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Discover hidden treats in rural Hong Kong with chef Christian Yang

South China Morning Post
  • Written by South China Morning Post

Hong Kong is famed for its food. The long history of its fishing villages has seen them develop world-famous seafood dishes, full of flavours fresh from the region’s waters. Celebrity chef Christian Yang talks below about Hakka cuisine and, further down, you’ll find hiking routes that take you to and from these ancient villages and restaurants to share meals and memories with your companions.

Celebrity chef Christian Yang strolls back in time to relish the flavours of traditional Hakka cuisine in rural Sai Kung.

For day trippers, Sai Kung offers exhilarating ways to enjoy the contrasting facets of Hong Kong. Growing up, celebrity chef Christian Yang has fond memories of the city’s country parks. He traces his love for nature and barbecues in the open air to his formative years as a Boy Scout. Typically at the end of a long walk, Yang will indulge in a cold thirst quencher.

“Our trails are so hilly — it is always straight up and then straight down,” Yang recalls. “Tuck shops are lifesavers on a hot day. They usually have an old-school fridge filled with iced drinks where I can grab a soda. I think of it as my reward earned after the hard work of getting there. That was the best part of the walk.”

As he makes his way to Sham Chung Manor from Ma Liu Shui Pier, Yang is delighted to see one such fridge. He goes for a cream soda in a chilled glass to immediately quench his thirst before perusing the menu provided by the shop’s owner Michael Li. A descendent of Hakkas living in the village of Sham Chung, Li grew up in New York. He returned to his ancestral village and took over Sham Chung Manor five years ago after his uncle retired. His cousin Jimbo Wong mans the stove, after extensive experience working as a chef in Ireland.

Yang, himself of Hakka descent by way of Mauritius, happily dives into a dish of traditional Hakka stewed pork. A signature dish, it is lovingly made with pork belly initially blanched, then slowly braised with fermented bean curd. Wood ear mushroom and pickled cabbage add crunch while a red chilli or two provide a surprising hum of heat.

As he tastes the flavours of home, Yang admires the pastoral setting of green fields surrounded by subtropical forests and rolling hills. A trail snakes by a few ponds that contain a mixture of fresh and saltwater, home to sea bream and mullet. Such quiet rural settings are not uncommon in Hong Kong’s New Territories, especially on outlying islands such as Lamma.

Next up is an oyster omelette bursting with green onion and cilantro that lend it freshness. The oysters are given a toss in the wok with the green onions prior to adding a combination of duck and chicken eggs. Li explains that historically, ladies gathered plump oysters from the pier and sold them in the morning. The oyster omelette became a signature dish.

 “We cannot take it off the menu,” Li smiles with a shrug. “But we now get the oysters from the wet market as there are no longer any old ladies to gather them from the sea nearby.”

With its pitched roof and plaque that dates it to 1936, as many as 20 members of Li’s family used to live at Sham Chung Manor at one point. Although they are now scattered across the globe, Hong Kong is still where they call home. Since he has taken over the premises, Li has been slowly renovating it to bring it up to 21st-century standards. “It is challenging, as bringing in materials from the city takes some effort,” he reveals.

After finishing his meal, Yang sits back with a sigh of contentment as he continues to gaze upon the landscape. “This is a wonderful opportunity to listen to trees swaying and water running — it is a luxury to be able to afford this kind of time,” he admits. “We live in such a technology driven, fast-moving place. Yet Hong Kong is unique because it also has so many beaches and mountains.”

I love the food that you can only get in Hong Kong’s countryside. Noodles, tofu custard — these dishes are part of our culture.

“I want to pass the experience of eating them in nature onto my two children. Whenever I go hiking, my expectation is that the cuisine will always be spot on. The food always reflects the chef or the location, and many restaurants have a story. Part of the appeal of countryside dining is listening to what day-to-day life is like for the people who live here,” he says.

Recommended explorations

Pak Tam Chung to Sham Chung

Sai Kung Country Park is stunning, lush and green, but few know of its hidden gastronomical treats, like tofu desserts, Hakka snack, cha kwo, stewed pork and more.

Lamma Island

Lamma Island: taste the traditional flavours of Hong Kong on this easy hike

Enjoy the sights and flavours of Lamma Island on hikes passing beaches, temples and vistas.

Information in this article is subject to change without advance notice. Please contact the relevant product or service providers for enquiries.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.

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