Celebrating Food! Celebrating Life!

大澳 Tai O Fishing Village @ Hong Kong – A Photo Log

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Hong Kong, a metropolitan city often described in books as the “Far East” or “Pearl of the Orient”, is a commercial and financial hub bursting with energy from all the hustling and bustling around. Take a walk along one of the many busy streets be it Nathan Road or Times Square and one would be quick to “get lost” amdist the towering skyscrapers that loomed above while folks skirted around and scurried below, everyone seemed to be in a frantic hurry. The pace of living here is incredibly fast, so fast that one becomes easily breathless trying to stay in pace and keep up with the daily episodes that rapidly unfold, be it you like it or not. Yet just an hour or so away from all this frenzy, there is a place tugged in one small corner of this once-British colony that seemed to have been transfixed in the past and lost in time, where tourists and even the local folk would visit, especially over the weekends, to catch a glimpse of the yesteryears and also keep their sanity in check. And that place is 大澳 Tai O Fishing Village on 大屿山 Lantau Island.
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Tai O is a fishing village which dates back a long time in Chinese history. This small fishing village nests on the western tip of Lantau Island was once thriving and busy as well. It was also an enclave for pirates at one point where trade was not just merely transactions of seafood and dried produce but also shady goods. But as the fishing industry dwindled and waned, the village returned to its original serenity, leaving behind quiet streets and emptied waterways…
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While the majority of its original inhabitants have already moved out of this place, either to newly built up areas which are more accessible, like 东涌 Tung Chung or even onto the main island itself, there is still a pocket of folks who chose to continue and reside on this end of the island, unwilling to part with the rustic charm this place offers. Many of these fishing families have long abandoned their seafaring days and set up stalls and shops along the main walking street in Tai O peddling goods like dried seafood and related processed produce instead.
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And here’s one of the many shops which we’d walked by which seemed to have rather decent quality dried stuff. Not really updated with the prices of dried seafood currently, so I didnt buy much.
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Whole dried scallops, not exactly Hokkaido grade but very affordable for one’s own family consumption for cooking soups and porridge.
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Dried abalone, looking relatively “new”…
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日月鱼, despite its name is actually a shellfish. Very good for soups as well and purportedly has excellent medicinal properties, especially for the “liver” and “kidneys” as well as our eyes.
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蚝干 Semi-dried oysters, quintessential in a classic Cantonese Chinese New Year dish 蚝豉发菜 . These looked too fat to be produced in this region though…
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Dried sea cucumber which are already so big dehydrated, wonder how big more they would become after reconstituting and soaking!
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干螺片, cone shell that is sliced and then dried in the sun… also good for soups
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Tai O is famous for their processed seafood as well, like this brand of shrimp paste which can be found selling in several shops. This is what is used for cooking 虾酱鸡 har cheong gai,fried chicken with shrimp paste.
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And this is my favorite, 虾籽 har zee, dried shrimp roe. A good sprinkling over wantan mee elevates the aroma and flavour of the noodles bringing it to a new level!
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幼滑虾酱 which is essentially brined and fermented krill, not unlike our local chinchalok… I had to buy back a bottle to try of course!
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There are many shops that sells ornaments and souvenirs as well, like these fashioned out of seashells…
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Ballooned and dried puffer fish to hang on one’s Xmas tree anyone?
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Apart from seafood, Tai O is also very well known for their colony of feral cats, abandoned when their owners moved away… some of them are very very affectionate, longing for a pat or a chin rub…
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Some looked rather aloof and nonchalant with all the ooohs and aaahs… “humans, argh!” they probably thought to themselves…
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Some just like to watch the day go by under the shade of the large flame of the forest trees which dotted around the village…
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The fishing village is largely divided into two sections, separated by a waterway which is now accessible through a drawbridge.
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Do note that there would be times when the drawbridge would be pulled up for larger boats to come through… otherwise it is very heavily used by commuters to get from one part of the village to the other…
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Gigantic yolks from salted eggs out in the sun to wring out that last ounce of moisture in them..
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Large buckets of what seemed like red clay, is actually shrimp paste that are in the midst of being processed.
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While some are bottled, some are shaped into bricks and left out in the sun to dry further as well, like our own belacan!!!
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Shark’s fin, in various stages of drying…
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After hours of walking around the island, one must surely get hungry… this stall sells 格仔饼 waffle pancakes which are supposedly made the traditional way…
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Semi-crispy waffle pancake coated with peanut and condensed milk, the local way of enjoying this “walk-and-eat-along” snack… a tad sweet for both of us…
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車站豆腐花之家, a shop along the main walking street that sells sweet silky beancurd and other desserts…
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Despite much raves in guidebooks and social media, I found the silky beancurd rather “plain and normal”. That said, a bowl of cold beancurd topped with sugary syrup does offer some temporal relief amidst the wretched heat we had to face from walking outside for hours…
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Only two types of cold desserts are available on weekdays, the other being 芝麻糊 black sesame seed paste which we also had cold. It tasted watered down, without the much coveted aromas we were expecting. Sadly disappointed…
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Along the same street is an old school confectionery 美珍中西饼. A good friend Anna shared with us that this place makes the best 老婆饼 lou por pheang she had ever tasted. So we had it marked on our map and made it a point to stop by to get some of these flaky pastries with candied wintermelon filling.
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Alas we were too early and only a couple of types of buns are available at that time of the day. Lou por pheang would only be out from the oven at around 2 pm. With 3 hours or so to go, we decided to make a trip around the place first and come back for the pastries later. We tried their bolo buns with char siew filling and coconut bun as well.
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The buns were really buttery and yummy. The coconut bun was nicely browned on the exterior which provided that lovely nutty aroma while the insides were all warm and fluffy. The filling of grated coconut was also very generous!
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And yes finally on our way back we managed to get two boxes of lou por pheang, piping hot and fresh from the oven. They looked really promising, all a glimmering golden brown with the unmistakable fragrance of beautifully baked pastries that are made with love and most importantly, pork lard!
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The skin was uber thin and crisp, while the filling was still hot when we plunged our teeth into one. The sweetness was just right, without being too cloying sugary as some others we’d tried. And the flavours were so so so old school, just the way we like it, with the alluring aroma from pork lard… yes I must say it again pork lard!
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Another popular guidebook recommendation is 隱姑茶果 which are chewy dumplings made from glutinous rice, very similar to mochi. It is a speciality of the 蜑家 Tanka people, many of whom are the original occupants of Tai O.
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The Tanka glutinous rice dumplings come in several flavours apparently but only the sweet and savory ones are available that day. The sweet version contains a filling of grated peanut, roasted sesame seeds and granulated sugar while the savory one has peanuts and black-eye peas. The skin is pretty much the same..
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A view of the sweet (above) and savory (below) tea dumplings. While the latter tasted rather unique, we preferred the sweet version more…
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Apart from these two types of tea dumplings, the third type which was rather interesting is made with a Chinese herb called 雞屎藤, which lends the dumpling its characteristic “grassy” flavours which I kinda enjoyed! So if you are here do give these dumplings a try!
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If you have time to spare when you are in Hong Kong, do consider making a daytrip to Tai O on a lazy weekday afternoon to enjoy the tranquility it has to offer. Avoid weekends which are crazy crowded I was told…Do try the lou por pheang and tea dumplings but I would give the beancurd a miss the next time I’m here. If you are game for it, buy some dried produce back, like I did. I steered away from the expensive fare and bought some cheaper stuff instead like 干鱿鱼 dried octopus for soups, 虾籽dried shrimp roe, 梅干菜 dried mui choy and 桃胶 peach tea amber which is good for dessert making. They ain’t exactly cheaper than what I could probably get at say 上環 Sheung Wan but I thought it would be good to support the local folk to help them sustain this place or it wouldn’t be long before it is no more.

To get to Tai O from city area,  take the MTR to Tung Chung Station and walk to the bus terminus near the cable car station (no it is not the one under Citygate Oulet Mall). At the bus terminus, take bus service 11 which would bring you directly to Tai O. Do take note that the bus journey takes around 50 min or so and there is some uphill terrain to cover where you might experience some ear blockage. If you are the sort that can get car sickness easily, do make sure you have your medication with you for the trip. The bus can get rather packed but their frequency ain’t that bad. So if the bus is already full at the point of boarding, please please please wait for the next one for proper seating. It is no joke to stand all the way on a 50-min bus ride, especially with the winding and meandering roads it has to cover. The journey was quite scenic on our way there but we slept throughout on the way back. So so tired after a whole day of walking all the way to the Tai O Heritage Hotel which was previously a police station from the main street.

The other way to get to Tai O is to take a cable car to Ngong Ping Village and transfer bus service 21 from there. If you intend to make a trip to the Big Buddha and Poh Lin Monastery as well, this might be a good alternative.

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