For many Hongkongers, a silver lining during the past two years has been a much-welcomed opportunity to foster a newfound love affair with our home, as travel restrictions have pushed the city’s gastronomes, chefs and restauranteurs to re-examine and reconnect with the Hong Kong spirit in all of us. Ahead of Chinese New Year, four of the city’s tastemakers share how their relationship with Hong Kong has inspired them in meaningful ways.
THERESA YIU, FOUNDER OF DASHIJIE
In her early 70s, Theresa Yiu, an esteemed authority figure in Cantonese cooking and founder of the Dashijie brand in Hong Kong, has lived through decades of ups and downs in the city. Through it all, Yiu remains faithful to the joy of home cooking. Her home banquets are epic, often requiring days to prepare a grand feast over multiple courses of meticulously prepared gourmet dishes that reference disappearing traditions. In 2021, her first-ever collaboration (with French porcelain brand Legle) arrived with the launch of Spring Dance, one of three collections of homeware.
To Yiu, a meal at home isn’t simple; rather, it represents the microcosm of society and the city’s love for food. “I came from a large household with 13 siblings and we grew up eating all three meals at home,” she says. “It wasn’t until our employment days that we began eating out, but even then, we relied on our home meals to keep us satisfied with warmth and comfort. The pandemic really changed how we see eating at home. Given how much we enjoy eating out, we’re beginning to see the joy of meeting loved ones in the comfort of our own home, enjoying good food. That is an intrinsic love for sharing we are starting to see again.”
Hong Kong’s love for traditional treats motivated Yiu to start Dashijie, her own brand of traditional Chinese New Year puddings, mooncakes, noodles and condiments that add to the festivities. Despite ever-changing trends and modernisation, Yiu shows respect for tradition by polishing up old recipes and practices – including a line of mooncakes made with lard and olive kernels, ginger tea with the sharpest aged ginger she could find and Chinese New Year coconut pudding made with the best-quality Malwa coconut milk.
As a result, Dashijie enjoys the support of a growing fan base for premium-quality, homegrown flavours. Yiu has no regrets about sticking to her instincts and making no compromises for the mainstream. “There’s much love for authentic Hong Kong products and these are items that are imprinted in our DNA,” she says. “I’m driven to show my love of Hong Kong by sharing with the rest of the city, and even the world, Hong Kong’s true identity through food – one bite at a time.”
ARCHAN CHAN, EXECUTIVE CHEF OF HO LEE FOOK
Newly minted as the executive chef at Black Sheep Restaurants’ beloved Chinese restaurant Ho Lee Fook, Archan Chan makes her triumphant return to Hong Kong after extensive experience in Australia and Singapore. “My family and I grew up in Kowloon, near the Sham Shui Po area,” she says. “We had never heard of ‘the Dark Side’ [as many entitled expats on Hong Kong Island refer to Kowloon] until recently.”
Unlike many conventional Chinese families prejudiced against kitchen work as a proper profession, Chan’s household was supportive. She studied food science at a university in Hong Kong and took up an internship at the JW Marriott Hong Kong as kitchen staff. Over the course of a year, she rotated through different positions at the hotel. “It was hard work, but I loved the people and the hospitality side of it, especially interacting with the guests,” she recalls. This passion was further honed as she pursued a culinary arts degree in Australia, where she worked her way through esteemed modern Australian restaurant Cutler & Co and Asian-inspired casual eatery Supernormal.
After a stint at microbrewery-restaurant LeVel33 in Singapore, Chan recently relocated back to Hong Kong to head up Ho Lee Fook – at a time when Covid had effectively ground the hospitality business to a crawl. “It’s about where your people are,” she explains. “My family and friends are in Hong Kong – it’s where home is. I wouldn’t consider giving up my home for anywhere else. It gave me a lot of perspective. Covid changed a lot of us how we think and approach things, personally and professionally.” To Chan, Hong Kong isn’t just a place to work, but a city to love. “When you see a lot of people suffering, you value your team and that camaraderie you build with them when solving problems. That sense of togetherness is how you outlive the challenges – by sticking together.”
Her bond with local purveyors has also gotten stronger and that’s reflected in her new dishes for Ho Lee Fook. Her double-steamed broth with chicken, aged ham and dried scallop is an ode to the flourishing dried seafood businesses in Sheung Wan, while the steamed live razor clams with glass noodles, fried and aged garlic, and premium soy sauce is her way to support local fishermen and the generations of Hong Kong’s soy sauce makers.
“The work is rewarding for sure, especially when I get to know more about the people who help realise my routines: the farmers who grow my vegetables and the purveyors for my pantry essentials,” she says. “They’re the unsung heroes of our industry and I’m honoured to provide a medium to tell their stories as they help me tell mine. The mutual respect for the business and life is essentially how I’ve come to love Hong Kong even more now than ever before.”
RINGO CHAN, EXECUTIVE PASTRY CHEF OF FOUR SEASONS HONG KONG
With more than three decades of experience in Hong Kong, Ringo Chan continues to raise the bar. He’s quick to credit Hong Kong’s role in inspiring and shaping him as a chef. “Hong Kong’s colonial past helps guide its residents on how we approach food,” he says. “We have gotten accustomed to living in a society where many cultures collide and, more often than not, influence one another. As a result, our attitude to food has changed for the better.”
Indeed, the East-meets-West approach has proven fruitful as many restaurants develop a new breed of cuisine that delivers the best of both worlds. “The word ‘fusion’ may confuse many – and is somewhat derogatory, to be honest – but being able to adapt to trends and changes is one of the many great qualities Hongkongers are great at,” explains Chan.
For decades, the city has been blessed with industry mavericks sourcing ingredients from around the world, creating new styles in food and changing the way we experience dining. However, Hong Kong isn’t equally friendly to all trends. “We love how accepting Hong Kong is for trends, but we also run each one at lightning speed. They come and go – the good ones stay for a bit, but those that don’t work never return,” says Chan. “Interestingly, the Asian palate continues to be more accepting to desserts incorporating Asian fruits and herbs, and we are slowly opening up to spices as well.”
In 2021, Chan created the wildly popular pandan egg tart in response to an influx of takeaway requests from the hotel’s first pastry pop-up. He also created a twist on the local eggette, which is available at Argo, the new cocktail bar at Four Seasons Hong Kong. “There’s so much to say about the original eggette – the essence of a local street food item,” says Chan. “When I decided to create one for Argo, I felt little need to change it because the eggette itself represents the significance of our food culture – and our love of food is one of many great things Hongkongers should be proud of.”
“There is responsibility in all of us to preserve our own heritage, be it food or societal values,” concludes Chan. “We must always remember our experiences and introduce to others what makes us who we are. Passing on our lessons is something every one of us can do.” All of which includes techniques, history, and notes on tastes and flavours that continue to inspire Chan every day in the kitchen and beyond.
STEPHANIE WONG, CHEF AND OWNER OF ROOTS
Stephanie Wong found the address of her first solo restaurant, Roots, hidden within the quietest neighbourhood in Wan Chai. The low-density neighbourhood along Sun Street reminded her more of Europe than of the concrete jungle we’ve come to associate with Hong Kong. As Wong turned to professional cooking after almost a decade as a banker, the chef, who was educated in a British school in Hong Kong, was keen to celebrate her traditional Chinese side and the Western side she learned from her previous career. “Hong Kong is my heart and soul, and despite often feeling like the odd-one-out from both worlds, my curiosity has earned me an appetite for all the nuances I could explore while keeping the traditions alive,” she says. “And that’s how I started Roots.”
The restaurant’s menu brings a smile to anyone well versed in local ingredients – with a Yu Kwen Yick fermented chilli sauce added into beef tartare, reinvented deep-fried shrimp toast, and roasted chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, among others. “I love adding local condiments to my dishes,” says Wong. “The hot sauce adds tang and heat to the tartare, replacing the traditional mustard, while the shrimp toast adds a handful of pickled onions.”
Despite taking an active role in forming new dishes from traditional ones, Wong has much to say about calling her food “fusion”. “‘East-meets-West’ isn’t a bad phrase – it forms part of our history and how adaptable we are in making the best use of our heritage,” she says. “Traditions are here to be passed on with respect and our roles are not only to preserve them, but to maximise their potential to reach more people and to recreate dishes with them. We should always remember to give credit to those who make something out of ingredients, like the oyster purveyors in Lau Fau Shan.”
Wong’s mission to pass on traditions is ultimately rooted in her passion for cooking. “Having diners appreciate your efforts and feel the joy of eating as they imprint emotions and memories is truly amazing.” Her love for Hong Kong is laid bare in Roots, bringing forth her homage to the city through vintage dishes she has helped bring back in vogue. That, together with many smiles of satisfaction from the guests who dine at her restaurant, forms the driving force that has motivated Wong to plant her roots firmly in Hong Kong, a constant source of inspiration.