The ultimate foodie traveller
Allan Li is the Senior Vice President of the Lai Sun Group, which holds some of Hong Kong and China's best restaurants in its portfolio
"It's the most difficult thing to achieve in everyone's life: balance." Allan Li sits at a round table in a busy, Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant next to the sports playground in Wan Chai. It's a crisp Saturday morning when we meet in Hong Kong.
"Try this, for example." He offers me a dark, purple slice of a century egg and a glass into which he has just poured some thick, fruity Polissena red, vintage 2008.
"A good Chinese meal is balanced and varied by three factors: firstly, ingredients - vegetables, seafood, meat, carbs; secondly, cooking methods - raw, steamed, boiled, double-boiled, braised, slow-cooked, stir-fried, deep fried; and thirdly, taste - sweet, savoury, sour, spicy and bitter. I like to cover as many of these factors as possible in a meal, and I try to apply this philosophy when I travel".
Li, Vice President of the group that holds the best restaurants in Hong Kong and China in its portfolio (including 8½ Bombana, run by the 3-Michelin star chef Umberto Bombana), is the perfect example of the ultimate foodie traveller. Together with his wife Amy, "and possibly with all my extended family", Li takes the chance to explore a different country at least twice a year, starting with its best restaurant tables.
"We were in Ecuador, in a small town called Cuenca, and we discovered this small place with a great local chef. Not a fancy restaurant, but with an amazing menu—we went back twice in two days to try all the dishes. The chef was so honoured by our persistence that at the end of the second day, he gave us a farewell gift: he painted a beautiful bird on a dish, using only food—sauces—for colours. I managed to ship it back with us in a carton pizza box, only to drop it in Central, just out of the taxi. It broke in several pieces, but I didn't give up: I put them all back together and framed it." For Li, "Preparing good food is a form of art, and this episode tells it all".
What is the main rule that a true foodie traveller has to follow? "Explore, be curious, taste everything. Pack an open mind, don't be afraid to try dishes or ingredients that look or sound completely new to you, and consult with the waiter or maître d' for advice. That is the purpose of travelling: take a cultural step forward, learn something new."