Best Pick

WOM Wanders: A big bowl of food and a bit of history
Date Published : 27 Jun 2018

Of all Hong Kong’s country parks, Plover Cove is perhaps the richest in myth and folklore. Most Hongkongers know The Bride’s Pool; haunted by the ghost of a bride who supposedly drowned at the foot of the area’s spectacular series of waterfalls after falling from her sedan chair. But there’s a lot more to see besides. There’s a genuine spookiness to the many abandoned villages that dot the country park. This was once an affluent and productive agricultural area, but the announcement of China’s ‘open door policy’ in 1978 caused such a rapid collapse of Hong Kong’s farming industry, that many houses in Plover Cove’s abandoned villages appear as if their occupants magically vanished one day; leaving the kettle still on the stove and the table laid out for lunch. The stacks of building supplies left unused since the late 70s - and now disappearing beneath the buttress roots of the banyan trees - suggest that when the crash came, no-one saw it coming.

Descendants of these villages’ original Hakka occupants return at New Year, Hungry Ghost Festival, Mid Autumn and other important dates, leaving lanterns and offerings that only add to the Spirited Away vibe of Plover Cove. That the bustling metropolis of Shenzhen can be seen just over the water, but oh-so out-of-reach, only adds to the surreal feeling of this place.

There is one village where life has carried on. Lai Chi Wo, named for the lychees that were once farmed there, is a popular destination for hikers, nature lovers and diners alike. The walled village, fortified against tigers that have long been extinct in Hong Kong, is still occupied. Behind it, ancient feng shui woods lend the village extra protection.

Isolation has protected Lai Chi Wo and its Hakka heritage from change. There is a rather irregular ferry service from Ma Liu Shui, but the most reliable way to reach Lai Chi Wo is on foot. The choices boil down to 10 kilometres of flat(ish) coastal path or half the distance over steep hills.

There’s a village shop serving the usual favourites. But our local contact called ahead to organise a special treat. Poon Choi is a traditional Hakka dish meant for celebration. Ingredients are layered up inside a big bowl and left to simmer away for hours. You’ll still see this dish at celebrations in New Territories villages, but the one we found in Lai Chi Wo was one of the most glorious we’ve seen. Layer upon layer of meat, seafood, mushrooms, vegetables and other bits stewed beyond recognition. Poon Choi originated with villagers using big washbasins to prepare a meal for large groups. Ours was a basin big enough for a whole village. We needed it; it’s a long walk home.

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