A Taste of Home: Shelley Tai on the Hong Kong Foods She Can’t Wait to Eat Again
Named the 2019 Diageo World Class HK & Macau Bartender of the year, Shelley Tai’s cocktail creations have made waves in Hong Kong’s bar scene. The accomplished bartender worked her way up, starting her career in Nordic restaurant Finds, before moving on to become a bar manager at Drop. In 2016, she joined renowned bar Quinary as a bartender, where she took inspiration from her favourite Hong Kong foods to produce innovative cocktail creations.
Tai moved to Singapore at the end of 2020 to take on the role of bar manager at Nutmeg & Clove, a cocktail bar that takes pride in Singapore’s history and gives classic cocktails a modern Singaporean spin. Since then, she hasn’t been able to travel back to Hong Kong, but hopes to visit twice a year in future.
“I love that Hong Kong has a strong core heritage but can still slowly draw influences and flavours from the many ethnicities around the city to contribute to its core”, she says. “I love the quality and variety of restaurants that are available in Hong Kong, from cheaper street foods, to traditional Chinese cuisines, to high-end western and fine dining restaurants.” For now, Tai reminisces about her Hong Kong food memories, sharing the places she’ll visit when travel restrictions loosen up.
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?
I miss all the classic Hong Kong eateries such as dai pai dong and cha cheng teng. I also miss getting those ping-pong sized wontons from a neighborhood shop in To Kwa Wan. It was a habit to stock up my fridge with wontons every week. Also, I miss visiting my bartender friends around town.
See also: 11 Best Dai Pai Dongs In Hong Kong
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
Fish siu mai from anywhere that sells Hong Kong street food. I have been trying to find it here, but in Singapore siu mai is mainly made with pork or shrimp. I made it here to sell at Nutmeg & Clove too, but it still tastes a little different.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong–for fine dining or special occasions and for more casual experiences?
For special occasions, I like to go to Hansik Goo or The Chairman. Both places I’ve only tried once, but they were so good that I want to go back for more. Hansik Goo’s ginseng risotto was unforgettable.
If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?
Definitely a dai pai dong, for a meal accompanied by ice cold beer. One of my favourites is a Hong Kong-style dai pai dong called Oi Man Sang Kitchen in Sham Shui Po. It can be quite hectic, noisy and even grimy, but the food is sinfully delicious.
See also: 7 Things You Will Only Find In Hong Kong
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for drinks?
Meeting up with old friends for me will be a night-long bar crawl–maybe two–because there are just too many people to visit and catch up with.
Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in Hong Kong?
My favourite bar is Quinary, where I spent the past three years working. It is the place where I feel I learned and grew the most. Cocktails there are fun and delicious, not to mention that a few of my proud creations are still on the menu.
See also: The Best Cocktail Bars In Hong Kong
Is there anywhere else that you would like to visit when you return?
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?
I think I would bring back some of the XO sauce my aunt makes; I put it on everything!
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you currently live in Singapore?
I recently discovered a Cantonese congee and cheung fun place called Happy Congee at the ARC380 food court. The congee there is rich and flavourful but my favourite is cheung fun with you tiao (fried dough stick). Noteworthy is that the cheung fun is freshly made to order and you can watch the chef prepare it through the side window of the stall.