Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, gets a taste of life in a Hong Kong market and visits one of the city's top restaurants to try soup without water.
Fish lie in shallow bowls with running water just barely covering them. They are all alive and their mouths open and shut while their tails occasionally flip. A woman surveys the plates of fish carefully and buys the plate with the most active fish. A lobster makes a quick getaway only to be put in the tank.
A cage of fat frogs is so full that frogs sit upon each other, their white bellies pressed against the metal cages. Large river fish are proudly hauled out of the water and then filleted while still struggling... Welcome to a true local’s market in Hong Kong.
I’m willing to bet that every tourist that visits a city’s market learns at least half a dozen new things, if not more. This market in Yuen Long, in the New Territories of Hong Kong operates every day. In this area, people buy their produce fresh daily.
Upstairs is the (less confronting) fruit and vegetable market. Neat bundles of greens are stacked and displayed prettily. There are gigantic hands of ginger, the size of a bear paw. Grey black hairy root vegetables and dirt-laden carrots, sugarcane and shelled chestnuts are also sold.
Because this is outside of the main city area, the prices are cheaper. Everything is sold in kati, a Malay measuring unit equivalent to about 600 grams or 1 1/3 pounds. Also making it cheaper is the fact that much of the produce comes from China, but with this comes risk and more food safety scares than anyone would like to count.
Sometimes the reality of a city can surprise you. My image of Hong Kong is the skyline, full of tall buildings, bustling crowds, queues for Chanel and Louis Vuitton and a thriving commercial hub. People eat and shop at an Olympic level here so when I heard that we were visiting an organic farm, my first thought was "Hong Kong has farms? And organic ones?”
The owner of one of Hong Kong’s organic farms is chef Margaret Xu. Formerly a designer, she began cooking as a hobby when she lived on Hong Kong Island and grew all sorts of fruit, from mangoes to grapes, on the rooftop of her apartment building. Petite and wearing a trademark cap she shows us around her organic vegetable farm where she grows greens, roots, horseradish, beetroot, herbs, lemongrass, radish and taro among others. She only needs to occasionally buy organics from the markets. She has two farms: the one we’re standing in with an acre of vegetables, which supplies her restaurant. A second fruit orchard is one and a half acres. She grows a lot of citrus and harvests honey in this second, larger orchard.
We wait as she picks golden beetroot and small carrots for our lunch today. She even cooks the snails that she finds in her garden.
Her Wan Chai located restaurant Yin Yang was voted the number one restaurant by Time Out in Hong Kong, beating neighbour and rival Alvin Leung. The restaurant is in a three-storey building in the very happening small street of Ship Street. Inside it is traditional Chinese in decor.
Named after the famous Hong Kong Yin Yang drink of milky coffee and tea, Margaret is not a professionally trained chef. Her skill in the kitchen has evolved from learning techniques from older housewives when she would visit rural Hakka villages and neighbours. Her food, like the name, is a mix of Asian and Western food.
She is immensely proud of her terracotta oven, which is simply two pots on top of each other with a gas burner underneath. It is in this that she cooks the divine chicken to keep the meat juicy. It also retains heat well and distributes it evenly. "Alvin tried to steal this idea” she says giggling behind her hand.
She first started using organic food so that she could tell her customers where it came from. Frequent food scares contributed to that. But that was not her only reason for going organic. She says, "it is not for health reasons, it just tastes better.” We climb the stairs to the top dining room where a balcony looks out onto Ship Street below. We’re having a mix of dishes including the signature "red hot pork” and the intriguing "soup without water”...
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