Poon Choi (aka “Big Bowl Feast”) is a traditional hotpot dish derived from Yuen Long village in Hong Kong. It is often found on the tables of New Territories’ inhabitants especially during weddings, worships, housewarmings and other festivals.
According to legend, in the late Song Dynasty, when Mongol troops invaded China, the Song emperor escaped to today’s Yuen Long. After the local residents learned of the emperor living in their midst, they contributed delicacies and offered generous hospitality. Given the difficult times, they could not find enough containers so the delicacies were served in wooden washbasins, which evolved into the present Poon Choi. Thanks to the convergence of such a rich variety of ingredients and sauces, Poon Choi offers intriguing aromas and a wide variety of different flavors.
It is said that Poon Choi is also the originator of covered tureen dishes. However, in comparison, the former is richer in hearty flavors. Though it may seem that the dish is merely a stacking-up of ingredients, the reality is that the cooking method is sophisticated and complex. It combines methods like frying, boiling, braising, stewing in soy sauce, before adding the garnish. Ingredients can vary and are usually composed of chicken, duck, fish, oysters, dried bean, radish, mushrooms and pork.
Traditional Poon Choi was served with a wooden basin with layers of ingredients arranged in a certain order from top to bottom. The most precious and first edible foods such as chicken and prawns are in the upper layer. In the bottom are foods such as pigskin and turnips, which are capable of absorbing juice. Through this arrangement people are able to enjoy this gourmet dish layer by layer – a fusion of taste and generous aroma. In modern times, the container has changed to brass and other metals, not only for temperature maintenance, but also for hygienic reasons.
Traditionally, Poon Choi is always found at all festivals and special occasions in the New Territories. Recently, the dish has become very popular and represents an important aspect of Hong Kong’s food culture. To enjoy the most authentic, traditional big bowl feast, make a trip out to Yuen Long – it is still the best choice for authentic Poon Choi.
Asian Palate recommends several restaurants famous for Poon Choi in Yuen Long:
Tin Hau Temple
This restaurant belongs to the Tin Hau temple and has two types of Poon Choi, conventional and vegetarian. The latter deserves attention – focus is on fresh, mixed vegetables, rich in flavor but not greasy. Selling point is neither luxury nor extravagance, but a taste of nostalgia, to experience the pure, original taste from these ordinary ingredients.
The price ranges from about 500 – 900 HKD, you can choose dine-in, pick-up or delivery.
Xin Fu Lai Poon Choi
The predecessor of this restaurant is Pat Heung Old Temple kitchen. Since its establishment in the late 1980s, this is a popular spot among people from different industries. Their big bol feast is inspired from Hakka cuisine, focusing on enhancing the freshness with sauce. The most famous dish is emperor duck, with moderate lightness and fresh ingredients, with no MSG use.
Customers can dine in, pick up or ask for delivery. The price is around 700 – 1,000 HKD.
Yau Tin Poon Choi
Yau Tin Village located in East Yuen Long, the residents here have rich experience in making Poon Choi. You Tin Poon Choi mainly sells two kinds of big bol feast: the spicy one and the traditional one. The spicy one was introduced by their chef this year, mainly for catering to different tastes. Guests can decide on mild/spicy/hot according to their taste. They use a unique salted fish sauce, which enhances the delicate flavor of Poon Choi.
The dish can be picked up or delivered. Two kinds are sold at the same price, small bowl for 600 HKD and big bowl of 900 HKD.