Shop, shape and cook delicious treats with a local cook in Hong Kong.
It’s washing day in Shau Kei Wan. Clothes hang from the wires outside windows on the pastel-hued high rises: T-shirts and track pants, shorts and socks, dangling amid the pot plants and aerials and boxy air-conditioning units.
On the street below, shoppers weave through the local wet market, past stalls selling snake beans half a metre long, baskets of dried whitebait and discs of dried noodles. There are glossy green pomelos, soft stacks of tofu and small sausages flecked with fat.
“Those are from the New Territories,” Felicity Yau tells me, motioning to a crate beside her. She’s the local showing us around today, and I’d asked — perhaps foolishly — if anything was grown in Hong Kong. Only the cauliflower, it turns out.
We’ve met Felicity in this residential neighbourhood in Hong Kong’s east for a market-to-kitchen cooking class. We will be making dumplings but the appeal of this afternoon’s activities goes well beyond that. In a travel world that increasingly attempts to contrive “authentic” experiences, this feels informal, unvarnished and very much the real deal.
Take the butcher around the corner, where Felicity brings us to buy meat. It advertises “fresh meat for sale” on a sign in English and Chinese, with various cuts hanging from hooks in the open air as the butcher minces our pork shoulder using just a cleaver and a well-worn wooden bench. The idea of eating unrefrigerated meat does make me pause — it goes against all the travel health advice I’ve ever received — but I decide to put my faith in Felicity’s local knowledge. It turns out to be well placed.
We’ve booked this class via Cookly, a website that likens itself to “Airbnb but for foodies”, listing food experiences in destinations from Rome to Mexico. Some are run by professional chefs, others by proficient home cooks such as Felicity. Taught to cook by her mother, she says simply: “I love dumplings and I’m happy to share the recipe.”
From the market, we head not to a shiny professional kitchen but a home: Felicity’s sister’s flat, where we meet her dad and her sweet baby nephew. And as they play in the next room, we take a seat around the dining table — tucked between a crib, a home shrine and a fish tank — to learn the ins and outs of dumpling making, from the correct ratio of fat to meat — 30 per cent — to alternative options for fillings (I might give beef and cheese a miss).
The trickiest part by far is the assembly, when we encase the pork and chive mix we’ve prepared in ready-made wrappers. Twisting the parcels into a shape similar to tortellini takes some practice but Felicity is patient and encourages us to experiment. I’m taken with a shape she dubs “the goldfish”, while previous guests have made love hearts and even handbags.
The proof is in the eating, of course, and our dumplings — boiled until they rise to the water’s surface and served with soy sauce — are fresh and more-ishly tasty. But what really lingers is the experience of having been welcomed into a local home. Felicity hasn’t just taught us a recipe but given us a little taste of her life — and that has made the afternoon all the more memorable.
Felicity Yau offers cooking classes making either dumplings or steamed pork buns, both of which can be adapted for vegetarian or gluten-free requirements. Classes cost from about $80, for information, see here