Saturday, 30 January 2010

our friend tom

Paula and I have just returned from visiting Tom Li, who has been out of Hong Kong for many months, so we’re completely cream-crackered. Tom has a store in the remote New Territories village of Sham Chung, and every Saturday when he’s in town we cycle down from the north, a round trip of 45 miles, to eat his incomparable pan-fried noodles.

The cycling is an adventure in itself, keeping entirely to country paths, back roads and dedicated cycle tracks, but that’s a subject for another day. Tom grew up in Sham Chung, which has no road access and is now almost completely abandoned, but he left to work in Chinese restaurants in the UK while still in his teens, more than forty years ago. He has a very low opinion of Chinese food in Britain, a judgement that I share, but he eventually moved to the States, where he opened his own restaurant. Nowadays, he comes back to Hong Kong regularly because he enjoys cooking for people who appreciate his food, and he has a lot of ‘fans’. His regular menu is basic country store fare, but in no other store will you find food this good. And if you phone him well in advance he’ll make anything you want.

We arrive in mid-morning, so there are no other diners, and we have time, over a bottle of ice-cold Tsingtao (a Chinese beer), to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met. Then it’s time for Tom to disappear into the kitchen. The first two pictures show Tom frying the noodles, and the third shows the end-product: Tom always complains that we polish off the plate in less time than it takes him to prepare it. After a second bottle of Tsingtao, it’s time to take our leave. We need to reach the bridge over the Shing Mun River (the halfway point) before one o’clock to avoid the worst of the crowds on the main cycle track north. A perfect day. We’re already looking forward to next Saturday.


  1. ... I don't like noodles and am a vegetarian.
    I still want to eat that.

  2. That looks fabulous! How fun, sounds like a great day.

  3. I liked the line: "Tom always complains that we polish off the plate in less time than it takes him to prepare it."

    It feels nice to have personalised service as this. It creates a very communal feel. Only in small places this sort of a camaraderie exists. Otherwise as you mentioned in your last post, it is all homogenised and impersonal.

    Nice one Dennis.

    Love to come here.

    Joy and love,

  4. i could feel it and taste it, nice meal for cycling too.

  5. It does look pretty fantastic. I'm thinking I'll go get something to eat now.
    Would that not be something like a 6 hour trip, there and back? Maybe I'm just lazy but that's insane. You're a more committed man than I, my friend.

  6. Fizzy Sid: I've a friend back in the UK who is always saying he hates noodles, but I think it's a result of the negative image of noodles created by those truly horrible things called "not poodles". Properly fried noodles take seven or eight minutes, by which time they're crispy. The sauce from the topping (prepared separately while the excess oil is draining from the noodles) re-softens the noodles in the middle, so you get soft and crunchy in the same bite. Mind you, every other place in Hong Kong where I've eaten fried noodles gets it badly wrong. It takes a lot of skill to get it right.

    Exasperated Youth: under 4 hours! It would be well under 3 hours, but we can't afford to open up on the country paths in case we suddenly encounter someone on foot, and we go through two towns, where the biggest hazard is pedestrians not looking where they're going.

  7. This post just made me hungry...

  8. I know this is a really old post, and likely a bit of a long shot, but I was wondering if you had contact details for Tom Li? My father was apparently born in Sham Chung in the late 1920s and I would like to find out if Tom was aware of any of my family? My surname is Lee too.

    1. I’ve already replied to your query via Facebook, so no further comment is needed.


Please leave a comment if you have time, even if you disagree with the opinions expressed in this post, although you must expect a robust defence of those opinions if you choose to challenge them. Anonymous comments may not be accepted.