The Queen of ‘Kong

29 June 2020

May Chow, Hong Kong's hottest chef, runs Andrew Dembina through her favourite places in the Fragrant Harbour

May Chow – named Asia's Best Female Chef 2017 by the organisers of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants – is certainly well placed to recommend food- and bar-themed hotspots in Hong Kong. Chow was born in Toronto, raised in the territory and schooled in the US, and is now the chef-restaurateur behind two edgy Chinese restaurant-cum-cocktail bars. Her intimate establishments, Little Bao and Happy Paradise (both in Hong Kong Island's trendy Soho neighbourhood), have a savvy worldliness that appeals to a local and international crowd.

Once or twice a month, Chow visits the large wet markets (as fresh-produce markets are known in Hong Kong) in Tai Po, in the northern New Territories, and in Aberdeen in the south of Hong Kong Island, "because they both have some of the best and rarest seafood available in Hong Kong," she says. "Every day, a few fishermen drop off small quantities of wu tao [flathead mullet] and other fish and mussels that are pretty difficult to see in other markets – and I sometimes discover other surprises when I'm there."

Few of Hong Kong's dai pai dong, or food stalls, remain, thanks to clampdowns in the name of hygiene and public safety. One place that Chow likes is Siu Choi Wong, in the gritty Kowloon neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po. It has more fold-out tables and plastic stools outside than inside, but, says Chow, "They have some original and creative dishes and I think are better than some of the more famous stalls."

Her favourites from Siu Choi Wong's menu are steamed fish head with ginger and preserved Chinese olive; stir-fried minced pork with snow peas; and preserved Chinese olive and noodlefish with cheese and butter. During the week, Chow generally goes straight from work to hang out with her girlfriend and dogs, but she takes a break from the kitchens to eat out at least once or twice a week. She's fond of going out for a nightcap but rarely gets the chance on busy work evenings.

If an escape's possible, she opts for Foxglove – "for the jazz, atmosphere, great cocktails and service, she says. "I like their Mizuwari cocktail: a mix of Yamazaki 12 Years [Japanese whisky], plum wine, chocolate bitters and plum soda." She's also a fan of the bar at Okra, particularly its Old Fashioned. "I love simple and classic cocktails. They can be difficult to make – it's all about the technique the bartenders have," explains Chow. "Both Foxglove and Okra make these [classics] full of flavour, and the hospitality at both spots is unique – they really do care about customers' preferences."

Andrew Dembina is a writer, editor and presenter based in Hong Kong.

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