Walled-village food puts a strong emphasis on freshness and only eating ingredients that are in season. This type of cuisine is typically rustic and hearty, with an emphasis on rich and dark textures that differentiates it from most Cantonese cuisine.
Some of Hong Kong’s early inhabitants lived in walled-villages in the present-day New Territories. The fortifications protected them from bandits and tigers. Today, there are no more armed brigands or wild feline predators roaming Hong Kong, but these walled villages remain, and so does the unique cooking styles of their residents.
Legend of Walled-village food
Legend has it that poon choi, was invented when a Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279) emperor took refuge in the New Territories when the empire was invaded by Mongol forces. The local villagers took all the best food that was available to them and sent it to the emperor in large washbasins. Whatever the true origin of poon choi, it has become a food experience unique to Hong Kong and is listed as part of the city’s intangible cultural heritage.
The most notable walled-village dish is called poon choi, or ‘big bowl feast’. A huge amount of ingredients are layered in a large bowl and eaten communally. One big bowl feast could include pork, beef, lamb, abalone, chicken, duck, shrimp, crab, various mushrooms, Chinese radish and tofu in nine to 12 layers — enough to satisfy a group of ten people. The ingredients are not mixed; the bowl’s contents are eaten layer by layer.
Other classic dishes include Chicken Cooked in Five Sauces, Fried Mung Bean Shoots with Silver Shrimp and Clams, and Large Grey Mullet Poached in water.