience. I’m looking up Withlocals to find what other Asian cities may be on their map. I’m a believer!

With research and writing help from JKJ

Categories: food holiday

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