In Hong Kong, many wonton noodle shop names include the surname ‘Mak’.
I’d been a fan of Chung Kee’s wonton noodles before I knew the story behind the many Maks of Hong Kong. Chung Kee, officially known as Mak’s Noodle Restaurant (Chung Kee), makes its wontons with a shrimp-only filling (as opposed to shrimp and pork, which is now the norm).
At Chung Kee, the dumpling wrappers are so thin they enclose the shrimps like a translucent vacuum pack. The dumplings aren’t overfilled, which leaves the corners of the wrapper free to float in the broth like a silk handkerchief. The broth is rich with the sweetness and umami of dried seafood, thanks to a large quantity of dried flounder and shrimp roe. The noodles are fine, in distinct strands, never clumping together.
A Guangdong noodle shop owner, Mak Woon-chi, and his family are thought to be the ones who popularised wonton noodles in Hong Kong – the wonton shops in the city named Mak’s have all been opened by his descendants. The story goes that he was inspired by the dumplings of northern China, which use wrappers made out of wheat flour. He decided to make his wontons with very thin wheat flour wrappers, as Cantonese eaters traditionally enjoy lighter, less doughy foods; and to give them a bit of extra bite by adding an alkaline solution to the dough. For the filling, he substituted the lamb and beef popular in the north for shrimp – well-loved and much easier to find on the southern coast.
Mak Woon-chi’s son, Mak King-hung, arrived in Hong Kong during the Second World War and eventually opened his own dai pai dong selling wontons made with his father’s recipe. He, in turn, passed these skills and recipes onto his son, who worked there until the hawker stand was closed in 1983.
The son’s name is Mak Chi-chung, the man behind Chung Kee – which you’ll find just off Queen’s Road Central, on Wing Kut Street.
Janice Leung Hayes is a Hong Kong-based food writer