Food that Must Be Tried: Hong Kong

1. Black Sesame Tong Yuen

Excellent for breakfast or dessert (how often can you say that?!), Tong Yuen are glutinous rice balls filled with sweet black sesame or red bean paste, then topped with chopped nuts. It doesn’t look pretty, but is so tasty it now figures in our food daydreams.
Where to get it: We ate these at a no-name dessert restaurant with casual sidewalk seating, in the Sham Shui Po neighborhood. Really, just keep your eyes out for these dessert restaurants who typically tack up a picture-menu poster of all of their dessert options, to emphasize the bright colors and presentation of everything from black sesame rice balls (like these, covered in chopped nuts) to puddings topped with sago and mango.

2. XO Sauce

XO Sauce is a spicy condiment made of dried scallops, shrimp, onions, garlic and chili oil. Add it to tofu, fried rice, dim sum, or really anything that could use a kick of spice.
Where to get it: Everywhere. If you’re craving the original recipe, that’s found at The Peninsula Hong Kong’s Cantonese restaurant, Spring Moon. For a vegetarian option, head to Ming Court at the Langham Place Hotel MongKok.

3. Milk Tea and Yin-yang

At left, a very traditional iced Hong Kong milk tea, which is only black tea with the addition of evaporated or condensed milk. At right, the Yin-yang, which is a mix of Hong Kong milk tea and coffee. The latter is thicker, stronger and more filling, but traditional milk tea has the advantage of being downright refreshing.
Where to get it: Milk tea is everywhere, from corner stores to fancy restaurants. Yin-yang you’re more likely to find at cha chaan tengs, like Tsui Wah or Tai Hing.

4. Eggette (gai daan jai)

An “Eggette” or gai daan jai in Cantonese, is an egg custard waffle cooked in specially shaped waffle irons over an open flame. The sweet egg batter becomes a bumpy waffle that’s ideal to break into bite-size pieces for a hot snack while strolling.
Where to get it: Anywhere you see meat on a stick, keep looking to see if these are being cooked up as well. It’s a popular street food, and super cheap. Maximum irresistibility.

5. Sweet Rolls

So cheap! These sweet rolls are an excellent sweet side dish or a quick snack to accompany a Yuanyang (see above). Essentially it’s a sliced bread roll, toasted, buttered, drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and served hot.
Where to get it: The venerable cha chaan teng diner-type restaurants ubiquitous in HK offer these for a couple HKD. We’re fans of the Tsui Wah chain.

6. Hot Coca-Cola with ginger and lemon

Not sure we believe this is “good for you,” but Coca-Cola boiled with ginger and lemon is surprisingly good for your tastebuds. Try it instead of hot tea or coffee and then try to convince your Facebook friends it’s not something you just made up.
Where to get it: The cha chaan teng, again! These diners have it all.

7. Macaroni in Tomato Soup

Definitely a comfort food, this is hot, filling, cheap and usually consumed at breakfast. Macaroni noodles swim in a huge bowl of steamy tomato soup, sometimes complimented by bits of ham, carrot, peas and corn.
Where to get it: Any cha chaan teng, like the Tsui Wah chain.

8. Pineapple Bun (bor lor bao)

Bor lor bao is a soft, sugary sweet bun usually with a top crust that mimics the texture of a pineapple. It can be plain, or filled with all sorts of things, ranging from actual pineapple slices to BBQ meat, to a custard like with this mini pineapple bun.
Where to get it: Head to any bakery (like Maxim’s or BreadTalk) or cha chaan teng. This filled, mini bor lor bao comes from the bakery in The Peninsula Hotel.

9. Pork Floss!!!!

OMG. Of every nummy food on this list, Pork Floss is the one we daydream about most. Imagine dried pork with the consistency of coarse cotton candy and you have a basic idea. It’s just…spectacular.
Where to get it: Bakeries will put pork floss on pastries and even in loaves of bread. Just glance into a bakery window to see if any items are sporting a frothy toupee of pork floss. You’ll also likely encounter it in a layout of condiments for adding to congee.

10. Meats on Sticks

Various meats and fish balls on sticks. They may be BBQed, roasted, or drenched in a curry sauce, but you’ve gotta try them all. You could essentially eat food on sticks all day long in Hong Kong, depending on what neighborhoods you’re frequenting. For juicy chunks of pork with a perfectly crispy skin, ask forSiu Yuk.
Where to get it: In Kowloon, look for small storefronts with displays like this, in the Sham Shui Po, Yau Ma Tei, and Mongkok neighborhoods and in the markets. On Hong Kong Island, we love the few vendors on Jardine’s Bazaar, a street in the Causeway Bay neighborhood.

11. Portuguese Egg Tart

A Portuguese egg tarts (or dan tat) is a simple, sweet baked pastry shell filled with egg custard. Though they were invented in Hong Kong, the nearby former Portuguese colony of Macau also enjoys claiming them as a specialty. Make sure you eat them hot, and it’s okay to treat them as finger food.
Where to get it: Hong Kong is rife with small, cheap bakeries (like Maxim’s) that churn these out, but a fancy version can be found at the Mandarin Oriental’s Mandarin Cake Shop.

12. Coconut Juice Smoothies

Calling these “Smoothies” is a stretch, because these tiered beverages of coconut juice, fresh fruit, taro, rice balls or crystal jelly cubes are in a category all their own. Combinations are numerous, so there’s always a reason to take a break and sip through mango bits to reach the delightfully chewy glutinous balls in the bottom of the cup.
Where to get it: At the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon, right at the Star Ferry docks, is a small shop—Hui Lau Shan—that specializes in these.

13. Osmanthus with Wolfberry Curd

This is quite specific, but we fell in love with this exquisite dish on our most recent visit to Hong Kong, while noshing at the Michelin-starred Ming Court restaurant, known for their elevated Cantonese cooking. Aside from its aesthetic appeal, the little gelatin treats taste like heaven—a light, herbal tea with hint of exotic berry.
Where to get it: As we said, head to the Langham Place Hotels’ Ming Court for dim sum/yum cha and look for these on the dessert menu.

14. Roast duck and goose

Do yourself a favor and order both the roast duck and goose to see how they can be so alike, and yet so different. Goose is a bit darker, heartier, and makes for a mouth-wateringly perfect crispy skin to crunch.
Where to get it: Anywhere a restaurant has ducks and geese hanging in the window is a good bet. We recently found affordable roast goose at the cha chaan teng Tai Hing in Mongkok.

15. Rice noodle roll (cheung fun)

Technically a part of dim sum, cheung fun also occasionally shows up as street food during the holidays in Hong Kong, which is where we last sampled it from a cart in the Sham Shui Po neighborhood. A delicate ricesheet is steamed and then cut and filled with shrimp or, our favorite, char siu (BBQ pork).
Where to get it: The Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan has them on the menu for sure, but keep an eye out for it on the menu at dedicated dim sum restaurants.

16. Ramen luncheon meat breakfast

Believe it or not, this is breakfast. There’s scrambled eggs, a local green, two slices of lunchmeat (Spam), all atop a considerable helping of ramen noodles. It’s hot, it’s comfort food to the max, it’s cheap and it actually sounds tasty at any time of the day.
Where to get it: You know what we’re going to say by now…cha chaan teng!

17. Vegetarian set meal at the Po Lin Monastery

Every single one of these mouthwatering dishes are completely vegetarian. It’s not because that’s how we’ve ordered it, but because that’s the only way it can be on the premises of a Buddhist monastery. Here we have tofuskin in a lemon sauce, fried lotus root slices, spring rolls, local greens and a glass noodle soup with mushrooms.
Where to get it: This whole set meal can be purchased along with admission to the famous Tian Tan Big Buddha statue near the Ngong Ping tourist village on Lantau Island. After visiting the Buddha, you then head over to the Po Lin Monastery, present your ticket, grab a table and sit back while tea is poured and steaming hot dishes arrive.

18. Meatless food made to look like meat

In a city obsessed with meat skewers and meat in buns and roast meat and meat meat meat, Hong Kong is surprisingly vegetarian-friendly thanks to the Buddhist population and international influence.
Where to get it: This specific dish is found at a vegetarian-only restaurant in the Ngong Ping tourist village on Lantau Island.

19. Blooming flower teas

Calendula, Jasmine and more teas begin as dried bulbs, which then bloom and regain their vibrant colors under the hot water pour in the ceremonial preparation of tea. As these teas are a little pricier than regular loose leaf, we’d recommend grabbing a box for special occasions rather than a quick cup.
Where to get it: The Li-Nong Tea House in the Ngong Ping tourist village on Lantau Island specializes in blooming teas, and have an entire menu of them to both sample there and purchase to take home.

20. Potato chips!

Where to begin? Hong Kong’s international population assures that the snack variety in markets is second to none. Potato chips with flavors like “Mongkok sausage” and “Unagi Kabayaki” formed our first introduction to Hong Kong’s culinary kaleidoscope.
Where to get it: Any and every corner store, but we’re especially obsessed with the variety in the massive international supermarket under the Lane Crawford in the Pacific Place Mall.

21. Dim Sum/Yum Cha

You think we’d forget dim sum? Also known as yum cha, this meal is comprised of a variety of dishes, ranging from congee and turnip cakes to bao buns and shrimp dumplings.
Where to get it: There’s a chain called “DimDimSum” if cheap and tasty dim sum at any hour sounds good (spoiler: it does sound good, especially at midnight).

Thanks to our friend Kinny Cheng for verifying the Cantonese names for some of these dishes, and for being our midnight dim sum buddy.

[Most photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]


One thought on “Food that Must Be Tried: Hong Kong

  1. Pingback: Haiku for You | An Elephant's Memory

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