An unexpected opportunity came up. I found myself tagging along my cousin to participate in a traditional poon choi dinner at the Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan, a rural area between the new towns of Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. Poon choi is a traditional dish originated from the villages of the New Territories. It was believed that poon choi was invented in late Song Dynasty (late 13th century) when villages in the New Territories gathered their best dishes available together in large wooden washbasins to serve the exile Song emperor and his army. Today, poon choi is often served in large stainless steel or ceramic bowls for everyone to share around the table. The food served in poon choi varies, but usually it is a combination of seafood and meat. Throughout the centuries, poon choi has become a signature dish for communal gatherings and celebrations in many parts of the New Territories.
Despite largely renovated in recent years, the original Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan was built over 700 years ago by the Tang Clan. Today it is still used regularly by the Tang Clan in Ping Shan for rituals and gatherings. In 1993, the government established the Ping Shan Heritage Trail to promote tourism in the area. The trail connects a number of historical sights and an interpretation centre housed in the former Ping Shan Police Station. The Tang Ancestral Hall is one of the star attractions along the trail. With an entry courtyard, a central hall for reception, and an inner hall to house the ancestral alter, the Tang Ancestral Hall is a typical example of a traditional ancestral hall, which in ancient times functioned as the social nucleus of a clan village.
Before dinner, we had a chance to stroll around the area. We walked by Tsui Sing Lau, Hong Kong’s only historical pagoda dating back to 600 years ago, an old well that once served the villagers for over two centuries, and the entrance to Sheung Cheung Wai, a walled village constructed more than 200 years ago. Despite drastically transformed from the heydays, clan villages and walled communities are still common in rural areas of the New Territories. Many walled villages, like Sheung Cheung Wai in Ping Shan, were once heavily fortified with high walls and deep moats for self-defense against pirates. Moats were filled and cannons removed, but many wall enclosures survived to the present day.
With its 700-year history, the Tang Ancestral Hall is the star attraction of Ping Shan.
Dining tables were set up at the semi-open central hall of the Tang Ancestral Hall.
Warmed with a portable gas stove throughout the dinner, the poon choi was the centre piece on the dining table. The wine-marinated chicken and duck soup on the side were equally impressive.
The Tang Ancestral Hall has been undergoing major renovations in recent years. Scaffolding has been set up at the inner hall where the ancestral altar is located.
Many farmlands in Ping Shan and its surroundings have been converted into parking lots and new housing estates, including the new town of Tin Shui Wai. The land where Tin Shui Wai occupies was mainly marshland a century ago. Villagers then converted the marshes into rice paddies and fish ponds. As the economy changed, most rice paddies and fish ponds were abandoned and the government finally stepped in to transform the land into the new town of Tin Shui Wai in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Tsui Sing Lau pagoda originally contained 7 storeys. It was used for the worship of the star constellations for academic achievement.
The 200-year old well
Sheung Cheung Wai remains as a example of the traditional walled villages in the New Territories.