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, Stephanie Wong – chef-owner of Cantonese-inspired French bistro Roots – talks about her must-visit spots for buying local seafood and why she’d go back to her Chiu Chow roots for her last meal in Hong Kong.
Tell us about your favourite Hong Kong food memories.
One of my favourite food memories would be any regular afternoon from my primary schooldays. My school was in Kowloon Tong and my walk back home would pass through a pedestrian tunnel, where an older uncle would be standing with his pushcart filled with an eclectic mix of food items—fish balls, beef balls, chicken kidneys, squid tentacles and egg waffles.
You’d be able to spot him from a mile away just from the aroma—or, some might say, stench—emanating from his bubbling cauldron of “balls”. To me, this was heaven. It was lunch, snack-time, dinner and dessert all combined into one, packed into those greasy brown paper bags, happily satisfying one (or many) greedy schoolkids. This was at a time when hygiene was significantly less regulated, but hey, we all grew up just fine!
What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?
Without a doubt, it would be the vast variety of fresh seafood here—think mantis shrimp, sea snails, groupers, razor clams, whelks, squid… just a few examples of what you can spot in your local wet market, all requiring different preparation methods and all bringing different elements and tastes of the sea to each dish. It’s exciting for both chefs and diners to experience all the fresh seafood that Hong Kong has to offer, and the fun part is that every wet market here will carry something you haven’t seen before.
Wan Chai Market is great because it’s situated right in the heart of the city and has a good mix of both Western and Chinese produce. During this time of year, I love getting metapenaeopsis barbata shrimp, which is quite rare in its quantities; it’s a local small pink shrimp that’s roughly the size of your pinkie finger and has an incredible sweetness and crunch to it—you can eat its shell too.
Bowrington Road Market also has a vast variety of shellfish, such as different crabs and other types of crustacean. It’s always a fun trip, as everything is laid out in the streets for you to see and pick. If you’re happy to travel further, Tai Po Market is amazingly well-stocked too. It’s double, if not triple, the size of your average Hong Kong wet market, and I believe you’ll find the greatest variety here.