Wandering Whampoa: Something New in Hong Kong
It’s the umpteenth time I will be going to Hong Kong, but this time around I had been invited to join my friend Jo from Wander with Jo. We had previously had a blast as travel buddies in Delhi and Rajasthan, so I thought, why not? Hong Kong won’t burn that big a hole in my wallet, so I packed my bags and went off.
Once there, we met Kay, another good friend of mine who was based in HK and a constant contributor of this blog. We had also travelled quite often, and we did a lot of tours together. Since she had spent some time in the local culture, I asked her what she thought would be a good tour for us to try, something we haven’t seen before. Because admit it, after you’ve been somewhere more than a few times, the novelties could start to wear off.
We were starting to look for hikes, since that’s what we did the last time. The weather was rainy, however, so we had to stick to the city. Then we hit upon the idea of food tours — you know how much we are fans of food tours! We’ve done Washington, London, Lisbon, Madrid, San Francisco, and more. This time around, we saw something different while searching the Internet. “Humid With a Chance of Fishballs”? That’s an interesting tour name. Also they’re running the tour in a barely-known neighborhood. Whampoa? We gotta check that out. Time to put our exploring boots on.
Humid? You got that right!
Humid With a Chance of Fishballs Off the Eaten Track was a series of tours being run by Virginia, a solo entrepreneur, food adventurer, and expat. She herself does everything, which is a jaw-dropping feat when you consider how hard it is to herd together a bunch of tourists!
But she does that just marvelously. In all our time with her, you would have thought she was born and raised here. She was not only masterful, she also breezed through the humid tropical weather effortlessly. As Filipinas, we can do just that, but it’s cool to see non-Asian natives bear with Hong Kong’s fickle and typhoon-prone weather.
Hong Kong Foodie Tour Background
Virginia was, as she calls herself, a “CBC” — Canadian-born Chinese. Upon moving to Hong Kong, she became fascinated about its culture especially its food. This passion planted the seeds for what would eventually be Humid with a Chance of Fishballs.
The tour prides itself on being different from other cookie-cutter, out-of-the-box tours. Virginia herself designs the tours around her knowledge and experience of the Hong Kong culture, and each one is planned to the letter. This creates a living, breathing experience that really puts you in the center of the action, as opposed to treating you like zoo tourists observing the culture in its natural habitat without being a part of it.
Curating the best food in town isn’t by any means simple, so Virginia has sampled nearly everything the locale has to offer. From there, she has come out with her personal list of the best, which she has very generously shared through the tour. And by our experience, no one can question her top picks when it comes to food!
What About Whampoa Hong Kong?
When we’re talking about food and culture, you would generally expect some old-timer places and neighborhoods with a lot of history. Not so with Whampoa. The place is relatively young, and started off as an industrial district. Through the years, Whampoa was filled with high-rise housing units that ushered in a vibrant and diverse neighborhood. These housing units are unmistakable as they look like they’ve been built by the same developer.
As we walked, Virginia explained her choice of choosing Whampoa. It was a place that has not made it to the sights of tourist books and reviews. It didn’t even have an MTR until 2016! But the place is really clean, and it felt more of a residential than a commercial hub when compared to busier areas like Mongkok.
And yet, the neighborhood offers as authentic an experience as any. It’s not the traditional touristy place, and while there’s certainly that Chinatown vibe, it’s not filled to the brim with tourists looking for clothes and charms and trinkets. Here, you brush elbows with the locals, and eat like a local.
My first impression of the place is that it’s veiled in urban charm. There’s that authentic feeling where you can really see the locals naturally going about their daily lives, instead of consciously moving about aware of the tourist eyes. Really, more than anything, it’s the locals that are the most important part of a tour. So, if you know you have authentic locals, and you follow them in what they eat, then you’re in for a good gastronomic time!
There were 10 of us on this food tour, from various countries. There were Canadians, Dutch, Israelis, Indians, Australians, and of course us Filipinas. As Virginia handed water bottles to this little United Nations contingent, she started briefing us on what to expect. The theme revolves on the five primary gustatory sensations: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
A Wicked Twist : Hong Kong Food Tour Bitter Stop
The first stop was — surprise — the bitter sensation! It was a jarring surprise, at least for me, as we headed into a traditional tea shop. We were served with an aromatic five flower tea, a 24-herb tea, and turtle shell jelly complete with maple syrup.
Yep, you read that right. It’s served from a real turtle shell, though we’re no longer sure how much turtle really is in there. The soup is bitter, so the maple syrup has its job cut out for it. Despite that, I somehow liked the jelly-like consistency especially when we were told the story behind it.
Virginia explained the supposed medicinal aspects of the turtle shell soup, and that even the shell it was served from was supposedly able to help relieve some ailments. I guess some members of our group did not appreciate these facts as much as I did, though. I can say with certainty that this isn’t my favorite part of the tour, but at least I got something worthwhile from it.
Hong Kong Food Tour Stops
Things started looking up from the second stop, where Virginia led us through a wet market which was a very common sight in Hong Kong — even more so than supermarkets! These places are remarkably clean for the kind. Our guide said that the people always demand the freshest of the fresh when it comes to food, so they come to these markets. And since most living places here are not big enough to hold a refrigerator, they have to refresh their food stock often anyway.
From there, we were led to a bridge that showed us the two sides — old and new — of Whampoa. It really helped us put the history of the place into perspective. Soon, it was time again for another food trip, this time in the form of noodle soup push carts!
Hong Kong Food tour Senses : Spicy
The spicy stop was upon us, and we had some of the best broth I had in a long time! For these push carts, you can choose your own veggies and the type of noodles. There’s a huge selection, and Virginia helped us choose what we liked best.
There are also lots of toppings, such as brisket, shrimp cake, dumplings (fish and chive flavors), fish cake, and shiitake. We were asked to pick 6 toppings since there were 3 of us in our group.
I really loved the customizability of these noodles. Kay, however, was not into spicy so I just asked for a separate bowl with spicy sauce in it.
Hong Kong Food Tour Salty Stop
Looks like the “chance” of fishballs was 100%, as we ran into it with certainty! This was the salty part of the tour, and we also tasted siomai (siu mai) and rice balls in peanut sauce, spicy sauce, and sesame sauce. I swear all these sauce blend together so perfectly I can turn these into soup! Match that with the chewy, tasty sensation of these street foods and there’s a definite winner.
However, I couldn’t finish the portion. I guess I was trying to leave a little space for the next stops. Mark, another guy on the tour, took it up for me. It was a huge portion—- and if I didn’t have more stops on the tour— I would definitely gobble all these up.
Up next is my second favorite part of the tour! This hole-in-the-wall place serves some of the best (and most varied) skewers around. They have duck, beef, pork, chicken, and even vegetables! The chicken wing skewers were particularly famous for their size and their taste. No wonder Kay absolutely loved them! The satay and spicy sauce was also pure love, and it’s something I could have again and again.
Oh, and don’t bother with the menu. There’s no English there whatsoever. Just trust Virginia, or go where your gut takes you!
Food Tour Hong Kong Sweet Stop
As they say, save the best for last! Our second-to-the-last stop was an egg crepe stop where we were given two choices: mixed fruits, or a curious mix of zha chai (pickled veggie stems) and pork floss toppings on peanut butter, condensed milk, and butter-filled pancakes. It sounds really eccentric, and it tasted pretty unusual too. There was a dry feeling to the tongue and gums, but Virginia said the locals really loved this one. But at least I got to try something new.
Kay really enjoyed the fruits one, though, and I also thought this type of filling was much more refreshing. You might like this as well, but don’t shove the floss to the side just yet. You might love it, you’ll never know!
Some of our foreign companions might have found the last stop to be the most bizarre, but as Asians, me and my friends just had some fun looking at their surprised faces. Virginia took us to a little dessert shop, air conditioned (for a change!) and a wee bit fancy. The waitress started bringing in some weird desserts, such as glutinous rice balls spiked with ginger and rolled in sugar. There were bean sweets (Kay liked it, me not as much — maybe better with halo-halo?) and skimmed milk pudding which was light and delicious.
But I had my own surprised face when they served a mixture of mango, pomelo, and tapioca pearls. It was out of this world yummy! It was the perfect cap to our trip. It was already nighttime, and through the day we had some really awesome bonding experiences. The tour was really a good way to not only get to know Whampoa, but also the local culture in general. Come to think of it, the more we stayed the more things seemed like the perfect out-of-the-norm tourist spot. We were even shown the cinema, with its manual ticketing system! That was how things were in the past, and the town managed to preserve it. Even Virginia didn’t know that’s how they still did things prior to starting these tours.
Virginia also suggested we drop by at the Kerry Hotel, which was nearby. It had good overlooking views of Whampoa. But at that point, I was just too exhausted to go on any further. We decided to call it a night, and waved goodbye to the rest of the group. It was an amazing day, we learned a lot, we saw a lot, we tasted a lot. Now that’s something new in Hong Kong. I wish all places I’ve visited before can be revisited with this kind of fresh, vibrant outlook!
Humid with a Chance of Fishballs
Tour : Off the Eaten Track
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All photos taken by Kay Dulay