Mrs. Chan hardly looks a day over 50, but looks can be deceiving. “I’m 70 years old!” she exclaims with a broad smile. It must be all the healthy treats she prepares at her streetside stall in Yuen Long.
“I used to be a seamstress in a uniform factory,” she says. “I retired and I cook a lot at home, so I decided to share my recipes.” And what a range of recipes it is. Every day, Chan prepares soups and snacks with seasonal ingredients. “It takes a lot of time to prepare,” she says. But she does it for love more than anything else – and the satisfaction of feeding the loyal customers who pay her a visit every day.
One of the most satisfying snacks at Chan’s stall is lap mei fan (laap6 mei6 faan6 腊味饭), which she makes every day in a big orange rice cooker. It’s a deceptively simple dish, with pieces of Cantonese-style sausage (laap6 ceong2 臘腸) and preserved pork (laap6 juk6 臘肉) mixed with Shiitake mushroom, but as it cooks, the essence of the meat and mushroom seeps into the rice, creating layers of rich, savoury flavour.
Every morning, Chan takes a spoonful of raw local honey and mixes it with warm water. “Not too hot,” she warns, because it denatures the honey, destroying the nutrients and enzymes that make it so healthy. Chan credits this morning tipple with keeping her in good health, but it’s also a delicious way to start the day. She prefers honey from a small Tai Po apiary run by a friend, jars of which which she sells at her stall. If you haven’t had Hong Kong honey before, you’re in for a delight – its flavours range from the summertime zest of lychee and longan to the complex floral sweetness of the duck foot tree, to which Hong Kong’s bees flock in the winter.
Tong shui literally means “sugar water” (tong4 seoi2 糖水), but that understates how varied and complex these dessert soups can be. Chan makes sweet almond soup by hand grinding Chinese almonds into a powder, which she then boils with rock sugar and snow fungus, a mushroom with a coral-like appearance and a delicate crunch. Some of the other tong shui you might find at Chan’s stall include green bean soup, gingko with beancurd sheets and classic black sesame.
Find Mrs. Chan’s stall, Zing1 Sin6 Mei5 Sik6 (蒸膳美食), at Shop 19, Fortune Centre, 74A Fung Kam Street, Yuen Long.
Note: Cantonese romanisation in this article is based on the jyutping system, which uses numbers to correspond to the six main tones in Cantonese.