Hong Kong food market tour: Where to find authentic Cantonese food

The photos of the "soup" on the menu are far from appealing, but the smell and the taste are even worse.

We're in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district and our exquisitely named local guide, Lotus Leung, has recommended the "mistletoe lotus seed tea", a traditional dish most westerners never experience. I can understand why.

When it arrives at our formica table , I'm reminded of the witches' brew in MacBeth: "Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog."

"Try it," says Leung , sensing my reluctance.

"It's very good for women," she adds, looking at the two other Australian journalists in our group, both female. "For period pains," she whispers.

The tea (a soup to these western eyes) consists of mistletoe twigs, lotus seeds, red dates and a noxious-looking black-stained hard boiled egg.

Leung proudly extracts black mistletoe twigs from her handbag to show us why the brew looks so malevolent.

The fact that the world of haute cuisine doesn't seem to have embraced mistletoe – an evergreen semi-parasitic shrub that forms balls of poisonous leaves, stems and berries in tree tops – seems quite understandable.

To be fair, Leung is doing what we asked her to do. She's a passionate and genuine born-and-bred local who earns extra cash by guiding groups on tailored tours of Hong Kong under the auspices of Sam the Local, a boutique company founded by two bright American women who moved to Hong Kong in 2011 and realised keen locals make the best tour guides.


Our group had asked to experience the Hong Kong food scene as only locals know it, and that's exactly what we got.

Our first stop was under an ugly overhead highway, to sample what Leung describes, poetically, as "villain hitting". Three old crones make their living addressing peoples' grievances. The process involves writing the name of your enemies on a piece of paper, then paying your preferred crone to set light to it under the heady influence of joss-sticks. This, Leung tells us, is a mere cultural appetiser.

The real reason she's brought us to Wan Chai is to visit Bowrington Road Wet Market, one of Hong Kong's oldest and finest food markets, selling fish, seafood, meat, vegetables, fruits, herbs and signature Cantonese sauces.

You could spent hours here, observing the everyday theatre (though if you're vegetarian, like my two female colleagues, you might find the primary colour – blood red – overpowering).

Leung leads us upstairs to the "Cooked Food Centre", which looks like an older version of the sort of food court you'd find in a shopping mall almost anywhere. We three Australians are the only western faces.

Leung orders for us to share: mainly vegetarian, obviously – but I do get to taste what she translates as "muslim mutton curry" and "soy sauce chicken, fast-food style".

Ours is a truncated tour, so there's no time to digest.

Leung leads on to Heard Street, for the mistletoe misadventure, pointing out the teenage school kids queuing up to buy "cheese noodles" (a Korean dish) outside a diner, its facade full of photos of Chinese movie and pop stars who have eaten there.

Then it's on – via "Toy Street" – to Tai Yuen market, where we taste Hong Kong-style "milk tea" (made with condensed milk, extremely sweet), followed by desserts at Yuet Heung, which Leung describes as a "typical local restaurant". We conclude with "braised bamboo fungus with shrimp roe" at a restaurant in the Lockhart Road bar district.

What did I learn from all this? Not to eat the hotel breakfast before this tour. And to savour the real side of Hong Kong life you're experiencing, rather than the individual dishes you're eating.

Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Cathay Pacific.





Cathay Pacific flies to Hong Kong from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. See cathaypacific.com


Sam the Local has about 70 guides in Hong Kong and tailors private tours to suit your interests (history, culture, food, sport, shopping and nightlife are favourite subjects). See samthelocal.com