Fuelled by a delicious Hong Kong-style breakfast with Chef Mok Kit-keung — executive chef of the Shang Palace restaurant in the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel – we started doing some serious shopping inside the Tai Po wet market.
We first stopped at a fruit stall, where we were attracted by an exquisite fragrance from the Indian Alphonso, a.k.a. the king of mangoes. How could we resist buying them!
Mok then squeezed himself into a traditional Chinese medicine and herb store overseen by an old lady, who happily shared with us how to mix and match herbs for seasonal drinks to cope with the recent boilingly hot and humid weather.
Everyone studiously tried to cram in everything the senior lecturer said.
Admiring some beautiful Indian coconuts, Mok said they would be perfect for a soup together with corn, carrots and pork shank.
“Add snow lotus, too,” the old lady suggested, while she generously helped us open and remove the shell of the coconut and cut out slices of its flesh.
A few steps away was a store selling fresh-grown fungi cultivated by the owner.
Buyers can pick their favorite mushrooms or fungi.
They came in a wide variety of different shapes and colors and looked amazing.
We then bagged some homemade pickled green beans, first-born eggs and dried, salted fourfinger threadfin.
On the lowest level of the market is the seafood center.
Mok’s “fish tank on a trolley” was soon filled with stonefish (石頭魚), Moray eel (油鎚) and spottedtail morwong (三刀) for off-menu offerings of the day at Shang Palace.
After hearing that one of us would like to have baked fish intestines with egg, Mok immediately went to a grass carp store for the ingredients.
Unfortunately, they were sold out or reserved for other customers.
A mini drama ensued when Mok crossed the aisle to the fish stall opposite.
The fishmonger, who noticed that he was the chef’s second choice, joked that he was in no mood to do business unless Mok apologized.
We were amused by the animated exchanges between Mok and the fish stall owner, an experience that could only occur in a wet market.
Back at the Kowloon Shangri-La, Mok dashed into the Shang Palace kitchen and was soon busy preparing a table of off-menu dishes for us.
The deep-fried broom filefish and dried lily flower with salt and pepper, with a light and crispy batter, was like tempura.
The much-awaited baked fish intestines with egg tasted like a fluffy spongy cake, with a perfect balance of egg and fish guts.
The dishes of stir-fried pickled green beans with pork neck and steamed salted fish perked up our appetites, and I soon found my bowl of rice running out.
The dinner captured the best of the Tai Po Market and summarized some of the most authentic tastes of Hong Kong cuisine.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 20.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
Breakfast at the wet market with a master chef (June 17, 2016)
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