The summer in Hong Kong marks the beginning of the typhoon season. Bring on the thick air, heavy storms, and rain that could cause umbrellas to collapse due to their weight. Despite the torrential downpours storms can provide, the famous Hong Kong dish would have never come into existence without them.
It’s referred to as a typhoon shelter. It was first discovered in the 1960s on fishing boats based in Hong Kong’s shelters for typhoons.
The dish includes the shell-on crab and an enormous amount of minced garlic. It is served with spring onions, fermented black beans, and chili. The distinctive taste of this dish is the deep-fried garlic with breadcrumbs, spices, and the addition of crab to absorb the intense flavors.
The dish is one of the signatures characteristic of the Typhoon Shelter communities, a large group of fishermen and their families resided on boats in shelters during the 20th century. They were also known as “boat people.” The boat population is believed to be a descendant of the Tanka native population in Hong Kong – a group of boat dwellers living on the southwest Chinese coast. The Tanka people were traditionally considered to be outcasts. The ethnic group has distinct customs, beliefs, rituals, and food, including an explosive typhoon shelter flavor.
Writer Susan Jung pays tribute to the typhoon shelter’s flavors in her new book, Kung Pao and Beyond, featuring dishes for fried chickens from East and Southeast Asia. In the past, Jung was the food and wine editor at South China Morning Post (SCMP) for over 25 years. She also featured a recipe segment on SCMP’s YouTube channel, “Home Cooking featuring Susan Jung.
“Because these ‘boat people’ were living on small boats that lacked refrigeration, they cooked their catch with ingredients that could be kept at room temperature,” Jung said. Jung. “In the case of these typhoon shelter dishes, that meant garlic, chillies and black beans.”
The Typhoon shelter crab is distinctive in the crowd when compared with other Cantonese food items. While most Cantonese dishes tend to be characterized by delicate flavors, typhoon shelter crab requires attention due to the combination of delicious pantry ingredients stored in the vessel.
In the 1980s In the 1980s, during the 80s, the Hong Kong government introduced stricter licensing requirements and provided relocation programs to shift the boat people into housing for the public. In the 1990s, most boaters moved onto shores, but the typhoon-themed flavor persists in Chinese eateries. Nowadays, these shelters are utilized for mooring by boats during storms but are now used more to store the city’s luxurious yachts.
A woman rowing a sampan boat on Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay (Credit: Doug Houghton/Alamy)
Hong Kong tourists can find the dish at several Cantonese eateries, including the renowned Under the Bridge. Bridge Spicy Crab. But, for a truly authentic experience in a typhoon shelter, Shun Kee is the only restaurant left located on a sampan vessel (a kind made of Chinese as well as a Malaysian small wooden boat that has shelter) situated in Hong Kong’s famous Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. This was a trendy night-time restaurant from the 1950s until the 1970s, when over 300 vessels served entertainment or food.
In the film Kung Pao and Beyond, Jung explores the typhoon’s shelter flavor by mixing it with fried chicken. Although it’s not a common combination on the menu in Hong Kong, the taste is so delicious and adaptable that it can be used with virtually any type of meat.
“It’s very garlicky, very pungent, quite spicy, and extreme flavors,” she told me. “You take a bite and think that the chef] has to use MSG (monosodium glutamate). ]’.” However, this dish has no MSG- it is naturally addictive.
Garlic is the main ingredient in the dish that makes it sparkle. The recipe is based on 200g of garlic cloves peeled, and she suggests using a food processor to cut down on the mending time. Garlic presses will not work in this recipe as they make garlic puree.
The recipe starts with coating chicken wings in flour and then cooking the wings in a wok, says Jung. Once the branches have been cooked to perfection, they are removed from the pan, and an additional recipe of oil is added into the oven to toast and brown the garlic and breadcrumbs. To help the mixture brown, Jung adds a spoonful of sugar as they cook. Once the garlic and breadcrumb mixture has toasted, the wings are returned to the wok. Everything is stirred to allow the flavor to penetrate the meat.
Jung suggests pairing the chicken fried with rice, congee, and stir-fried vegetables for serving. “Because the flavors are so strong, you need something subtle like stir-fried vegetables to balance the flavors,” she added. “You don’t want to serve it with another dish that’s also strongly flavoured.”