Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I will go out of my way to this little stall located at Hong Kong Island to buy my favourite preserved lemon and liquorice snack (甘草檸檬).
I first stumbled upon Lemon King (檸檬王) about 14 years ago when I was shopping for ladies’ accessories at Wing Kut Street (永吉街). To-date I haven’t found any other place in the world which can match this stall’s preserved lemon snacks!
Thai limes (also known as “green lemons” or kaffir limes) are marinated in salt for 90 days to remove the acid sourness, then sliced, seeds discarded, sugar and powdered liquorice root sprinkled on and they are sun-dried for a week. Note that white sugar is used instead of saccharin as a sweetener so that it is healthier and customers do not feel thirsty after eating the snack.
Included with each bag of preserved lemons is a little packet of extra liquorice powder which you can sprinkle over the lemons if you prefer a stronger liquorice taste. (Not me – I like it just the way it is!)
There is a version with mint (薄荷檸檬) – some people may find it refreshing but I don’t like the minty feeling and prefer the original flavour.
Apparently liquorice can help to stop coughs, eliminate phlegm, stop pain and reduce heatiness. I was down with a viral infection one week after my trip and had a bad cough with yellowish/greenish phlegm. I started eating the preserved lemons and I think it definitely helps with the cough and soothes the throat! It’s also good during times when you feel nauseous and don’t have much appetite.
My mum, my friends and colleagues love the candied lemon ginger (檸檬薑) which has the right degree of moistness and depending on the age of the ginger used, it can be spicy!
Other snacks like preserved plums (正宗話梅肉) are also sold at the stall.
If you are unsure of what to buy or whether any of the snacks would appeal to you, there are samples available at the stall so you can try and then decide which ones you prefer.
A little bit of history…
The Lemon King was started by former hawker Tong Kan-pui, now 85, who began selling from a wooden trolley (mobile pushcart) in Sheung Wan since the 1970s. He initially worked in a Chinese medicine shop, marinated lemons in sugar and liquorice and sold them to soothe sore throats. When customers began to visit his shop to buy bags of preserved lemons as snacks instead of medicine, he quit and opened his own stall specializing in preserved lemon snacks.
His son, Tong Sung-chiu took over in 2007 and was awarded a fixed-pitch hawker’s licence in 2008 so that he can continue the family business from a permanent home.
Lemon King’s success has resulted in many imitators who use their name on their products (you can see some of these “imitations” being sold at the shops along the nearby major roads from where the Lemon King is located). In order to ensure that you are buying the real Lemon King’s preserved lemon snacks, look for the picture of Tong Kan-pui on the slip of paper which comes with the paper bag.
I found Mr Tong to be a very friendly man who spoke mainly Cantonese and very little English. Unfortunately, I only know enough Cantonese to purchase the items but not enough to strike a decent conversation! Anyway, I do hope this business will carry on for many more years as I will definitely be back for more during my next trip!
Wing Kut Street, Stall No. FP-20, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.
(it’s between Queen’s Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central – where Wing Lok Street meets Des Voeux Road Central and Bonham Strand meets Queen’s Road Central)
Getting there: MTR Sheung Wan Exit B2, then walk for about 5min.
Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm (Monday to Saturday). Closed on Sunday and holidays.
Do note that during Chinese New Year, the stall may be closed for about a week or so – I found this out during one of my trips and went home empty-handed then.