The fact is that there are few better ways to explore a country's culture than through its cuisine and this couldn't be truer in Hong Kong. So, in an effort to delve deeper into the culture and to pick up a few tips on how to bring local flavors back to Korea with me, I decided to enroll in a cooking class at Home's Cooking for the ultimate market-to-table experience.
I met Joyce, the bubbly instructor of Home's Cooking, and my fellow classmates for the day early Wednesday morning at Shau Kei Wan Station on Hong Kong island. After a brief introduction, Joyce led us to the Kam Wa Street Market, one of Hong Kong's colorful wet markets, where our culinary experience would begin.
Upon entering the market, I immediately became giddy. It seems that no matter how many traditional markets I visit during my travels, I never get bored. There's something about the hustle and bustle, the vendors' urgency to sell, the vibrancy of exotic produce and the multi-sensory experience that revolves solely around the basic necessity of food that gets my blood pumping like nothing else.
As we walked from stall to stall collecting the ingredients that we needed for the day, the vendors greeted Joyce and the other smiling regulars that passed by, seemingly in a hurry and going nowhere at the same time. Pork carcasses hung from ceilings and unidentifiable Chinese herbs and remedies sat in jars stacked neatly on pharmacy shelves. Elderly women negotiated in melodious Cantonese for the best price on still-squirming seafood. Men poured buckets of water over the floors covered in blood and guts, a necessary practice that classifies these markets as wet.
I told Joyce about the unfortunate circumstance regarding Korea's dying traditional markets. She noted that the situation in Hong Kong is similar; younger generations now opt to do their grocery shopping at supermarkets. However, she also added that she felt confident about the survival of the city's wet markets, as the products are imported from mainland China and the nearby New Territories, ensuring better value and freshness, qualities highly valued by the city's residents.
After loading up on everything that we needed (and picking up a few hot-out-the-oven egg tarts), we headed to Joyce's home to begin the cooking class.
We wasted no time in preparing the ingredients we would be using to cook the afternoon's dishes: spring rolls, sweet dumplings with chocolate and golden shrimp- large prawns smothered in a sinfully rich salty egg yolk sauce. Joyce let us in on some tips and tricks to more efficiently clean shrimp, peel ginger (with a spoon- who woulda thought?) and julienne carrots, skills I know will come in handy in the future.
My classmates and I were each given an opportunity to contribute to the preparation as well as the cooking. After each dish was completed, we sampled our creations in the comfort of her living room, thoughtfully decorated with her young daughter's drawings, photographs of family travels and cute figurines.
After the class, Joyce wished us well and recommended a few nearby sites worth checking out. Later on, she sent us photos from the class as well as the recipes from the dishes we made for the day. Now, back in Korea, I'm gaining the courage to try cooking up these dishes on my own. I'm sure they won't taste as good without Joyce's guidance, but surely the flavors will be enough to elicit memories of this fun experience in Hong Kong.
Home's Cooking holds cooking classes Monday-Friday at 9:00AM and 2:00PM. Menus vary depending on the day. (The class mentioned in this post was the Wednesday morning course.) The course fee is $600 HKD ($77 USD) and includes three dishes, course materials, recipes and the market tour. For more information on Home's Cooking or to make a reservation, visit their website.
*Although this post is sponsored by Home's Cooking, the opinions are, of course, my own.
Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.