LoveBites Staycation: Tai O Heritage Hotel

We had a special occasion to celebrate last weekend, and I thought that a staycation was just the ticket! After reading an article on Le Figaro online that mentioned the Tai O Heritage Hotel, PB suggested that this place was worth a visit. Tai O is on the western side of Lantau Island, closer to the airport and Tung Chung than it is to Mui Wo. It seems like such a long way away, and by Hong Kong standards, it does take some effort to get there, but boy oh boy is it worth the trip!

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Green, green and more green as far as the eye can see

Tai O is Hong Kong’s oldest fishing village, and is commonly referred to as the “Venice of the Orient”. The houses are built on stilts above water, so I can see where the reference comes from – but that is where the similarities stop.  It is home to the Tanka people, a community who have lived here for generations. Tai O is local beauty in and of itself, and needs not this reference to my favorite city in Italy. Admittedly, you can’t exactly call these stilt houses beautiful – they are built seemingly haphazardly with any materials the villagers can get their hands on. Somehow, each ‘house’ is different, and the residents have added their personal touches, some colourful potted plants, structures of different sizes and shapes, ornate door decorations, and yes, even some familiar looking knomes.

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The Venice of Asia?

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The Caravan House

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The Leaning House of Tai O

The Garden House

The Garden House

The Bonsai House

The Bonsai House

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Apparently, Snow White is a desperate housewife!

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I was really struck by how much character this village has, and how they have maintained much of it’s heritage and industry. We witnessed villagers collecting sea moss for drying, and stirring huge vats of purple goop (shrimp sauce) that will be jarred and sold, fish drying on racks outside houses.  There is a real community feel about the area, from the closely built houses, the large gathering areas,  and the crash crash of mahjong tiles in the evenings. We enjoyed walking across the bridges and gangways to explore different parts of the village. The locals must be quite annoyed by all the tourists wondering into their backyards!

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A gathering area perhaps?

We took an easy hour-long walk along the Fu Shan Hiking Trail, starting just to the left of the Shaolin Wushu Cultural Center. From the pagoda, you can see ocean as far as the eye can see, and watch planes descending towards the airport on the right. Apparently you might catch a white dolphin or two from this vantage point, but I think you’d have to be extremely lucky to!

Tai O Map

Cute illustrated map of Tai O Fishing Village

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The Shaolin WuShu Cultural Center

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An hour-long stroll up the mountain

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The view of Tai O from the top

A walk through the Tai O market is lots of fun, there are umpteen shops selling all sorts of things: seashell and pearl jewellery, dried decorative blowfish (!), hats, toys for the kiddies etc. If you grew up in Hong Kong, you’ll remember those little tubes of goo, a little of which you place on the end of a stick and blow to create a big plastic bubble. Remember? Hours of endless fun!

Bloonies

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All sorts of stuff for sale at the Tai O Market

There are, of course, all the vendors selling a myriad choice of dried fish and seafood, as well as shrimp paste, the smell of which permeates the air, but you get used to it after a while!

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The ubiquitous (in Tai O) shrimp sauce

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Dried fish everywhere

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And more dried fish and seafood

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Looks very unappetising and slightly alien

Most of all, I loved stopping by all the street food vendors and trying all snacks on offer (especially after not being able to during my recent trip to New Delhi!)! Our favorite was the Pandan Egg Ball Waffle Lady, she was situated right at the end of Market Street. For HK$14 she made us these egg balls delicately flavoured with pandan, on an old manual waffle maker.

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Yummy Pandan Egg Balls

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A hint of pandan taste makes these egg balls fragrant and slightly different from the ones that are usually available

There is another egg ball waffle vendor at 59 Kat Hing Back Street, where the majority of the vendors are. He seems to be quite famous, and there was a queue stretching down the street for his charcoal grilled egg waffles.

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Egg balls cooked over an open charcoal fire

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Chinese Pizzas HK$25, similar to Beijing Jian Bing

Well that about says it all! The are similar to the ¥3 Beijing Jian Bing (fried savoury crepe) that were so unkind to my hips yet I so loved when I lived in Beijing! Comparatively, these ‘Chinese Pizzas’ just had too much stuff for my liking, and way too generous on the spring onions. The ladies who served them were super nice and friendly, and I still recommend going to check them out and ordering a pizza.

We stayed at the fabulous Tai O Heritage Hotel on a Saturday evening. Formerly housing the Tai O Police Station, this grade II listed building was beautifully restored by the Hong Kong Conservation Foundation and very tastefully converted in to a 9 room boutique hotel, which opened in 2010. It is a (I’m running out of suitable adjectives) outstanding example of colonial architecture, with it’s arched facade and French windows. They’ve kept many original features (such as the holding cell which is now used for left luggage), and placards outside the doors inform us what our room was once used for (ours was the Barrack Office). This is one example of how Hong Kong has gotten it RIGHT – preserving a beautiful building, rich in history, for us and visitors to enjoy.

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The leafy entrance to the Tai O Heritage Hotel

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Indonesian Sambal

For those who like a little spice in their lives, there is nothing better than a chili sauce, one balanced in flavor that not only brings mouth heat but also comforting warmth to a meal. For me, a chili sauce in an Asian meal is as important (if not more) as salt and pepper shakers on a western table. Whether soy sauce based or chili pepper based, flavoured with shrimp paste, or fermented soy bean, or lemongrass, or small red chilis chopped with seeds and all (not for the faint of heart) – it lends an umami flavour, which once you start having with your meals, is hard to go without.

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If you like the flavour of a particular chili sauce, but not the heat, then why not try to make your own at home? It’s actually pretty simple, and once you have found a good recipe, you can whip up a batch and keep it in the fridge to savour over coming days.

Whenever we go to Bali, I always hang around the villa’s kitchen, and if I ask nicely, Ketut (the chef) is always happy to give me a cooking demonstration. Here are two Indonesian sambal recipes that I love, straight from a Balinese kitchen to you.

Sambal Matah – or Sambal Bali, as I call it 🙂

This is a raw sambal, of Balinese origin.

Ingredients for Sambal Matah

Ingredients for Sambal Matah

Ingredients:

5 shallots, finely sliced
3 Lemongrass, white section finely chopped
3 chilis, finely chopped
1/4 lime
1 cm piece of shimp paste
vegetable oil or coconut oil

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