[This article was originally published in the international food magazine Zomppa.]
I think, labelling a certain foodstuff as “weird” or “strange” is not quite justified since something weird for someone is a delicacy for the other! The Chinese in Hong Kong value protein-rich food very much. So they make the best use of protein by utilising even parts like chicken feet, chicken cartilages, ox tail, pig uterus, duck tongue, etc. This is probably because they still remember the period in history when they were very poor. If you consider yourself a daring foodie, please read this and re-think!
If you visit Hong Kong wet markets, spotting a few dozens of live frogs in cages in the seafood section is a common phenomenon. Live frogs are supposed to taste somewhere in between that of a fish and the chicken. Frog meat comes cheap here and is one of the favorite snacks in the night markets here. Frog legs are usually stewed, stir-fried or made into congee. What might appear to be bizarre for some, is a delicacy here to try for the brave-hearted!
If you thought that chicken feet are merely a Halloween special for Hong Kong epicureans, think again. Available throughout the year and extremely popular here, you will find huge batches of them in every smooth-running meat shop in Hong Kong. Although the appearance of the chicken feet (commonly referred to as “phoenix talons”) may not be quite inviting, it is supposed to be indispensable in Chinese soups and dim sums. Alternately, it is cooked in a special way with the black bean sauce.
This is an ancient Chinese way to preserve the eggs when they are in supply! Many shops or supermarkets sell special kinds of chicken, quail or duck eggs, called thousand-year-old eggs. Of course, these eggs are not 1000-year-old! The insides of these eggs turn into a jelly-like texture, owing to the heavy brining of the eggs and then treating them with a corrosive mixture of tea leaves, lime, salt, sand, clay and ash. These are then buried in this mixture for a period of about three to four months, when the shell of the egg turns brownish black and the yolk turns bluish green and give out a sharp, sulphurous smell.
The eggs are sliced and served as a side dish, or can be added in noodles, congee or tofu.
Commonly made by coagulating pig or duck’s blood, these are simply cut into rectangular cakes. This tofu is distinguished for its odour. Usually served deep-fried, this serves as a popular street food, especially among the older generation, since this serves as a cheap source of protein and iron.
Bird’s Nest Soup
Bird’s Nest Soup is another health food and is much celebrated in Hong Kong. This soup is actually made with swiftlet’s (a type of bird) saliva and chicken broth. These birds make their nests by binding the twigs with their thick saliva, which is then harvested (when dry) to make a nourishing, gelatinous soup having a huge range of benefits for the body. Bird’s nest is extremely expensive and is believed to boost immunity and longevity!
Bottles of clear liquid (resembling water) can be found stacked in any wet market, resembling closely to bottles of mineral water with Chinese labels. But, don’t mistake them as drinking water. This may be baby-mice wine, which is a traditional Chinese and Korean health booster.
Little mice which are just born, eyes still closed, are plunged into a bottle of rice wine. They are left to ferment for a few months, till one gets this wine, which is one of the much prized country-style wines in Hong Kong!
Across Hong Kong, there are many tea shops, soup centres and some Chinese medicine shops which sell empty turtle shells as well as something called “turtle jelly”! The turtles are boiled for more than 10 hours, mixed with other herbs, yielding a consistency of a soupy jelly. Although this jelly doesn’t taste and sound like something which should tickle your tastebuds, but according to the traditional Chinese medicine, its medicinal properties are amazing. People in Hong Kong believe that this nutritious jelly is good for improving complexion and boosts immunity to the body system.
Hong Kong is quite known for its “daring” foods. There are a few countries like Hong Kong, which are so traditionally experimentative and bold in their eating habits!