I just returned Hong Kong after an 8-month trip in Latin America. I’ve read a lot of travel advice of where to eat and what to do. But I found out eventually you yourself are the person who discovers cool places to go or eat, that are not on any travel websites. Those places where I love the most are those I accidentally ran into. I still remember the 3-dollar dinner with steak, avocado and rice in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I still remember the extremely delicious 1-dollar fried fish with rice I had at a family-run restaurant in Cusco, Peru. I still remember eating fried lamb intestines in a traditional restaurant in Madrid. Being the only foreigner in a restaurant can be both intimidating at the beginning. But I know I was at the right place where local people go and was tasting the absolute most authentic food.
I want you to have this feeling! My goal is to give you another perspective of the best, most authentic Hong Kong-ese food that you may not have noticed. I am a backpacker myself and want to eat cheap and good. I know exactly what backpackers are looking for. In this series of Hong Kong Food Guide, I will take you beyond just eating dim-sum, beyond ordinary food guides and beyond overrated and overpriced restaurants. The diversity and the complexity of food in Hong Kong will blow your mind! I will include specific food that you must try, some recommendations of my favorite restaurants, how they are called in Cantonese and some interesting facts or anything you should not miss.
Tea House (茶樓)
Tea House or chaa lau(茶樓) is one the most traditional types of restaurant you can find in Hong Kong. Or simply we call it “yum chaa”, which literally means “drink tea”. Originated from Canton province, chaa lau mainly serves tea and dim sum. Yum chaa is also essentially a family activity, where we always find ourselves eating with our relatives. In a typical chaa lau, you will mainly find grandfathers and grandmothers hanging out as early at 6 in the morning. Chaa lau is usually a morning and afternoon thing. Here are some of my favorite dim sums!
First thing first, what is dim sum?
Dim sum (點心) is a category of food typically found in a tea house that are bite-sized and served in a steam bamboo basket. Dim sum varies and can be dumplings, buns or wraps with fillings inside.
Shrimp Dumpling or haa gau (蝦餃)
Not a single tea house does not serve haa gau! Its skin can be thick and thin, depending on different tea houses, but it should be chewy! If you can taste the freshness and the juicy meat, it is probably a great haa gaau!
Pork Dumpling or siu maai (燒賣)
Same for siu maai. You will always find it in a tea house! Siu Maai is always wrapped by a yellow skin, but the fillings inside vary. Typically, you will find a blend of pork and shrimp.
Barbecued Pork Bun or chaa siu bao (叉燒包)
Bun is a big thing in dim sum. There are a variety of buns in a Chinese tea house. The best and most common ones are barbecued pork buns. Mixed with grounded barbecued pork and oyster sauce, a good chaa siu bao should be hot and the filling should not be too dry. If you open the bun into half, those fillings should gently flowing.
Sticky rice bun or lor maai bao (檽米包)- Sticky rice wrapped by a thin yellow skin, also my favorite dim sum!
Malay Steamed Cake or ma laai go (馬拉榚)- Slightly sweet and fluffy cake, perfect dessert dim sum
Custard Bun, or naai wong bao (奶黃包)
Custard bun is definitely the best among the sweet buns. Like barbecued pork bun, the steaming hot sugary-salty lava inside the custard bun should be ready to erupt! But depending on tea houses, some may not be as fluid as others.
Steamed Rice with Chicken Feet (fung jau 鳳爪) and Pork Ribs (pai gwut排骨)
It may sound weird that we eat chicken feet. But those seasoned chicken feet with pork ribs with steamed rice will change your mind. Ask for extra soy sauce!
Rule of thumb: A great dim sum should be always steaming (freaking) hot! If it gets cooled down, or not hot enough, it is not the same thing… much like a not-so-hot shower. You can always request for a hotter basket of dim sum!
Also, don’t forget to order some tea! You will be asked what kind of tea you would like, and it costs about 1-2 USD/person. Try pu erh(普洱), iron buddha- tit goon yam(鐵觀音), jasmine tea- heung pin(香片) or dragon well tea- long jing(龍井).
Congee Restaurant or juk dim (粥店)
Congee restaurants may not be adored by Hong Kong kids out there, but it remains my favorite. You may or may not have heard of congee. Someone call it porridge. It is essentially rice that is cooked in extra amount of water until thick and smooth. There are a few categories of congee. Cantonese congee, which I am introducing today, is cooked until the rice are perfectly soft. While bubbling hot, they are mixed with your choice of grounded pork, pork skin, grounded beef, squids, pork intestines, pork blood jelly and/ or thousand years eggs. A sprinkle of peanuts and spring onion or cilantro take it to another whole new level.
Left: Thousand Years Eggs and Grounded Beef Congee
or pei dan ngau yuk juk (皮蛋牛肉粥)
Right: Sampan Pork Blood Jelly Congee
or teng zai ju hung juk (艇仔豬紅粥)
Sesame ball or jin dui(煎堆) – a chewy, golden-yellow, deep-fried, center-hollowed dough with sesame seeds coated on the outside
Rice rolls or cheung fun(腸粉)– a smooth and tender strip of rice noodle rolls, better with a lot of soy sauce! It comes plain or with fillings such as barbecued pork, dried shrimps and spring onion, grounded beef or vegetables.
Fried dough sticks or yau zha kwai (油炸鬼) sometimes called youtiao- a long, crispy and deep-fried dough
Dough stick wrap or zha leung(炸兩)- oh boy, the perfect baby of fried dough sticks and rice rolls
Dough stick rolls with dried shrimps or haa mai zha leung guen(蝦米炸兩卷)– A blend of smoothness and crispiness in a bite, with flavor-enhancing dried shrimp, spring onion and soy sauce and your choice of sweet and spicy sauce or both.
They should be smooth in the outside and crunchy in the inside. Mediocre dough stick rolls have soaked and non-crunchy fried dough stick inside. You don’t want that!
Worth trying: soy sauce fried noodles or chau min(炒麵)
Where to eat them?
In Hong Kong, you will easily find (Wet)Market and Cooked Food Center easily with congee restaurants and other great authentic restaurants. I recommend checking out the Market and Cooked Food Centre in Java Road in North Point, Lockhart Road in Wan Chai and Sheung Wan. But the restaurant I am introducing today is a little bit out of center in Chai Wan, which is about only 20 minutes ride by MTR(metro). But please go there…they have perfect dough stick rolls!!
金記粥麵(Kam Kee Congee and Noodles), Yue Wan Market and Cooked Food Center 1/F Shop 11, Chai Wan. 33 Yee Fung Street. 7am-1pm. Congee, Fried dough rolls- USD 2.5
Fried noodles, rice rolls- USD 1.5-2
Pineapple bun or bor lor bao(菠蘿包)
I dare to say every single person in Hong Kong has tried this bun before! It is that good! It is named by its sweet and crunchy skin that resembles the skin of pineapple (I might be wrong but that is just my guess…) USD 0.5-1/piece
Variation: pineapple bun with butter or bor lor yau (菠蘿油 ) (Oh yeah!) Bor lor yau can be found in a bakery or a cha chaan teng (tea restaurant- another category of restaurant that I will introduce later!)
Cocktail bun or gaai mei bao (雞尾包)- probably the second most common pastry you can find in a bakery- it has a bunch of yellowish and sweet fillings inside. I always kill a cocktail bun in 3 seconds.
Egg tarts or daan tart(蛋撻)
Another must-eat pastry when you visit Hong Kong- an oven-baked pastry with eggs and evaporated milk poured inside a flaky or crunchy cookie crust
USD 0.5-1 /piece
I like both types of crusts! You should try both!
Where to eat them?
Generally, take a stroll anywhere but Central and Tsim Sha Shui and you should be able to find a bakery shop in Hong Kong! They literally exist in anywhere! I recommend finding them in Aberdeen, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and Mongkok. Or ask a random person that you are searching for pineapple bun. Any single person should be able to point you to a bakery nearby!
Part II is coming!