Tired of visiting the same old sights in Hong Kong? Then let Virginia Chan whisk you off the beaten path with her unique food tours to discover the hidden corners and delicious treats- and fishballs-  visitors rarely see.

If you’ve already seen the flashing neon signs of Mongkok, shopped your way through Causeway Bay and journeyed up the Peak, you might think you’ve seen all that Hong Kong has to offer. Virginia Chan, founder of food tour company Humid with a Chance of Fishballs, is here to change your mind. A proud CBC (Canadian-born Chinese), Virginia returned to Hong Kong in 2012 to explore and understand her roots while furthering her career as an HR professional. Now a tour-guide and entrepreneur, she is bridging the language and culture gap between foreign visitors and local vendors, one local delicacy at a time.

Humid, with a Chance of Fishballs: a Food Tour with Virginia Chan

Born and raised in Vancouver to Hong Kong parents, Virginia has always been deeply curious about Hong Kong’s culture, influenced by her parents’ stories and TVB dramas. “I like to say that my parts are from here but I was made and assembled in Canada,” she says, adding, “When I meet my guests I wear moose antlers, and it’s a play on my Canadian heritage, but at the same time then, they know who the tour-guide is.”

A former nine-to-fiver, Virginia worked in the HR departments for American banks Wells Fargo and JPMorgan after finishing a business degree, though the idea of taking a hiatus from the corporate ladder and pursuing more creative work was always in the back of her mind. Finally, in August 2016, she decided to start her own company, naming it Humid with a Chance of Fishballs Tours. Inspired by the movie title Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the delightfully whimsical name is a direct reflection of what she wants her tours to be. “The last thing I wanted was for people to think, ‘Oh, we’ll go on a tour, it will be a historian or someone reading from a script,’” she says, “We wanted it to be different, unconventional, and creative, where you learn something.”

She initially started with a free walking tour of Hong Kong’s sights, history and culture, but found that that sector of the tourism market was quite saturated. Inspired by her love of Cantonese food from a young age, she switched her focus to traditional food spots in Hong Kong, places that may not be hipster or Instagram favourites, but have been around for years and have stood the test of time.

Humid, with a Chance of Fishballs: a Food Tour with Virginia Chan

Currently, she has four tours on offer, all of which revolve around food. One is a guided dim-sum lunch to the iconic Lin Heung Tea House, where visitors can immerse themselves in the old-school atmosphere and sink their teeth into traditionally made delicacies. Another is a seafood feast on a Sampan boat, where guests float atop the only traditional fishing boat restaurant left in Hong Kong, an activity that Virginia’s parents used to do in their younger days when such restaurants were all the rage. Virginia also offers an original craft brewery tour, the first of its kind in Hong Kong, as well as a food tour based around her own neighbourhood, Whampoa. This tour is unique in that it follows the five flavours found in Cantonese cuisine – bitter, salty, spicy, sour and sweet – through five different food stands in the area. Along the way, she chats with the different shopkeepers and local vendors she has worked hard to build a rapport with so that all of her guests get to experience their hospitality despite not knowing their language.

“To say that I have a favourite tour would be telling you who my favourite child is, and I know that’s totally taboo,” Virginia says, laughing, “but if I can pick one it’s probably the one around my own neighbourhood because I think it was so hard coming.” When she first set up the tour, no one wanted to join it because there were no reviews, and Whampoa wasn’t a district that ever appeared in guidebooks. Fast forward one year, and her ‘Off the Eaten Path Food Tour’ is now her best-seller.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Virginia’s operation is that the entire thing is still a one-man band. Though she drafts in help when she leading large tours for companies, she is the only full-time employee, in charge of everything from website design to brainstorming new tours. “I’m very picky and meticulous, so each of the stops on the tours have been specifically curated for a reason – I’ve eaten at all the curry fishball stands in Whampoa to ensure I pick the one that I like the most and that is only available within that particular neighbourhood.”

Her hard work is paying off. Humid with a Chance of Fishball Tours is currently sitting at number one in the Food & Drink category in Hong Kong on TripAdvisor and boasts a five-star rating. Now, as her tours grow in popularity, she faces the challenging task of scaling up. “Finding the right people that believe in the same things as I do, so they are a reflection of the company – I think that in itself is very daunting and it takes a lot of time as well,” she explains. Still, she’s determined to keep growing. “I want to start the social media aspect and do more videos about how cool Hong Kong is. What’s stopping me is that it’s not perfect; I’m not a good enough editor, but it’s just kinda like, I’ve just got to do it,” she concludes, laughing. “That was my own self pep-talk.”

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