[This article was originally published in the International food magazine Zomppa before appearing in Cosmopolitan Currymania.]
Each passing day, I am learning more and more about the food culture in Hong Kong. Since I am learning basic Cantonese now, I can communicate more comfortably with the local fish mongers in the seafood markets in Hong Kong. For instance, I recently learnt from an old Chinese lady that garoupa or lung den fish and cuttlefish are the best for making Asian fishballs. Congee tastes awesome with a special kind of fish, called nai mang, and sha koon fish is one of the preferred ones for clear fish soups!
Chinese fishballs are made by pulverising the fish meat to a smooth consistency and turning the mixture into balls around two inches in diameter. The taste is unique and quite unlike the Western fishballs, these are low in fat.
Carp (lei) is a very popular fish in Hong Kong and the localites buy these in plenty also because the word “lei” also means abundance: so they believe that eating these would bring prosperity in their lives.
Visited Hong Kong and didn’t eat fishballs and meatballs? You missed on one of the most popular staples here!
Another localite suggested that one must try stewed and minced pork balls with brown sauce, traditionally cooked in a clay pot. There is a fancy name for this dish: “lion head” balls! These are cooked with Shanghai pak choi (bok choi) to create a flavour that lingers! Fuzhou fishballs are worth a mention here: made with eel on the exterior and a juicy pork meatball inside, it is a culinary experience in its own right!
Undoubtedly, fishballs and meatballs are very popular in Hong Kong. There are a number of variations found here. The meatballs, usually beef balls, are brownish balls in which minced meat is pounded together with other ingredients to produce balls which taste awesome in soups, noodles and stir-fries. Fishballs are among the most popular street foods in Hong Kong! These differ in colour, texture and shape. Even fish blocks are available here, which are often sold fried. Interesting variations in fishballs include lobster balls, cuttlefish balls, octopus balls, fish siu mai, etc. There are interesting colour variations too. The most interesting ones include those with alternate coloured and white stripes!
Beef balls and lobster balls sell like hot cakes in Hong Kong!
The beef ball soups sometimes carry a piece of fish maw in the centre, along with shark’s fin. There are also ready-to-eat curried fishball packs available here, which just need to be warmed and can be had with rice. A pack of fish or meatballs is quite reasonably priced, more so if you buy from local vendors in Hong Kong wet markets. Moreover, there are those sold at local fishball stalls as street food, in which the fishballs are either fried or smeared with a sauce and served stacked on bamboo skewers. The fishballs and meatballs also find their ways in traditional “hot pot” soups.
Asian fishball soup with flat rice noodles
Eating Fishballs in Hong Kong
- Asian cuttlefish balls: 12
- Asian lobster balls: 12
- Pak choi (or any other Chinese green vegetable): handful
- Chinese brown mushrooms (chopped): 10
- Broccoli florets: 8–10
- Chopped spring onion greens: ¼ cup
- Carrots (chopped): ½
- Finely chopped garlic: 4 tbsp
- Chinese onion (roughly chopped): ½ cup
- Fish sauce (nam pla): 3 tbsp
- Chicken broth: 7 cups
- Warm water: 1 cup
- Chicken powder: 1 tbsp
- Mung bean sprouts: handful
- Salt: according to taste
- Crisp-fried garlic (store-bought): for garnishing
- Boiled and drained flat rice noodles (to be boiled with little salt and oil)
- Sesame oil: 1.5 tbsp
- Boneless chicken cubes (marinated in 1 tbsp dark soy sauce): 1 cup
Heat the pan and add the sesame oil. When the oil smokes, add the onion and sauté for 2 min. Add the garlic and sauté again for 1 min.
Now add the chicken and sauté till the chicken is almost cooked. Add the first seven ingredients and sauté for five more minutes.
Now add the chicken broth, chicken powder mixed in warm water and the fish sauce. Let this simmer for 25 min. Add the salt now, if required.
To serve, add some noodles to a serving bowl and spoon some soup over it. Garnish with a little mung sprouts, chopped spring onion greens and fried garlic. Serve immediately.