Searching for local food in Hong Kong as a non-Chinese speaker is overwhelming. The vast majority of online reviews being written on Anglophonic platforms like Yelp (which has been described kindly as “on death’s doorstep”) and Google Reviews (mostly written for tourists, by tourists) place spotlight on restaurants that don’t serve local food. That being said, there’s a vast number of local spots reliably churning out delicious food at cheap prices, and local Sai Ying Pun food is delicious and affordable.
Here are some of the better-known ones that still get lots of visits from Hong Kong-dwellers. If you’re staying in Sai Ying Pun, try a couple of them out for a local eating experience – you won’t be disappointed.
(There are MANY local restaurants everywhere in Hong Kong – this is just five of those, with a showcase on some local Sai Ying Pun food – don’t @ me, there are definitely more to come).
1. Chau Kee
As far as approachability goes in a dim sum joint, Chau Kee has got it. Instead of a sprawling dining room with round tables and chandeliers, or a cramped space with linoleum floors and tea stains on tablecloths, this dining room has a smattering of square tables lined up against walls, making it easy not to draw attention to yourself and slink unnoticed into a booth.
The standby here is the famous lava toast, which is a riff on traditional Hong Kong-style French toast, normally a lightly fried, puffy and fluffy square thing covered in condensed milk (and often peanut butter). It comes in ooey black sesame, taro, and chocolate fillings, but the most luxurious and by far the most popular is the “Golden Lava French Toast.”
If you’ve ever taken pleasure at gently prodding a jiggly perfect egg yolk with the tines of your fork and watch it soak into whatever’s tucked underneath, this has the same effect – only amplified. You get to slowly slice open a piece of bread and watch its interior ooze out.
Of these creations, the salted egg yolk is probably your best bet. Order plenty of plates of dim sum to go with it – Chau Kee does the classics well, too.
Chau Kee in Sai Ying Pun (Tung Lee Mansion, 1C-1K Water Street, Open Tuesday-Sunday 8am-6pm, prices range from $20-$50 HKD per dish)
2. Kwan Kee Claypot Rice
I’ve written about Kwan Kee before, and this is because Kwan Kee should really be on every food-dedicated list in Hong Kong.
Look, I’ve eaten clay pot rice on Temple Street. I’ve gone to famous Four Seasons (which is passably decent but the anemic rice doesn’t spend enough time being crunched up on the bottom) and Hing Kee (which has the edge on Four Seasons but you’ll have to ply me with a lot of beer to wait in line for that long on the Kowloon side).
Kwan Kee, in the at-once cool and local Sai Ying Pun neighborhood, adjacent from a McDonald’s. It always has a long queue snaking out its front door, in front of three or four haphazardly placed tables on the outside, enormous blue jugs of tea (for cleaning and for drinking – you pick!), and an interior so brightly lit that you forget you’re having dinner and not in a hospital waiting room. Not a romantic date spot (unless your idea of a romantic date is barky service and a closet that houses a toilet), but the food – the food!
You can’t go wrong with any of the 30 plus versions of clay pot rice here, but you’d be missing out on something special if you don’t get a version with Cantonese lap cheong – an ubiquitous dried pork sausage, and one of my very favorite things to eat in the world (and I like to eat a lot of things). The sausages are firm, deeply savory, redolent of Chinese wine, smoke, and soy sauce, and house little nuggets of pork fat that burst with every bite. They’ll come in pinkish-red, but also in a burnished brown variety, which contains liver.
The very best part of clay pot rice, though, is the rice. Each pot comes with a little bowl of sweet dark soy sauce, which you’re meant to pour in its entirety over the rice. The rice then collects every bit of savory sweetness from the pork fat and soy, while crispily hardening where it meets the bottom of the clay pot. At the end, scrape the pleasantly cracker-thin layer of rice from the bottom and enjoy. Kwan Kee also serves a dizzying array of other Cantonese classics – stir fried Chinese greens, bubbling hot pots and stews, quick-fried meats and seafoods. For local Sai Ying Pun food, Kwan Kee is a must go.
Don’t think, just do it.
Pro tip: Always try to make a reservation, as each clay pot is made to order, and walk-ins may have you waiting nearly an hour for a seat during peak hours.
Kwan Kee Claypot Rice in Sai Ying Pun (Wo Yick Mansion, Shop 1, 263 Queen’s Road West, Open daily 11am-2:30pm, 6pm-10:30pm, Sundays from 6pm-10:30pm only. Dishes range from 50HKD to 120 HKD. Reservations highly recommended).
3. Hoi On Café
I won’t wax lyrical about the unique charms of Hong Kong’s cha caan tengs (literally: tea restaurant, but probably more accurately described as Hong Kong-style cafes) to those of you who didn’t grow up eating things like Spam and macaroni soup and instant noodles, because you simply won’t get it.
I mean, I understand why people turn their nose up at Spam and instant ramen. But those things are still incredibly delicious.
Hoi On Café has been in existence for about 70 years, a harkback to the “bing sutts” of Hong Kong – one of the only places locals could enjoy cold drinks before ice was an everywhere-accessible thing. Even though it’s passed hands and years, the solid red booths and white linoleum floors bring regular customers back to 1950s Hong Kong. For an old standby for Sai Ying Pun food, Hoi On has history on its side.
They serve all of the expected cha caan teng fare – like BBQ roast pork on rice or noodles, chicken wings, French toast, and pineapple buns, but two of their signature dishes are worth a try, especially for those unaccustomed to cha caan teng food.
The first is a fragrant minced beef and scallion scrambled egg toast. A thick slice of white bread, gently toasted and buttered, is the canvas for custardy scrambled eggs, mixed well through with minced beef and positively overloaded with scallions – in the best way. The result is a mass of custardy-savory-salty, a near-perfect brunch toast in an age where brunch toasts cost 17 USD and up for a few slices of avocado and uninspired cheese.
The second is a “Signature Instant Noodles,” a bowl of instant noodles so large that I immediately realized why the nice lady scoffed at me when she asked me if I was “actually hungry.” It isn’t merely a pack of instant noodles – there are hot dogs (or are they Vienna sausages?), thin slices of beef, hunks of ham, and a single egg over easy draped over the top.
Death by sodium isn’t the most glamorous way to go. But…what a way to go.
Hoi On Cafe in Sai Ying Pun (17 Connaught Road West; Open Monday-Friday 7:30am-4:30am, Saturdays 8am-5:30pm, Sundays 8am-2pm); Dishes range from 30HKD to 70 HKD).
4. Ying Kee Noodle (Also seen as Eng Kee Noodle)
Ying Kee is a noodle shop. It’s listed in the Bib Gourmand 2020 Michelin Guide, which is where I found that they’ve been open since 1994.
I don’t place so much stock into what the Michelin Guide says, seeing as its problems with being stuffy, outdated, out-of-touch, and Eurocentric are now widely known, but a listing like this does pique the interest. So I did my research and went for the beef brisket, which, if its listing on the Bib Gourmand is true, is “braised one night ahead and steeped in a spiced marinade overnight for silky tenderness and deep flavours.”
Beef brisket noodles is a local standby in the city (which I’ve also written about here), and at Ying Kee, not only did it have fall-apart tenderness of a long hours-braised brisket, but also all of the wobbly melty bits from tendon and tripe. Although they were out of wontons that day, my second choice, roast BBQ pork, was as fork (or is it chopstick?)-tender as any other BBQ pork I’ve had.
The default noodle for these bowls are springy alkaline wonton noodles, which have a bouncy texture rather than tender or chewy seen in other noodle types like flat rice noodles or oil noodles.
Don’t skip the signature beef brisket, but if it’s other options that you’re looking for, go for the BBQ roast pork and the fried wontons.
Ying Kee Noodle in Sai Ying Pun (28 High Street, Open Daily 9am – 7pm; Dishes range from 40 HKD to 70 HKD).
5. Po Kee BBQ Restaurant
If you look for Po Kee on Google and Hong Kong food search mainstay OpenRice, you’ll notice that its claim to fame is its roast meats. Most people go for the rice noodles with duck or goose (their most popular signature), and though they’ll also have all manner of other Cantonese BBQ meats.
Here’s a rare occasion where I wished that I hadn’t gone for the most popular noodle choice, a type of noodle called 瀨粉, lai fun. Long, white, strands made of pounded rice, they’re so smooth that even a vice grip of a seasoned chopstick user (like yours truly) isn’t strong enough to ensure that they don’t just slither out, landing back into the broth with an enormous splash. Texturally these noodles are more firm and snappy (if you know your pasta, think bucatini, the ones like round spaghetti with holes in the middle), rather than springy and chewy.
The skin on the goose leg was as slick and pleasant as any goose I’ve had in Hong Kong, and even if I’d rather have had the floppiness of a flat rice noodle over these, you could do a lot worse than a bowl of noodles or rice here.
Po Kee in Sai Ying Pun/Shek Tong Tsui, (425 Queen’s Road West, Open Monday – Saturday, 11:30am – 7:30pm; Dishes range from 30 HKD to 70 HKD).
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