The variety of food available in this ex British colony is mind boggling, making it a gastronomic haven for every hungry instagram-ing soul. A few pages from my diary…
Hong Kongers are truly passionate about their food and novelty is their forte. Whether it’s on the sticks or in a pot, fragrant or stinky, intriguing or just weird, the food here is a curious mix of the traditional and western culture. Asia’s culinary capital, the city pretty much lives to eat and boasts of everything edible from Cantonese, Shanghainese, Vietnamese, Japanese, European and many more cuisines around the world. Whether you’re an adventurous eater or a picky desi vegetarian, the city can never leave you disappointed. Not to mention the former obviously has an upper hand. The variety here is so wide that you can consider a customised food tasting trip to Hong Kong. Yes, a tour completely dedicated to the city’s culinary experiences. From delicious egg tarts, wine jellies and ice-creams in flavours of red bean and green tea to a whole range of hot and cold teas, roasted chestnuts, dim sums and curried animal organs, Hong Kong brims with tons of restaurants, well-lit cafes, noodle bars and street joints that rustle up yummy local as well as international fusion delicacies on a daily basis.
When it comes to impressing the taste buds, Hong Kong’s close cousin Macau doesn’t lag behind. Just a 45-minute ferry ride from the noodle town, Macau has its own signature must-eats. What you certainly can’t miss out on is Serradura – a layered Portuguese dessert of crushed sweet biscuits, cream, condensed milk and vanilla and served chilled – and oven-fresh egg tarts.
While Hong Kong and Macau have the ethnic Chinese population in bulk, there is a sizeable presence of food-obsessed people from other places in Europe, America and Asia. Probably, the drool-worthy food scene here says it all about their cosmopolitan nature!
To truly soak in the Hong Kong culture and tradition and sharpen your chopstick using skills, make sure to schedule a time for yum cha (a morning and lunchtime treat which involves drinking Chinese tea and eating dim sum items) with your group of travellers (friends or family), or even better, locals. Xin Dau Ji in Jordan and Lin Heung Kui in Sheung Wan are places you can try for an authentic yum cha experience. Here, you don’t really have a set menu to choose from. Instead, you’ll have the ladies bringing to your table little trolleys laden with all the goodies in steamer bamboo baskets. Shrimp dumplings (har gau), congee (rice porridge), steamed, sweet pork buns (char siu pau), beef balls (ow yok), rice noodle rolls (cheung fan) and steamed sponge cake are some common yum cha items. A good dim sum restaurant easily dishes out a minimum of forty to fifty items on any given day, thus giving you ample food varieties to gorge on. Only remember to let your local friend take the lead!
Milk Tea – hot & cold
Milk tea or afternoon tea “ha oom cha” is a huge part of Cantonese culture. It’s one of the many British traditions that still run deep here (after all, it was only in 1997 that Hong Kong was no longer a British colony). And that’s one reason you’ll never find milk tea at dim sum or traditional Chinese restaurants. At old-school joints, you may see cooks bringing the tea and the water to a boil together and straining the tea through a sack-like cloth; to make it more flavourful. Have it alongside thick slices of French toast or sweet and savoury pineapple buns. If you’re visiting Hong Kong during summer and aren’t particularly a ‘hot tea’ person, opt for iced milk tea with tapioca popularly known as ‘bubble tea’. For iced tea fans, jelly teas are available in various flavours like passion fruit and grapefruit; they work as fabulous no-milk options. There’s also “yuangyang”, a marriage of coffee and tea (with a fair amount of milk for good measure).
Curry Fish Balls
When you see a curry fish ball stall outside every 7-Eleven in Hong Kong, you know how deeply the locals love this sweet, spicy and easy-on-the-pocket skewered snack. Popular since 1950s, curry fish balls are synonymous to Hong Kong street food and come in a group of five on a bamboo stick. Yes, every local has one top favourite fish ball joint they swear by. So, if you wish to sample the yummiest fish balls (deep fried) drenched in flavourful yellow sauce, don’t forget to befriend a local! Mong Kok and Sai Yeung Choi Street South are loaded with curry fish ball shops. They are the best places to immerse in the local ambiance while biting your fish balls off the stick.
Though cheong fun literally translates to ‘pig intestine noodles’, there’s nothing meaty about them. Yes, even the shudh vegetarian Indian can opt for this street food royalty. Also a dim sum staple, cheong fun is nothing but sheets of rice noodle mixture steamed, rolled, cut with scissors and doused in sweet sauce and peanut sauce. Lastly, sprinkled with sesame seeds. While it’s relatively bland on its own, these sauces manage to hit the spot. Don’t let its white tubular appearance demotivate you from ordering a bowl!
Ever imagined a piece of oversized bubble wrap but yellow in colour? That’s exactly how the humble gai daan tsais or egg waffles look like. The street-side vendors in Hong Kong make these waffles by pouring egg batter on to a griddle pan; chocolate, sesame and green tea are some appetising flavours. A Hong Kong version of the traditional checkered European waffle, this iconic afternoon snack is soft and gooey on the inside and light and crispy on the outside. North Point Egg Waffles in North Point dish out the yummiest waffles, though they also have set up stores in Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui and Tseung Kwan O. The sweet, heavenly smell as you pass by a street stall simply makes it irresistible.
Red Bean Ice
The foodie in you would curse you to death if you would leave Hong Kong without having a taste of one of its most widely known drink cum dessert Red bean ice. The local concoction is inspired by hot red bean sweet soup which is modified by adding shaved ice and even a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. With azuka red beans, rock sugar syrup, evaporated milk, coconut milk and ice, it makes for a great affordable Western-style thirst quencher during the humid summer season. You can find this drink on the menu of almost any cha chang teng in Hong Kong; the one available at Café de Coral is particularly popular for its cool and refreshing taste.
Wonton Noodle Soup
Whether you want it meaty or eggy, a king-size portion or just a small bowl to comfort your tastebuds, there’s a wonton noodle soup for everyone in this noodle town. The dish is made of soft, fresh dumplings filled with part shrimp, part pork and served with chewy egg noodles in a savory, fragrant broth. Every mom-and-pop joint in Hong Kong serves their own version of wonton noodle soup with a slight variation in flavour and texture. You can try the one at Wing Wah Noodle shop. Thumb rule at all places: sit down, eat, pay and leave immediately. Thumb rule at all places: sit down, eat, pay and leave immediately.
Pork Chop Bun
If a Cantonese barbecue pork-filled bun fails to excite you enough, consider its Macanese cousin – pork chop bun (tender, juicy pork chop in a piggy bun). It may not look as sophisticated to you but is definitely quite satisfying due to its crunchy exterior and buttery soft center. Grab one from Tai Lei Kok Kei in Taipa village or the bakeries near Ruins of St. Pauls; these places serve well-seasoned buns in white paper bags. Be there before evening. Due to the high demand, the stock doesn’t last for long and you surely wouldn’t want to miss out on this little piece of heaven!
Portuguese Egg Tart
Absolutely nothing in the world equals to the pleasure of biting into a steaming hot egg tart straight from the oven of Lord Stow’s Bakery at Coloane Island in Macau. The buttery flaky pastry shell with a rich filling of sweet egg custard, the Macau version is quite different from that of Hong Kong. And the caramelised top just adds to the delightful taste. You can’t get enough of it even if you have it every day of your stay in Macau. Can’t make it to Coloane? Drop in at Margaret’s Cafe which is tucked away in one of Macau’s lively pedestrian back alleys, close to Senado Square. With a more flaky crust, it’s certainly the second-best option.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING BACK HOME
If you visit Macau, you can’t return without a box of almond cookies for your loved ones back home. And that’s a norm. Popular since the 1920s, almond cookies are often made out of mung bean flour and whole almonds; and aren’t too sweet. The gritty texture and nutty flavour make them irresistible. Visit one of the oldest bakeries like Tai Lai or Koi Kei and you’ll get to see a man making these golden delights right in front of you. Apart from almond cookies, these bakeries also give tastings for its other well-known products like coconut ginger candy, peanut candy and black sesame cookies. So make sure you try them before you buy them!
A traditional Cantonese speciality, a wife cake is a flaky thin-skinned cake made out of pork lard and filled with a winter melon and sesame seed paste. Though it is now available in various fruits flavours and fillings like lotus seed and mung bean, the original one from Kee Wah Bakery is a must-try. And if your itinerary doesn’t permit you to make it to Kee Wah, you can always buy some wife cakes and other fresh treats from Wing Wah bakery at Hong Kong airport. They come in great packages and work well as a gifting option too. And buying them from the airport means you don’t need to bother about excess luggage. Doesn’t that make you feel happier?
FOR EVERY FRUITARIAN