December 19, 2021

Slow boat to Hakka

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If there's one thing that we haven't done much during the two-year pandemic, it's activities in the Great Outdoors.  Unlike many friends with kids, Sankala and I have been mainly staying in - initially just to do our part in social distancing. While we watched our friends fulfill their wanderlust by exploring remote areas of Hong Kong, the two of us (OK, this is probably mostly me) have been homebodies.

But when I saw a post about Slow Food doing a trip out to Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩), a remote Hakka (客家) village with a history of 400 years, I decided that we should join the tour. Not the least because Hakka is part of Sankala's heritage, and there would be a lunch featuring Hakka dishes. I figured that would be interesting.

We set off from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier pretty early in the morning, as the boat ride would take 1½ hours each way, taking us first through Tolo Channel. As the area is part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, there are some interesting geological sights along the coastline. Apparently one of these is the Devil's Fist, which is a pretty small rock jutting out. We were not close enough for me to figure out where exactly it was when I took a series of pictures, but I managed to identify it once I zoomed in...

We saw a number of hikers and fishing enthusiasts along the way, some of them cutting lonesome figures as they were seemingly stranded alone on tiny islets. This was somewhat striking when we got close to our destination, as the structures at Yantian Harbor (盐田港) appeared in the background.

After getting off the pier at Lai Chi Wo, we finally entered the village and came upon the village square. One of the buildings here is the Siu Ying Primary School (小瀛學校), which served children in the surrounding villages without schools. It formally closed in 1980 when there were no longer sufficients students. In front of the building, we encountered a couple of villagers selling traditional snacks such as cha guo. Sankala immediately bought some, as I didn't have breakfast.

These were fresh radish cha guo (蘿蔔絲茶粿).

We also had stinkvine cha guo (雞屎藤茶粿), which were filled with preserved radish (菜餔).

And finally pumpkin cha guo (南瓜茶粿)

We were given a tour of the areas surrounding the actual village, which included the fung shui woods with lots of old trees like autumn maple and banyan - some over 100 years old.

We finally entered the walled village, which has both an East Gate and a West Gate. There are 3 vertical alleys and 9 horizontal alleys, with houses at the front being lower while the ones in the back were built as taller structures. The fung shui woods are behind the village, which also helps to protect the village from any potential landslides.

Some of the houses had crumbled after their owners left, while others were still in relatively good shape.

Along the way we saw some of the locally-grown produce which were being laid out to dry. There were roselles (洛神花), chrysanthemums, Chinese mugwort (艾草), coffee, turmeric... etc.

It was finally time for lunch, and we were led to a traditional Hakka house, which has the kitchen on the right hand side, the bath/toilet on the left, a bedroom in the back on the ground floor, and a staircase leading up.

I love these old school rice bowls! This one were painted with little kids doing various sports, with the phrase “鍛鍊身體 (work out)".

Stir-fried kailan with preserved pork belly (臘肉炒芥蘭) - the kailan (芥蘭) had a distinctive, spicy flavor that was almost mustard-like.

Braised turnip with tofu pok (蘿蔔豆腐卜) - we had seen these radishes growing in the fields around the village, and they were so, so sweet! Yum!

Stir-fried arrowhead with pork belly (五花腩炒茨菰) - most people at our table had never tasted arrowhead, while Sankala had grown up eating it. The starchy texture is interesting but very filling, and this turned out to be the least favorite dish at our table.

Steamed chicken (白切雞) - OK la...

Stir-fried baby bok choy (炒雞毛菜) - everyone's favorite and the first to disappear.

Steamed grouper (蒸石斑) - ho-hum.

We had some time to kill before our group activity in the afternoon, so I wandered over to Uncle Two Store (二伯士多). I had seen an ad about their beancurd pudding (豆腐花), so I figured I'd try it out. This was pretty decent. The texture was firmer and more dense than I had initially expected, but I could certainly taste the soy beans.

We moved on to our afternoon activity for the excursion, which took place at the village farm running the Sustainable Lai Chi Wo Programme, that is part of the HSBC Rural Sustainability project. We would get our hands dirty and experience "farming". They had some ginger and blue ginger ready to be harvested, so the families with kids were assigned to dig up the "regular" ginger, while the rest of the adults put their strengths to good use on the blue ginger.

Many of us are familiar with the taste and fragrance of blue ginger, but very few of us know this is what blue ginger looks like in the fields. These are apparently two years old.

Our first task was to cut off the long stalks with sickles, as our primary target is the rhizome. Cutting the stalks started to release the refreshing fragrance that we are familiar with.

We were next meant to use shovels and pitchforks to wedge the clump of rhizomes from the ground. We needed to be careful to not damage the precious cargo.

Next we used smaller tools like claws to clean off the dirt, and sickles to slice off the roots.

After this is all done, we have the final product which is ready to be taken home for use!

As long as we're on this eco-farm, we might as well buy a few things to take home. Our haul included some lemons, ginger, and the blue ginger that we had just dug up ourselves. Very excited to try these at home.

It was time to bid farewell to this lovely village. We enjoyed our excursion away from the concrete jungle, and perhaps we can find our way back here again another day. Our next focus, not surprisingly, is tonight's dinner. Hopefully we won't be late.

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