Cover There's nothing better than street food in Hong Kong, says Kosei Kamatani (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

The flavours of Hong Kong, from pungent XO sauce to mustard-slicked squid skewers, are a large part of the Via Tokyo founder's memories

As part of our series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Kosei Kamatani—founder of matcha soft-serve specialists Via Tokyo and popular noodle chain Ramen Jo—tells us about his unusual pairings for XO sauce and why his last meal in Hong Kong would be at a street food stall.

Tell us about some of your favourite Hong Kong food memories.

I’m a Japanese guy who grew up in Hong Kong and went to a British school here (King George V School), so my childhood here was a mish-mash of cultures. I’d wake up, have a Japanese breakfast of nattō,  go to school, have classes, go to the tuck shop to buy some crisps, then head to the canteen for lunch after more classes—and that’s where I’d get to savour one of my favourite local snacks ever, curry fishballs. Ahh, good old rubbery fishballs, sustenance of the poor little student… I still love them.

Another childhood memory was the uncle who used to sell tofu fa in his little hawker cart outside my old home near Mong Kok. He used to push that rickety old thing up and down Argyle Street yelling “TOFU FAAA!” every morning, and for me that was like the Asian version of hearing the ice-cream truck coming. I’d bolt down there in a jiffy for some of that sweet tofu action.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

I actually really love the seafood in Hong Kong. Growing up, my grandparents—who brought me up in Hong Kong—would bring me to Lei Yue Mun all the time to eat seafood. They’d have endless guests from all over the world visiting so I would eat at Lei Yue Mun at least once a month. The shrimp and mantis shrimp were my favourites, the fresh sweetness of their meat is incredible; preparation-wise, I loved the shrimp simply steamed and dipped in chilli soy sauce, and fried “lai liu ha” salt-and-pepper style. I used to hate peeling the shell from the mantis shrimp, but the reward of that delectable flesh was worth it.

Another ingredient I love is XO sauce. My go-to is the one from Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. Obviously, it’s famous for being paired with turnip cake but being the umami bomb that it is, it can go with pretty much anything... Even simply over rice for me. I’ve even had it with McDonald’s McNuggets—deranged but delicious!

If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be—and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?

I love the street food here. I’ve toned down my consumption and my constitution has weakened as I’ve grown older, but whenever I’m in Mong Kok, specifically on Fa Yuen Street, I’ll be braving the lines at Fei Jie (肥姐) for some tentacle action. Not the famous Japanese type, but the skewered squid tentacles with hoisin sauce and mustard—but light on the mustard, as I’m what you would call weak sauce with spicy stuff.

I’d be there all the time after school back in the day, up to no good in the streets of Mong Kok with my friends. Being the good little Mong Kok jai I am, I always craved it—and I crave it now, as I write this. If I were to have one final meal here in Hong Kong, you know where to find me—posh meals be damned.

Kosei’s Picks

  • Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2522 0111
  • Fei Jie, Shop 4A, G/F, 55 Dundas Street, Mong Kok, Hong Kong, +852 9191 7683
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