Ah Cheung Chau Island…. the perfect getaway from busy, noisy, polluted Hong Kong for a day of sunshine, fishing boats and awesome seafood. I went there on my last week in Asia, having checked everything else I had wanted to do off my list. I went there also because I needed a place to set free my pet shrimp, Jaques. I mean, Jaques was a freshwater shrimp so maybe it wasn’t the IDEAL place to set him free… but hey, at least he had a few seconds to feel free as he was scurrying into his saline doom.
The Outlying Island of Cheung Chau is a 1 hour ferry ride (or half hour fast ferry ride) from Central Pier #5. It is most well known for the annual Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival, also known as the Bun Festival, during which 60 ft bamboo towers covered with buns are attacked by locals, the buns snatched off and consumed by the hungry masses. It’s a neat little place where cars are not allowed and vespas/bikes/motorcycles roam free instead. The beaches are beautiful and clean with nearly transparent water (since it faces away from the Hong Kong’s harbor, into the open ocean). There is a nice little temple called the Pak Tai temple (across from a basketball court…) just a short walk from the beach and an adorable little kitty cat who guards it therein. Docked in the little port where the ferry arrives are multicolored fishing boats (similar to ones I’ve seen in Valparaiso and Iquique in Chile) which adds a calm, tranquil beauty to the place. Alongside the port there is a long promenade lined with great little seafood restaurants, all with a view of the water and the boats. There are also a number of street food stalls along the alleys which connect the port to the beach on the other side of the dumbbell-shaped island.
This is one of the little snacks I had at a food stall on my way to the beach. A potato is shaved into this funky spiral shape, mounted on a skewer and deep fried til golden brown, greasy and crispy. A number of shakers are available for the customer to dash on as many different types of seasoning as they want. There is dried seaweed, curry, garlic powder, onion and chicken flavor. A recommend the “Cheung Chau Style” blend which is salty, garlicky and delicious. Careful with the “extra hot” though… it nearly burned my mouth off.
This was at one of the restaurants alongside the port (they’re all kind of the same…). We ordered a San Miggy and two dishes to share.
We had the classic Manila (?) Clams in Douchi (fermented, salted soybean sauce which is often called “black bean sauce”). The thick, very salty, pungent and slightly bitter sauce went perfectly with our crispy cool beer and was very flavorful while not overshadowing the sweet, juicy clams. They are also pretty fun to eat. Pick up a clam by the non-occupied shell and suck out all of the sauce which has collected in the occupied shell, covering the plump little flesh. Then suck of the clam itself and chew, savoring its own delicate sweetness. Yummy!
This was also a nice little dish and very satisfying after a day spent frying under the sun. Tender, white chunks of squid sauteed in butter, along with some chewy oyster mushrooms and gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with crunchy stems and soft, wilted leaves, which added a wonderful juiciness to each mouthful. The squid was cooked perfectly; it wasn’t rubbery at all but still had a nice firm bite to it. It was surprising that the thing was made with butter instead of oil, but this made it creamy and luxurious in texture and added a sinful, salty lick to the dish.
If you’re on the promenade directly facing the ferry terminal, make a left and walk all the way down along the coast of the island until you hit Cheung Chau Sai Tai Road. Near the fire station, there is a awesome little dessert shop that sells all kinds of crazy local dessert puddings and mochi. I tried two different types. The first was sago pudding with plenty of sweet coconut milk, with chewy grass jelly and ripe, juicy mangoes thrown in. In the center of the pudding was a little scoop of vanilla ice cream which melted into the sago, giving the pudding even more flavor and creamy texture.
And this was the second one, even better. Basil seed pudding with chunks of ripe, sweet mangoes thrown in. The basil seeds are an awesome texture but difficult to describe. A gelatinous little bubble surrounds each black seed and this bubble is so slippery and plump that it is impossible to bite into or split apart. Kinda like a little atom. The best way to enjoy them is to fill your mouth with a few spoonfuls of the stuff, feel the slippery little beads moving around and then swallow them whole. Perhaps the best part of the dish, though, are the two balls of peanut-covered vanilla ice cream. The peanuts are fried, crispy and deliciously nutty and are mixed together with toasted sesame seeds to provide the perfectly sinful exterior to the creamy ice cream within. A little tub of sweetened coconut milk is provided separately to pour in. It “disrupts” the basil seeds a bit and makes everything a lot sweeter and creamier.