Hong Kong foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
Hong Kong foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
New York may be the city that never sleeps but Hong Kong is the city that never fasts. Whether you want egg tarts, roast goose or the biggest prawn dumplings available to humanity, you’ll find them around the clock in this Chinese gastropolis
Looking for the best places to eat in Hong Kong? Read our foodie guide to the city, including the best restaurants in Hong Kong.
With its iconic high-rise skyline, multicultural society, round-the-clock mentality and surprisingly leafy surroundings, Hong Kong rightly deserves its nickname ‘The Pearl of the Orient’. The real jewel of this former British colony, however, is its food.
Not only did Hong Kong’s crossroads – or, rather, cross-seas – position on the southeast coast of China make the territory a compelling strategic domain, the wide range of peoples that settled here brought with them an array of cuisines. The largest numbers were of Cantonese, Szechuanese, Japanese (check out our best places to eat in Tokyo) and British people, but the influence of the Portuguese (read our guide to Lisbon here) can also be seen in the bakeries selling egg tarts (check out our easy recipe for Portuguese custard tarts), a local take on pasteis de nata.
On nearly every street corner in Hong Kong you’ll find vendors selling egg waffles, bubble tea, curried cuttlefish and fish balls. And from stinky tofu and dim sum (you’ll find some of the biggest prawn dumplings known to man here) to chicken’s feet and snake soup, you could eat a different dish every day for a year. There’s also a large number of fine-dining restaurants in Hong Kong kept busy by the traders, bankers and brokers of the city’s financial institutions.
Such wide culinary choice – and the fact that it’s possible to eat this kaleidoscope of foods at almost any time of day or night – means that people in Hong Kong tend to be food-obsessed.
This inclination is fuelled by one other major factor: with space at a premium, home kitchens are often tiny. The result is that dinner means big business for restaurants in Hong Kong. If you want to eat out, order a hotpot. The most popular dish for an everyday supper, it’s a soup base to which diners can add any meat and vegetables they choose, and cook them to their liking.
Sit down on a plastic chair at this dai pai dong (no frills street food restaurant) and watch Mr Sing cook to order, on the street, using just two raging gas burners and a filing cabinet-come steamer with a constant pot of chicken stock on the go.
The family have been serving food to the people of Hong Kong for 60 years, workers sitting next to businessmen. Order the crab fried in oyster sauce, spring onions and ginger, clay pot aubergine and steamed pom frit (whole fish) in black bean sauce, with a big bottle of Tsing Tao beer to share.
9-10 Stanley Street
For the best coffee and tea – Lok Heung Yuen Coffee Shop
Like many other coffee shops and tea houses in Hong Kong, this one’s nickname is “the snake pit” because lots of people go and bunk off work in it. Order a milk tea, also sometimes known as ‘tights’ or ‘pantyhose’ tea (they traditionally used these to strain the tea). It’s topped up with lashings of condensed milk and is drunk hot or cold depending on the weather.
Only the very wealthy have ovens in Hong Kong – space is too much of a premium – so many people go to tea houses for their baked goods. Order a pineapple bun – a sweet yeasted bun made with a cross-hatched sugar crust (hence ‘pineapple’). It’s cut in half and slapped around a slab (seriously!) of butter. Toast with condensed milk makes another quick, sweet snack – but we definitely recommend getting the deep fried PBJ French toast. You may need to go on a long walk after stopping in here.
No. 8-12 Gilman’s Bazaar, Central
For the best authentic food – Ser Wong Fun
This ‘local local’ restaurant is where true Hong Kong people eat. The menu may not be in English but the friendly staff will help you get something warm and nourishing to eat. Failing that, take someone who speaks the language and order the house specialty – snake soup with wood ear mushrooms and kaffir lime leaf, or crispy snake balls. Cantonese people believe the body has two humours – hot and cold. Snake is a hot food, good to eat on a cold day.
For the best breakfast – Tsat Hay Noodle and Congee House
Breakfast in Hong Kong doesn’t get better than this – silky smooth rice cooked in light chicken stock, gently warmed by ginger and garlic. The classic version comes with century egg and salted pork (top it with chilli oil laced with crispy little garlic pieces) but make sure you try the fish congee, too. It’s unbelievably fragrant, with ginger and spring onions, soft unctuous fish and the crunch of peanuts.
As in so many cultures, the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot is the part everyone fights over. In clay pot cooking, however, every pot has a crispy bottom; cold, cooked rice is re-heated in individual clay pots on individual gas burners, then finished with a variety of toppings.
At this speciality clay pot restaurant in Hong Kong, order the salt fish clay pot (it’s similar to salted mackerel) and the aubergine and minced pork in yellow bean and oyster sauce. You’ll want some greens on the side, too, as these dishes tend to be meat or fish heavy – we opted for some ginger and spring onion gai lan and morning glory in fermented tofu sauce.
1 Ya Fuen street
For the best tofu – Yan Wo Dou Bun Chong
One thing you learn quickly with Cantonese food is that texture is hugely important, especially the texture ‘wat’ or silky smooth. This tofu restaurant is a celebration of all things ‘wat’.
Start with the fish tofu balls (they have a soft, scrambled egg texture on the inside, but are crispy on the outside), best eaten with plenty of hoi sin and chilli sauce and washed down with soy milk (the coconut flavoured one is good).
For dessert try the steamed silken tofu with ginger sugar. I guarantee this is the silkiest thing you will ever eat. Each spoonful seems to evaporate after 20 seconds in the mouth, leaving lingering gingery sweetness.
55 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway bay
For the best dumplings – Northern Dumpling Yuan
You’ll find foods from all around the world in Hong Kong but don’t miss the regional Chinese cooking that’s also prominent there. Try some Northern Chinese dumplings for a late breakfast or lunch; you can sit and watch the cooks hand-seal each one while you joyfully devour others. Order the pork and chive, watercress and pork and cabbage, wood ear mushroom and Chinese chive dumplings.
Don’t forget the sides, though; the smacked cucumber with sesame and chilli, cold steamed aubergine with chilli bean sauce and pickled potato are all great.
259 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai
For the best all-day breakfast – Australia Dairy Company
A local institution, this place serves affordable all-day breakfasts, Hong Kong style. Start with scrambled eggs and toast, try the ham macaroni if you dare, then finish with a bowl of steamed milk pudding, a kind of pale custard.
47 Parkes Street
For the best beef brisket broth – Kau Kee
One of the best takes on beef brisket you’ll find anywhere, here it’s slow-cooked in a broth of spices and noodles and never fails to please, hence the long queues to devour this dish. Order the beef in a rich curry sauce, or the beef brisket noodles in broth.
21 Gough Street
For the best dim sum – Tim Ho Wan
This unlikely-looking holder of a Michelin star is a simple canteen – and a great place to eat dim sum at a reasonable price. Try the baked bun with barbecued pork, the steamed fresh shrimp dumpling, the steamed pork dumpling with shrimp or the pan-fried turnip cake.
Another unlikely-looking holder of a Michelin star, Yat Lok Roast Goose is one of many homespun joints that aren’t particularly fancy but do what they do really well – in this case, duck. Delicate crispness is matched with the perfect ratio of meat to fat.
34-38 Stanley St
Words by Adam Bush and Lisa Tse
Photographs by Adam Bush and A Chinese Street Food Odyssey book (£20, Pavilion)
This week, on the olive magazine podcast we celebrate National Dumpling Day with a guide to where to find the best dim sum in London’s Chinatown, plus we speak to Chloe Scott-Moncrieff, founder of the Young British Foodie awards.
olive magazine podcast ep70 – where to get the best dim sum in Chinatown