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The woman who made Wan Chai Ferry dumplings a global product

THE FROZEN DUMPLINGS in yellow packaging with Chinese characters saying “灣仔碼頭”, or Wan Chai Ferry, have probably warmed the soul of every Hong Konger at one time or another. I can still remember how I felt which I made these in the kitchen for the first time, after I had just arrived in Hong Kong for school. The smell of the dumplings slowly spread around the kitchen, along with the nostalgia raised in the steam.

Wan Chai Ferry Peking Dumpling is not a food brand which is originally based in Hong Kong.

However, you may be surprised to hear that the Wan Chai Ferry Peking Dumpling is not a food brand rooted in Hong Kong cuisine. The founder, Chong Kin Wo (臧健和), is a woman from Qingdao, Shandong Province (山東青島), an eastern coastal city in the mainland. And the dumplings themselves were originally mainland style.

Today, Chong is a highly successful businesswoman, but her life journey was not an easy one.

In the 1960s, while working in a hospital as a woman in her 20s, Chong fell in love with a Chinese-Thai medical aid worker and soon had two daughters. But in 1977, three years after her husband returned to Thailand for his father’s funeral, Chong went to Thailand for a reunion.

She was shocked to find that the man she loved had already married another woman. She could not bear to share a man with another woman. So she decided to leave him and become independent.

Tasty pork dumpling from Wan Chai Ferry Peking Dumpling brand.

Because she had a visa, she decided to settle in business-friendly Hong Kong. But it was very difficult for her to find a job because she could not hear or speak Cantonese. Jobs that did not require speaking, such as restaurant dishwasher and tram cleaner, were the few choices she could make. She had to work hard day and night to earn a living for her children. Soon she injured her waist and could no longer do hard labour.

Later, Chong set up her own business with a budget of just HK$500, bought a wooden cart, cookers, dumpling ingredients and started selling dumplings at the Wan Chai Ferry Pier, Hong Kong Island, under the name “Peking Dumplings”.

When she first started, the taste of the dumplings was quite different from the Cantonese ones, and her business was not good. She remembered that some Hong Kong local said that the wrapper of her dumplings was as thick as a quilt. She later adjusted the thickness of the dough wrapper and the ratio of fat to lean meat to cater to Cantonese tastes.

Chong Kin Wo, founder of “Wan Chai Ferry Peking Dumpling.

The company was later recognised by the owner of a Japanese department store, and as the business expanded, the “Wan Chai Ferry” brand was established in 1978.

It was a success, and the first dumpling factory was set up in Hong Kong in 1985. Soon, the dumplings were in the freezer cabinets of every supermarket in the city. But there was another big jump coming.

In 1996, “Wan Chai Ferry Peking Dumpling” became a global brand when the dumplings received a capital injection from a famous American food company, General Mills of the US state of Minnesota, earning Chong the title of “Queen of Dumplings”.

In 2014, before the Wan Chai Ferry Pier was redeveloped, Chong went back to the place where she used to sell dumplings, at the pillar in front of the Star Ferry Harbour Tour ticket office, to be interviewed by the media.

Chong’s story will not disappear with time. As more and more people around the world become attached to the attractive flavors of “Wan Chai Ferry” brand of dumplings, she will become part of international culinary history.

Image at the top by Pooja Chaudhary/Unsplash

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