Fred Schneiter moved to Hong Kong in the 1960s and wasted no time in getting to know the food. Here’s a recipe (and a reminiscence) from the old Causeway Bay typhoon shelter. It appears in his new book, The Taste of Old Hong Kong.
Living in one of the world’s major tourist destinations, the culinary epicenter of the China Seas and a world-class capital of fine dining, prompts many Hong Kong insiders to choose their restaurants following the ancient axiom “the fewer tourists the better the food.”
Fortunately, if you know your way around, the choices are virtually unlimited with a dazzling diversity of restaurants offering every imaginable ethnic favorite from arroz con pollo to zabaglione. Our destination of choice on evenings we felt like having something different was the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, known to some as “the tycoon shelter” as it harbored the sleek and costly craft of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. It also afforded moorage for a small flotilla of durable seaworthy family junks.
The only tourists in evidence on these outings were those who’d been smuggled in by locals, quite likely with the visitors’ absolute assurance they wouldn’t reveal the location to anyone else. The inclination toward secrecy was perhaps overblown. Even having heard about the place a stranger had little chance of getting to it without help.
Logistically, with its access blocked by sea walls, the harbor and the life-threatening speedway of Victoria Park Road, there were only two reasonable approaches. One was the little-known underground passageway which carried utility services under the road from the basement of the Excelsior Hotel. The other was the harrowing approach by cab from the west. This entailed somehow getting the driver to understand that he had to pull off the speedway right here to discharge passengers in the blink of an eye. If you failed to stop exactly on target the cab would hurtle up the overpass onto Gloucester Road, whisking you off in the other direction.
Tricky. And that’s not all. It was essential to have a Cantonese-speaker make a phone call to reserve a junk which would comfortably accommodate a half dozen or so people. Once aboard, the little craft wheezed and bobbed out to the center of the shelter into a tiny fleet of junks and sampans rolling at anchor on the inky night sea. Each cast a glow from a bare bulb or two. Some were garlanded with multi-colored Christmas tree lights which sparkled and skittered across the choppy waves. As our anchor dropped, small junks pulled alongside like moths to a flame. One was the brightly-lit booze boat, loaded to the gunnels with hard liquor, beer, soft drinks, fruit, snacks and cigarettes. The music boat had a jovial three-piece off-key percussion band with a vocalist who belted out a cacophony of old-time songs in Chinglish. One of the more profitable businesses on the water, a generous tip assured an early upping of their anchor.