Visit Tai O on a hot sunny day, and you’ll smell it from a mile away. Tai O, off Lantau Island, still exudes some of Hong Kong’s characteristic fishing village charm. There are small neighborhood streets, fish boats anchored, and some families still living in iron sheet huts, albeit with air conditioning, on stilts. The strong smell comes from the fermenting of shrimp paste in large blue tanks, basking under the sun. Only two traditional shrimp paste producers of Tai O remain. Traditionally, local fishermen would catch the inch-long silver shrimp in the evenings, when its silvery color is most evident under moonlight when the silver shrimp swim towards the water’s surface. Simply made from fermenting silver shrimp and salt under the sun, this paste has an affinity with seafood dishes. It adds a punch and salty umami
. The best, like those made at Cheng Cheung Hing
’s since 1920, are free from additives and coloring. They also have a gentle fragrance and soft rose-purple hue. Its unusual color is thanks to the carotenoid pigment in crustaceans, shrimp in this case, that turns red when cooked. This well-loved condiment among many Southeast Asian Chinese as well as locals would be the perfect Tai O grab.