Cover Angela Hui (Photo: Justin Lim)

Ahead of the publication of her memoir about growing up in a Chinese takeaway, Angela Hui reminisces about her trips to Hong Kong and highlights the hotspots on her hit list for her next trip

Pig heads dangling on meat hooks and bags of live frogs croaking to be freed persist in Angela Hui’s memories of trips back to Hong Kong when she was young. Along with her brothers she would traipse through the wet markets of Hong Kong, hot on the heels of her parents as they stocked up on items to take home to use in the family Chinese takeaway restaurant in rural Wales.

Growing up above the family takeaway, and spending a childhood behind its counter, Hui says she learned some valuable life lessons, from communication and teamwork to how to deal with (at times difficult) customers. But she never thought that she would end up in a career related to food.

“Food wasn’t an obvious calling. I really didn’t want to have anything to do with food, especially being surrounded by food all day and night and having worked within hospitality from such a young age,” she says. “I was really put off by how physically taxing it is. I wanted to do something completely different on my own terms.” But while Hui started out in fashion and music journalism, she soon fell back in love with food and her writing turned to the topic.

After her parents sold their Chinese takeaway in 2018, Hui started reflecting on its importance and the instrumental role it played in her life. This led to her debut book, Takeaway, a memoir about her childhood behind the counter, published on July 21, 2022. “I wanted my book to celebrate and to tell the story of Chinese takeaways in the UK and as a way to capture that moment in time,” she says.

One of the most memorable dishes on the menu at Hui’s parents’ Chinese takeaway in Wales was the Chicken Maryland, or a number 74. “It was definitely a dish created to suit Welsh locals’ tastes,” says Hui. “It’s made up of a piece of breadcrumbed chicken breast, bacon, battered sausage, peas, onion rings and a bag of chips, which is probably the least Chinese thing on the menu.” It was rarely a welcome order. “It had so many different components and it was really annoying to make,” says Hui, but it was part of the distinctiveness of Chinese takeaway food in the UK. “It’s a ‘bastardised’ version of what actual Chinese food is, but I think British Chinese food is its own unique thing and a product of Chinese immigrants making do with what ingredients were available to them.”

Hui is unlikely to find a Chicken Maryland on the menus of a Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, but she relishes her trips to visit family in the city, and is longing to return, having last visited in 2019. Here, she shares her picks for the places she'll be heading to first.

What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Hong Kong or haven’t been back for a while? 

Whatever the time of day you can have good food anywhere and anytime. Like chef Andrew Wong says, Hong Kong really is the closest to being a 24-hour city and it’s such a great place to have a food crawl eating at multiple restaurants trying to squeeze in as many places as you can in one day. Also, call me a psycho, but I love the curt waitstaff and super-fast service, which people in the West often mistake for rudeness. It’s not! It’s efficient and when you’re starving you get your food almost instantly.

What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?

After a 12-hour flight and battling extreme jet lag I would probably want something quick, filling and soothing, so I’d head to the nearest cha chaan teng to grab a bowl of either macaroni spam soup or vermicelli noodle soup with minced pork and snow cabbage washed down with an iced Ovaltine or iced lemon tea.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong—for fine dining and for more casual experiences? 

I usually skip the fine dining and stick to more casual stuff. I love getting swept up in the mayhem of Tim Ho Wan ordering too many baked char siu baos, steamed dumplings Chiu Chow-style and grilled turnip cake. For nostalgia, I love Shatin Chicken Congee’s silky and smooth chicken congee; it's a rich comforting hug. If I’m ravenous for roast meat I head to Kam’s Roast Goose.

If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?

A temple tour! I used to spend a lot of time causing chaos, getting my palm read, lighting incense and tormenting the fish at Wong Tai Sin temple as a kid. My favourite is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. It’s a real journey climbing hundreds of steps (in thirty degree humid heat, no less), seeing all the different golden buddhas along the way and to be rewarded with a vegetarian feast at the monk restaurant at the top. I love the contrast between old and new with tranquil and busy.

Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks?

I love some dai pai dong action. I know the cooking isn’t the best quality but it’s filling for a very affordable price and it’s the atmosphere that makes it great. We usually head to Chui Wo Lee near my aunt’s house in Wong Tai Sin for stir fried clams with black bean sauce, fish fragrant aubergine and marinated tofu, or somewhere in Sham Shui Po. There’s something heart-warming about having a big group of friends and family gathered around a makeshift wooden table, sitting on mismatched plastic stools, drinking bottles of Blue Girl beer or cans of Schweppes Cream Soda, all fighting over pieces of food and dabbing our sweaty faces with packets of Tempo tissues afterwards.

Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Hong Kong?

I actually don’t drink at bars much when I go to Hong Kong (unless I get dragged out for an impromptu grotty night out against my will at Aberdeen or Wan Chai), but I like people watching, reading and trying out all the coffee shops in Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan. I really love Bone Studio and Detour.

Anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?

I know it’s probably a cliché and a very touristy thing to do but I really love getting the Star Ferry across to see the city’s skyline, especially at night. It’s such a unique and distinctive Hong Kong thing and I always feel like a big kid sailing across.

You haven’t been back to HK for some time – is there anywhere you are looking forward to trying on your next visit?

I’ve actually never been to Chungking Mansions. Sadly, I know that area has been decimated from Covid lockdowns and restrictions but I’d really love to spend a day getting lost exploring the maze of shops and trying out all the amazing Indian, Malaysian and African restaurants.

What do you always take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?

I usually bring an empty suitcase so I can stock up on food and kitchen equipment. I get my wind dried sausages from 家味 Lai Wei Wo Hing Preserved Meat Co, dried seafood from Des Voux Road West, cleavers from Chan Chi Kee Cutlery Company, handmade bamboo steamers from Tuck Chong Sum Kee Bamboo Steamer company in Sheung Wan, snacks from 7/11 and jerky from Bee Cheng Hiang.

Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you live i.e. in the UK?

I love Wong Kei in Chinatown in London. My go-to order is the wonton noodles or the stuffed tofu, aubergine and green paper in black bean sauce—they always hit the spot. My ears can’t help but perk up when I hear other people speaking Cantonese and I’m instantly transported back home to Hong Kong. Sitting face-to-face with strangers on communal sharing tables, the shopfront window lined up with dripping roast ducks and crackling slabs of siu yuk and the pots of free tea. There’s something special about this Cantonese canteen-style restaurant.

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