Buns with the Chinese character for “peace” // © 2015 Hong kong Tourism Board
Feature image (above): Thousands of people attend the annual parade at the Bun Festival on Cheung Chau Island. // © 2015 Anthony Kwan/Getty Images for Hong Kong Images
It’s a frantic race to the top of “Bun Mountain” — a 60-foot man-made tower of steamed buns — during Hong Kong’s annual Bun Scrambling Competition. This bizarre spectacle of agility and stealth is the undisputed highlight of Cheung Chau Bun Festival, cited as one of the world’s Top 10 Quirky Local Festivals by Time.com.
Located on the small island of Cheung Chau, the multifaceted event celebrates more than 100 years of Taoist rituals with live music, lion dances, a parade and an opportunity for “bun snatchers” to bring home good fortune and safety to their families in the symbolic form of steamed buns.
Those who can’t make it to the mega-popular Bun Festival, which typically takes place in early May, can commemorate the festivities on Cheung Chau any time of year. Several stores and stalls on the island sell bun-themed souvenirs, from key chains and plush toys in the shape of white steamed buns to Bun Festival T-shirts that bear the Cantonese symbols for “peace” and “safe.” And of course, no visit to Cheung Chau would be complete without sampling its red bean, lotus seed or sesame buns, as well as the island’s other delicacies.
In Cheung Chau, cuisine is a major draw for both local and international tourists who crave fresh seafood at reasonable prices. An active fishing port, the island is a haven for giant fried fish balls, cuttlefish cake, octopus balls and just about anything from the sea that can be tossed in the deep fryer and skewered to create a crunchy treat on the go.
Stroll down Seafood Street near the pier for alfresco dining and to sample regional favorites along the coastline. Some of the island’s most popular dishes include fried crab with ginger, chili and spring onion; clams in black bean sauce; deep-fried squid; sweet and sour pork; and steamed shrimp with garlic. Be sure to complement these flavorful dishes with a side of Yeung Chow-style fried rice, traditionally made with day-old rice, barbecue pork, spring onion, egg and tiny shrimp.
While snacking, it’s common to spot young lovers walking hand in hand along the waterfront. A day trip to Cheung Chau is considered a cheap date and is therefore popular among high-school and college students on a budget. The island is a short ferry ride away from Central Hong Kong and costs less than $4 per deluxe-class ticket.
After consuming your daily allotment of calories in one sitting, I recommend renting a bike to explore the car-free island for a few hours.
Conveniently, several bike-rental shops are located along Seafood Street and charge about $1.30 per hour (or about $7 per day).
Bike southwest from the pier on Sai Tai Road to see working fishing boats, dried-seafood stands, residential areas and outlying islands in the distance. If time permits, tour 200-year-old Tin Hau Temple, a tribute to the sea goddess, or opt for a 40-minute hike to North Lookout Pavilion, the highest point on Cheung Chau, where Asia’s World City seems a world away.