HONG KONG, Dec 4 — Part of the Hong Kong travel experience is to get out of the main island and explore the smaller outlying atolls that form part of its archipelago. Want to see Hong Kong’s rustic side? Take a day trip to Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island. For an idyllic escapade, rent a holiday home on Lamma Island.
If it’s good food you’re after and you don’t want to leave the city’s vibe too far behind, Cheung Chau Island is ideal on both counts. A 30-minute ride away on the First Ferry rapid service (it’s twice the duration at half the price on the regular ferry) from Pier 5 in Central will place you on Dumbbell Island, Cheung Chau’s nickname due to its shape.
Whether you’re a day visitor trying to fit in temple visits and dips in the sea within a matter of hours, or staying for at least a weekend — you need good grub to refuel for all the walking or cycling you will be doing on the island.
From breakfast to dinner and snack breaks in between, here’s a quick guide on Cheung Chau’s best eats.
Breakfast: Silky porridge or sticky rice
Like the main island, there is no shortage of char chaan teng and bing sutt on Cheung Chau where you can get your breakfast fix of milk tea, polo bun, and macaroni in soup. For a change but equally authentic local day starter, look for the Lai Yen Kee Porridge Shop, located within the hot food centre that is adjacent to the Cheung Chau Market building.
Marked by maroon awnings and with tables looking out towards the sea, this third-generation proprietor has been around since 1938 and offers no less than 12 varieties of porridge. They’re basically the same smooth white rice porridge with different toppings, including beef balls, pig’s liver, century eggs, and fish slices. Pair the porridge with their wok-fresh dough fritters to add crunch.
Also try If you can stomach glutinous rice for breakfast, they offer one with Chinese waxed sausages that’s served in a small bowl or as sticky rice rolls filled with meat floss or wrapped around a dough fritter. For vegetarians, there are several types of steamed sweet cakes, including pak thong kou (white sugar cake) and a red bean cake that tastes just like the red bean tong sui (dessert soup), complete with the fragrance of dried mandarin peel.
Stall No. 11, Cheung Chau Hot Food Centre (next to Cheung Chau Market)
Opens From 6am; closed on Wednesdays
Tel +852 – 2981 1111
Mid-morning snack: Traditional steamed cakes
Halfway through exploring Cheung Chau’s many temples and small roads, it’s time for a quick energy refuel. You will find many stalls set up along the busy laneways selling a variety of street food.
Fishballs are particularly popular, along with other seafood items. For something sweet, stroll along Tai Hing TaiRoad that runs parallel to the waters and look out for a stall parked in front of the Coffee or Tea Restaurant, a corner lot.
An elderly gentleman with a gentle demeanour draws the crowds with his homemade traditional steamed cakes. He offers just four variants, of which the put chai kou (which translates into “small bowl cake”) is the most popular.
They’re steamed in ceramic bowls and studded with red beans. Upon order, the uncle scrapes the cake out of the bowl and pierces two long sticks through, which you then use to hold the cake up and eat.
Also try He also sells the unsavoury sounding kai see than (“chicken droppings rattan”), which are like mochi balls that are almost black so they look like shiny marbles, with the aroma of Chinese herbs. The uncle will tell you they are good for reducing body heat and detoxing. They’re actually quite delightful; the balls are chewy, not sweet, have a slight herbal taste, and the lovely crunch of peanuts within.
Lunch: Pizza with sea views
Cheung Chau is one of the last places you’d expect to find proper pizza with crispy crust but that’s exactly what you get at Fresh Basil Pizza. There are more than 20 varieties, from the classic Margherita and Hawaiian to the more “exotic” Spicy Korean Seafood, and owner Peter’s personal favourite Peter’s Lunch, a classic Margherita that is topped with broccoli, feta cheese, garlic, and bacon.
Some locals have even gone as far as to say that Fresh Basil offers the best pizzas in Hong Kong, which is up for debate. But the ambience is certainly unparalleled: Waterfront views and the comparatively slow pace of Cheung Chau, which add up to an idyllic setting to sit back and enjoy every bite.
Also try If you’re after a snack instead of a full meal, try their new Jamaican Chicken Wings, meaty bites slathered with a mildly spicy-peppery sauce.
19 Tai Hing Road
Opens 12pm-3pm (lunch); 6pm-10pm (dinner)
Tel + 852 – 9864 9197
Dessert time: Milky, creamy, or chewy
Judging from the number of dessert shops on the island, Cheung Chau has quite a sweet tooth but most — whether locals or tourists — flock to Tin Yin Desserts. Opened for more than a decade now, the friendly owners have created a well-lit and inviting space that, like most Hong Kong cafes, tend to be a bit of a squeeze where seating room is concerned but the turnaround is fairly quick.
What could take a while is deciding what to order. The menu is quite substantial, comprising hot and cold desserts as well as glutinous rice flour rolls and balls.
Of the cold offerings, you will realise very quickly that the many variants are built around several key ingredients such as black glutinous rice, sago, mango “dumplings” (jelly balls filled with fresh mango chunks), fresh fruits, ice cream and mochi. You won’t go wrong with any of the mango options, as the fruit they use is always sweet and creamy.
Also try The mochi balls are served several ways and one of the most enjoyable is also the simplest: Filled with a thick, aromatic black sesame paste, the mochi is steamed and while warm, coated in crushed toasted peanuts.
9 Tai Hing Tai Road
Opens 11am-7pm, Tuesday-Sunday; closed Mondays except public holidays
Dinner: Fine and fresh
With an emphasis on living the good life, the owners of ChocoDuck make sure to serve only the best and freshest, with most things made from scratch. Serving what they describe as “homey-comfy” European slow cooked food in a relaxing atmosphere, ChocoDuck is open for dinner only, and closes on Wednesdays, Sundays or “some odd windy days for windsurfing and some blissful days for family gatherings.”
There are a lot of meaty choices on the menu, for both starters and mains. Their specialty is handmade egg pasta that is like thin fettuccine, with a slightly curly appearance, which I enjoyed with a pork ragu. There are great reviews for their Spanish roast pork but that’s available by advance order only.
Also try The panfried foie gras with toast is practically a meal on its own, featuring two generous slabs of duck liver that’s crisped just nice on the outside and still pink inside. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar helps cut through the unctuousness while thin, crispy toasts offer a textural balance.
3 Kin San Lane
Opens 5pm-10.30pm, Monday-Tuesday & Thursday-Saturday
Tel +852 – 5111 8084
Hong Kong has a special place in Vivian Chong’s heart because it was the city that kickstarted her wanderlust. Read her other travel stories at http://thisbunnyhops.com