Perfect picnicking in Hong Kong
One of my favourite things to do at the weekend is to chill out at an al fresco cafe with a skinny latte in one hand and a good book or newspaper in the other. The problem is, finding a quiet al fresco spot in Hong Kong is not easy - because there are few, and everyone has the same idea. Sometime late last year, along with a friend, we decided to create our own perfect en plein air experience: by picnicking on the trails.
Every other weekend or so, or whenever the weather was kind, we'd pack a bagful of grub and look for a new peak to dine on. Wikipedia lists more than 130 peaks, mountains and hills in the territory ranging from about 300 metres to about 1,000 metres high - obviously we are really spoilt for choice.
This past weekend, though the weather forecast was ominous, we took the chance after the morning storm had passed and headed out to High Junk Peak Country Trail. It's easily accessible: from Wan Chai, we took the MTR to Tseung Kwan O (24 minutes), then hopped on a cab (10 minutes - you can also take minibus number 103M) to Ng Fai Tin along Clearwater Bay Road. The trail begins at a pavillion along the road and you can't get lost; just stick to the "Country Trail" signs and don't wander off on the mountain bike trails. It's a gentle hike of about 6.5km to Tai Miu Au (Tin Hau Temple), Joss House Bay. From there, take a short stroll to Po Toi O village and grab minibus number 16 back to Tseung Kwan O.
We took a slight detour off the main trail up to High Junk Peak (344 metres), reportedly "one of the three treacherous peaks in Hong Kong" because of its sharp gradient. It's really not as bad as it sounds; it's just a short ascent/descent, and with good shoes and some careful footwork, you'll be fine. The 360-degree view atop is worth the effort.
On our picnic menu this time: multigrain rolls with a selection of cheeses, roast chicken with cous cous and almond stuffing (a variation of this recipe), a small bottle of red wine and a tiny block of dark chocolate. Sweaty and hungry from the hike, we found a rocky outcrop with plenty of sunshine and a cool sea breeze, and dug in.
I don't claim to be a picnic expert, but I'm a keen home cook/baker and hiker/trail runner. So, in addition to looking for the perfect picnic spot, I've always got my eye out for perfect picnic recipes. A good recipe, in my opinion, is one that you can make ahead, keeps well, tastes good warm or cold, can be easily transported, and can be eaten with hands (or minimal utensils, like a spork).
I typically try to aim for a three-course picnic: starter, main, dessert. Some of my favourite recipes (mostly inspired by recipes found online) are: chicken salad with apricots and walnuts, ratatouille, pecan pesto with pasta, portobello mushroom soup, Vietnamese rice paper chicken rolls, soba noodle salad, chocolate and banana spring rolls, classic chocolate pound cake and mini blueberry crumble cups, Some recipes that didn't work too well were curry puffs (pastry got soggy) and any sort of cupcake with frosting (frosting melts and gets smashed easily).
A picnic really doesn't need to be that elaborate. Cheese and bread, chips and dip, crudites, fruit and muesli/chocolate bars are always picnic-ready. A couple of times, when I was lazy, we just got takeaway sandwiches from the supermarket. The scenery and good company will make up for any culinary deficiencies you may have!
Lastly, when the picnic's done, always remember to always take your trash with you.
Here are a few of my favourite picnic spots in Hong Kong: