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Fiery Hong Kong
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by Diane Goettel

Hong Kong skyline


Spicy Papaya Salad

Spicy Soba Noodles

Ginger Barbecue with Kimchi

The Hong Kong skyline.

As a life-long lover of spice and hot peppers, I was delighted when, in the middle of 2009, my husband was offered a job that would require us to relocate from New York City to Hong Kong, a city of spice. Since arriving, I've spent a good portion of my time reveling in the various fiery foods that are available in this Eastern melting pot of a city. From hot-as-August-in-Bangkok Thai curries to wasabi-smothered sushi, my taste buds and I have been on quite an adventure since arriving in Hong Kong.

Before diving into tales of my culinary adventures here in Asia and offering up recipes for a couple of dishes that you can try at home, I’ll start with a brief description of Hong Kong cuisine. One of the things that I loved about New York was the incredible variety of foods that were available. I could have classic French pastries and coffee for breakfast, authentic Mexican sopes for lunch, and Ethiopian food for dinner. And I could do it all without traveling outside of a three-block radius. Luckily, I can enjoy the same kind of variety here in Hong Kong, where the cuisine has numerous and eclectic influences.


Thai Bird Chiles
Thai Bird Chiles

The food here is either authentic to—or based on—the cuisines of India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the many regions of mainland China, and some western countries as well. One of my favorite dishes is Thai green papaya salad. Now, this may not sound like a spicy dish, but watch out, because this unassuming salad really packs a punch. Mixed in with the grated papaya, the slices of tomatoes, the lime juice, and the peanuts are hot red chile peppers, which permeate the entire dish with spice. Depending on the amount of chiles that are used, whether or not the chile seeds are included in the recipe, and the amount of time that the salad has been allowed to sit, this salad can be spicier than the hottest of curries. Yum!

Here in Hong Kong, we have wet markets, which are lively, full of incredible culinary finds, and very, very unlike western grocery stores. The wet markets are normally at least two stories tall, with fish, poultry, and meat on the first level and veggies, fruits, spices, and other cooking supplies on the second level. On the fish, poultry, and meat level, one can find almost any edible part of an animal, freshly butchered. Dozens of kinds of fish and shrimp, still swimming about in buckets and basins, are offered for sale. There are also eels and clams and mussels and oysters, still alive, still swimming and splashing about. That’s how the “wet markets” get their name: by the condition of the floors. In fact, many of the people who work in the markets wear rubber boots. During my first visit, I learned that wearing sandals to the market is not a good choice!

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