Asia’s Best Female Chef, May Chow, Gives Us a Foreigner’s Guide to Hong Kong’s Cuisine

Little Bao opened its doors in Hong Kong’s central in 2012 and less than 5 years later its founder, May Chow, won the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2017. She can usually be found serving up casual favourites like “bao burgers” to the patrons perched atop high, backless stools at the counter of her diner-inspired Little Bao. Chow’s other restaurant, Happy Paradise, offers her contemporary take on traditional Chinese cooking and a rotating calendar of events. With a laid-back approach to eating and experimental cuisine, May Chow isn’t what you would expect from a top-ranking chef.

Raised between Hong Kong and Canada, Chow’s cooking is influenced by her ability to see Chinese cuisine both as an insider and an outsider, making her the perfect person to create our guide to Hong Kong’s food scene for Canadians. During our chat, she gave us her food and drink recommendations, talked winning Asia’s Best Female Chef and and shared how she’s using her profile to support the LGBTQ community.

If she could only eat one thing for the rest of her life it would be: My mom’s cooking because she’s the best.

The one thing she would never eat is: I live in China, so there’s definitely a long list. You can never imagine what will be on the table.

If you want to appreciate neo-Chinese cuisine, she would suggest trying: Sourdough egg waffles with bottarga whip, beef skirt noodles or prawns pumpkin with superior stock glaze, dried shrimp roe and prawn head oil.

When people eat her food she want them to feel: Surprised and happy.

If her food style reflects her personality, Chow is: Energetic, fun and detailed.

Being named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2017 changed her career by: Giving me a voice and a sense of social responsibility to do good for others as well.

She uses her profile to promote LGBTQ issues and help women in her industry by: Trying to live and talk about my life and work very candidly. I’ve been out to my friends, family and in public since my early 20’s. I support the local LGBTQ activities like the Gay Games or Pink Dot. I support the women’s foundation. I am quite busy with work, so I try to integrate things I want to support with the work that I already do.

Growing up in Canada influenced how you create food experiences in the kitchen because: Canada was where I cooked with my mother and watched her cook. She cooked Shanghainese and Cantonese food with local Canadian ingredients, naturally. We had a beautiful kitchen that opened up onto the backyard. I still have fond memories of long summer days where the sun was setting as I cooked with my mother for the whole family.

She chose the name “Happy Paradise” because: We wanted a silly name to reflect that the whole thing is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There are funny English names leftover from the early Hong Kong days (especially for mahjong parlours and saunas) and I am very fond of observing such culture. Since the restaurant is hidden upstairs, we wanted it to feel like Alice in Wonderland: A place where we can be creative and forward thinking and keep an open mind. By not naming ourselves like a restaurant–but rather something fun and cheeky–it felt liberating to create something that was our own.

The Happy Paradise signature drink she would recommend is: Our 5 Spice Gin Tonic, which considers the classic use of 5 spice but instead uses our own choice of 5 spices (star anise, clove, ginger, orange and cinnamon.) We infuse our gin with 5 spice and dehydrate each one to layer on as garnish, which will slowly infuse the drink while you’re drinking. We also use a great gin called Gin Mare with a Mediterranean tonic.