I want to talk about the must-try foods in Hong Kong, mostly because food is one of the few things that I am thinking about nonstop, and Hong Kong (and Asian food in general) is usually full of glorious carbohydrates, which, if you know me by now, is my favorite food group.
I low-key wish they’d bring back this carb-tastic Food Pyramid, instead of the decidedly fruit-and-vegetable heavy one popularized by Michelle Obama (no hate – Michelle is a queen and I’d happily live by her rules if it meant I got to be even 10% of the woman she is).
I’m glad I gave up failing doing different iterations of low carb diets, because I basically became Gollum during those days, but without the weight loss. I assure you I was just as difficult to be around.
With a population of just about 7.5 million people (if Hong Kong were in mainland China, it would be considered a village), Hong Kong has always drawn both short-term visitors and long-term migrants who make this booming metropolis their home.
There’s a lot to appreciate about Hong Kong: besides the militantly capitalistic sheen of its office buildings and shopping malls, there are tiny fishing villages, beautifully unique natural landscapes, and huge swathes of land that remain untouched by the steely impact of human construction (knock on wood, though, because if I’ve learned one thing while living in this city, is that nothing escapes the forward onslaught of consumerist capitalism).
And then there’s the food. Obviously, there’s the food. To come to Hong Kong and not stuff as many perfectly-wrapped dumpling parcels into your mouth would be a travesty on the level of smearing a cache of ketchup on top of your sushi. It just wouldn’t make sense, and you’d need an intervention for either.
The food in Hong Kong is as varied as the food in any other world city – with over seven million inhabitants coming from all over the world, you’ve got to have a lot of different offerings to keep up. Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, French…it’s here.
But what is Hong Kong food? And Hong Kong food culture?
For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to find any other cuisine in the world that so deftly intermingles what is ostensibly a very Chinese way of cooking with the ineffable influences of British rule (except, perhaps, its neighbor Macau). Steamed fish with fragrant ginger and scallions are served next door to Hong Kong-style sticky French toast, and cups of hot milk tea grace the plates of young and old alike.
Although this list has the potential to span more than even a hundred items, here are my personal top picks for the most emblematic, top twenty-five must-try foods in Hong Kong, and also includes a good handful of affordable local restaurants in Central Hong Kong, which I have also written about in depth here. And if you want tips on how to eat locally in Hong Kong, I’ve got you covered here.
1. Dim Sum (点心)
Pronunciation: dim sum
Dim sum in Hong Kong is less a certain type of food, and more a way of life. An irascible part of Cantonese food culture.
Dim sum literally means “touch the heart,” and it’s also sometimes referred to as yum cha, or “to drink tea.” It’s a meal of small dishes on small plates or bamboo steamers, filled with a variety of fried and steamed little goodies, ranging from both sweet to savory.
They can include dumplings – which some people often think dim sum is synonymous with – but also include things like freshly rolled beef meatballs with ginger, long slippery rice rolls plump with shrimp, or little egg tarts. It’s the type of meal rather than a certain food (though there are certain iconic foods that are almost always ordered here!).
For someone like me, who never stops eating, this is the perfect way for me to cram as many different foods into my mouth at once. I might have a sip of tea here or there just to ease everything on its way down, but really, it’s just a vehicle for conspicuous consumption – literally.
For a good dim sum starter-pack kind of order, begin with har gow (虾饺) – translucent pearly-skinned shrimp dumplings, siu mai (燒賣) – pork and mushroom dumplings with an easily recognizable round parcel-wrapping, and char siu bao (叉烧包) – roast pork buns. Other popular items also include cheong fun (腸粉) – slippery rice noodle rolls, and a personal favorite of mine, fung zhaau (鳯爪)) – chicken feet braised in a sweet black bean sauce.
To get a real local local experience, head to Lin Heung Tea House in Central, where you’ll share tables with locals and hygiene standards aren’t exactly of the white-tablecloth variety, but where you’ll laugh your way through a decidedly stressful eating experience.
Lin Heung Tea House in Central (162 Wellington Street, Open 6am to 10pm daily, Dishes range from 20HKD to 50HKD).
For a traditional push-cart experience that’s a little more stress-free and with a few chandeliers thrown in the mix, visit the ultimate Hong Kong classic, Maxim’s.
Maxim’s Palace in Central (Hong Kong City Hall, 2/F, Low Block, As of 2 April 2020, temporarily closed).
My personal neighborhood favorite, Dim Sum Square in Sheung Wan, lacks push carts, but brings with it foreigner-friendly and clean and speedy service.
Dim Sum Square in Sheung Wan (27 Hillier Street, Open Monday-Saturday 10am to 10pm, Sundays 8am to 10pm; Dishes range from 20 HKD to 50 HKD).
2. Beef Brisket Noodles (牛腩麵)
Pronunciation: ngau naam min
There are so many types of noodles in Hong Kong that choosing a type to eat can be a downright dizzying experience. Next to wonton noodles, however, I’d probably place beef brisket noodles pretty high on that must-eat-and-must-eat-NOW list. Most local shops that are known for serving beef brisket will serve other cuts of beef (and maybe even other forms of meat on the menu), with your choice of noodles from a classic handful of choices: flat rice noodles, round rice noodles, “oil” noodles.
The brisket is always peel-apart-tender, pieces pulling away from each other, each fibrous bit falling away easily. There won’t be any gristle or chewy bits here. The classic way to have this bowl of noodles is in soup noodles, though I’m also partial to a version at Kau Kee Brisket in Central and Sheung Wan, which serves a thick curry version with hot and soft beef tendon, as fragrant as anything you’ve ever had.
My favorite staple (and very famous shops) for these noodles are the aforementioned Kau Kee, which has been open for nearly 100 years, and Sister Wah in Tin Hau, which serves up larger bowls in a bigger space. Best to visit Kau Kee in off-hours like the evening, because the lunch rush lines, although quick-moving, are intimidating even for the most hardened food-waiters like yours truly.
Kau Kee Beef Brisket in Central (21 Gough Street, Open Monday – Saturday 12:30pm to 10:30pm, dishes between 50-60 HKD).
Sister Wah in Tin Hau (13 Electric Road, Open daily 11:00am to 10:45pm, dishes between 40-60 HKD).
3. Pineapple Bun (菠蘿包)
Pronunciation: bo lo bau
Pineapple buns are called so not because these fluffy buns have anything to do with the actual flavor of pineapple, but because of a burnished sugar crust on top. The sugar crust is at once crumbly and delicate, usually covering your entire front in crumbs, but rather than assaulting you with cloying sugariness, is rather softly sweet. They’re sold in both Hong Kong-style bakeries and in the ubiquitous Hong Kong-style local food shops, where you can get them plain, or cut neatly open with a thick wedge of butter squeezed in the middle.
They’re an absolute firm favorite of mine, either for breakfast or an afternoon snack (and very, very inexpensive at rarely more than $8 HKD), but be sure to purchase them from a shop that’s well-known for making them well, as the speed with which one of these shops is likely to be swift, meaning that when you finally get that bun with butter in the middle, it’ll already be softly melting inside the bun’s pillowy interior – and there are very, very, few Hong Kong snacks that are as satisfying as a perfectly warm bolo yau (pineapple bun with butter).
Kam Fung in Wan Chai makes my favorite, but I’ve also heard that Kam Wah on the dark side makes a mean one as well. If you don’t have the time to sit, order one to take away and find a cozy corner outside to enjoy.
Kam Fung in Wan Chai (41 Spring Garden Lane, Open daily 6:45am to 7pm; dishes between 20 HKD to 60 HKD)
Kam Wah in Mongkok (45-47 Bute Street, Open daily 6:30am to 11:30pm; dishes between 20 HKD to 60 HKD)
4. Egg Tarts (蛋挞)
Pronunciation: daan tat
You’ll find egg tarts everywhere in Hong Kong in two forms: with a flaky puff pastry base or with a sturdier shortbread one. Neither is health-conscious choice, as traditionally the base of the Hong Kong-style egg tart is made with lard, but both are equally delicious. Introduced to affluent Hong Kong palates around the mid-20th century, these egg tarts bear resemblance to the Portugese pastel de nata and a traditional Chinese milk pudding, and were later trickled down to the working class.
Have one, and you’ll immediately notice your arteries hardening, but just do it, because there’s nothing so delicious as pouring lard and butter into a pastry, baking said pastry, filling it with jiggly egg filling, and then….damn it, I’m not really selling this, am I? Just trust me on this one and think about your years-left-to-live later.
Tai Cheong serves the famous version with the shortbread crust, and when Hong Kong’s not being overrun by protestors or by the coronavirus, there’s always a line. Buy a single or buy a box.
Tai Cheong in Central (35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Open daily from 8:30am to 8:30pm, Baked Goods range from 20 HKD to 40 HKD)
5. Macaroni Soup (通粉)
Pronunciation: tong fun
I wrote a homage to macaroni soup once. It wasn’t exactly a raving piece.
I didn’t write about flavorful broth or perfectly toothsome elbow macaroni or the cute way nuggets of carrots bobbed in soup. I wrote instead about the memories that it trudged up for me, the way the winter wind nipped at my Boston apartment windows. But the dish itself? I’m pretty sure the words “sad,” “wilted,” and “overboiled” come to mind, which is exactly what someone who didn’t grow up slurping the stuff would say about it.
Macaroni soup isn’t meant to be a culinary feat of genius – or even remotely aspirational to cook. You don’t look for the best recipe of macaroni soup and serve it to guests. It’s purpose is to be nostalgic for a group of people who grew up eating it at home when sick, or in local shops as a fast and warm breakfast. It’s elbow macaroni, suspended in a light chicken or pork broth from a can (no simmering for hours here!), with slices of your meat of choice (most often Spam, char siu roasted pork, or ham). As a final flourish, a restaurant may stud it lightly with peas and corn and carrots (you know, to help people like me, who subsist wholly on French fries and white rice and pasta with jarred sauce, reach their vegetable quota for the entire week).
You can get macaroni soup literally at almost any local Hong Kong cha caan teng that serves breakfast, but if you need ideas, Lan Fong Yuen in Central and Chrisly Cafe in Wan Chai are stalwart standards.
Lan Fong Yuen in Central (2 Gage Street, Open Monday-Saturday, 7:30am to 6pm. Dishes and sets range from 20 HKD to 60 HKD. Also known for the original “pantyhose” Hong Kong milk tea).
Chrisly Cafe in Wan Chai (6 Heard Street, Ground Floor of Kwong Sang Building, Open daily 7am to 11pm). Dishes and sets range from 20 HKD to 60 HKD. Also known for life-changing scrambled eggs).
6. Wonton Noodles (雲吞麵)
Pronunciation: won ton meen
There are fewer items more emblematic of Cantonese food as a bowl of wonton noodles. Some people don’t like noodles, and those people are not to be trusted. Some people also don’t like dumplings, which….are there people that don’t like dumplings?
Wonton noodles put both noodles and dumplings together, so basically, anyone who says they don’t like wonton noodles is just lying to themselves.
Plump shrimp are placed into thin wonton skins, delicately but tightly wrapped, and then blanched for just a handful of seconds, leading to an what basically looks like a vacuum-sealed dumpling. At a quality wonton noodle shop, the shrimp will be so fresh and cooked so impeccably that the shrimp inside will positively snap with first bite. The noodles, instead of containing the chewy heft of an udon noodle or the slippery drape of a rice noodle, are rolled so thinly that a bite of them will leave a soft twang between your teeth.
This may be the oddest way I’ve ever described a dish, but the only word to describe a bowl of wonton noodles, what with the springiness of the noodles and then snap of the shrimp, is…bouncy. Wonton noodles are a bouncy thing to eat. I dare you to disagree.
Try them at Tsim Chai Kee, where the you can also get monster fish balls the size of your fist. And tell me that bowl of noodles wasn’t bouncy as hell.
Mak’s Noodle in Central, right across the street from Tsim Chai Kee, is also an OG wonton noodle shop, and old as all hell. I personally prefer the monster wontons and fish balls at Tsim Chai Kee, but Mak’s Noodle serves dainty and well-balanced bowls as well.
Mak’s Noodle in Central (77 Wellington Street, Open daily 11am – 9pm, Dishes range from 40HKD to 70HKD).
Tsim Chai Kee in Central (98 Wellington Street, Open daily 9am – 10pm. Dishes range from 30HKD to 50HKD).
7. Suckling Pig (乳猪)
Pronunciation: yuu jyu
There’s a whole genre of Cantonese cooking that is only comprised of roasted meats. It’s called siu mei, and what I love about siu mei is it’s total lack of even pretending to be healthy in any way whatsoever. It’s like the Cantonese version of a KFC Double Down. Which, yes, admittedly even Cantonese roast meat is probably healthier than the double down, but you know how Americans are. We tend to test death more than we should. Just ask why the Heart Attack Grill exists.
So when you get your plate of meat and rice, you should revel in the fact there are no greens in sight (unless you’ve purposely ordered them – to feel better about yourself and your state of health, of course). Because why else would you dilute the pure pleasure of dining on this with the micronutrients contained in a bunch of Chinese greens?
The reason that I’ve laid out several different types of roast meat (as opposed to just listing roast meat once on this list) is because I believe each and everyone of these cuts deserve their own spot.
Take suckling pig, for example. Pork features prominently in local Hong Kong dishes. It really does. I’ve been eating steamed pork buns at dim sum since I was old enough to discern that 2 and 2 equal 4, and that the Magic Treehouse series of the 1990s got progressively worse as they went on.
I digress. Sucking pig is really delicious. It’s not served everywhere – take note of this when you visit a roasted meat joint. But when you do find it, it’s life-changing. It has all of the definitive meaty properties of either char siu – my sweet roast pork of choice, or siu yuk – roast pork with crispy crunchy skin. But suckling pig is extra luxurious (vegans read no further!) in that its skin is burnished an amber-red, crispy thin. The meat itself is white and extra tender, somewhat lean, but soft enough to render it as absolutely luxurious.
You can sometimes find suckling pig at local restaurants where they have other roast meats on offer (just look for the dangling geese or chickens in the glass windows!), but if you want to make suckling pig a destination, you can check in Xin Dau Ji in Jordan Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai (where I got a perfectly delicious and affordable plate).
Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai (225 Hennessey Road, Open daily 11:30am to 9:30pm, Dishes range from 50 HKD to 150 HKD).
Xin Dau Ji in Jordan (Place 18, 18 Cheung Lok Street, Open daily 9:30am to 1:30am, Dishes range from 80 HKD to 350 HKD).
8. Crispy Roast Pork (燒肉)
Pronunciation: siu yuk
Siu yuk, the “other” roast pork, is the one you’d get if you’re really looking for the give no Fs kind of meal (which, if you were looking for a classic Cantonese meat, you obviously would be).
The reason I say that is because char siu, as delicious as it is (and still my number one), still kind of masquerades as somewhat passably healthy -ahem, once you get past those delicious burnt bits and the honeyed-red sauce, and the –
Okay, so you can’t.
But at least with char siu you can ask for a lean cut.
There isn’t really such thing with crispy roast pork. Because no matter how you’re getting it, there’s no escaping that each portion comes with a thick golden-crackly-crunchy crust, perhaps less delicate than the crust of suckling pig, but no less delicious. It’s characterized by its rectangular cubed shape when it’s cut, and a skin that positively rises with its crunch (if you’ve ever had pork crackling, or pork rinds, or chicharrones, you’ll know what I mean), followed by a multi-layered thick layer of meat in varying degrees of lean and fat.
Any siu mei shop will sell crispy roast pork (especially if they also sell char siu) – but from my years of eating many, many, dishes of crispy roast pork, there’s a large variance when it comes to both the meat and skin – sometimes perfectly crispy, other times not crispy enough, sometimes too salty, sometimes just right.
Regardless, much like pizza, even a bad crispy roast pork is a good crispy roast pork. (Yes, I do think this about pizza).
Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai (225 Hennessey Road, Open daily 11:30am to 9:30pm, Dishes range from 50 HKD to 150 HKD).
Lei Garden (Various locations and hours, Dishes range from 60 HKD to 400 HKD).
9. Barbecued Roast Pork (叉燒)
Pronunciation: char siu
Long before I came to Hong Kong and learned that you could eat instant noodles in restaurants (this is a Thing and I am thrilled that it is), I was blissfully eating char siu.
Char siu, for the uninitiated (you poor things), is a type of barbecued pork (always pork) originating from the southern Chinese cooking styles of Guangdong. It’s included in the category of siu mei , a group of delicious roast meats. Its nomenclature literally means “fork roast,” and its familiar seasonings include ingredients like honey, five-spice, soy sauce, and various coloring agents (don’t ask me, I’m just the messenger) to get that characteristic red color – which can range from a deep burnished mahogany to a light crimson.
And it is so, so, delicious. It is so delicious that I don’t ever remember my mother even attempting to make char siu at home (and from the looks of how often people order char siu as takeaway in Hong Kong, neither can the locals). The roasting process is lengthy and cumbersome, and the results usually just not quite to up to par to what you can get at even the most humble roast meat joints.
Best leave it to the experts.
Because when you do, you get the most fork-tender, sweet and salty meat, as lean or as fatty as you want. My favorite parts have always been the burnt ends, which end up being crunchy and salty and just delicious enough to remind me as an adult that carcinogens are a thing that I enjoy eating and that my life isn’t getting any longer, but OH WELL.
Joy Hing in Wan Chai is one of the cheapest and one of the oldest joints selling siu mei in the city. If you’re in need of a quick meal, these plates whiz out mere seconds after you’ve placed your order. I love this place, even if the service is brusque (but not unfriendly!).
You can also go to Yung Kee in Central for an upscale rendition of char siu – the kind a friend of mine describes as “the melt-in-your-mouth” kind, but you’d have to pay a bit of a premium for it.
Joy Hing in Wan Chai (Chong Hing Building, 265 to 267 Hennessy Road, Open Monday – Saturday 9:30am to 10pm; Dishes range from 22 HKD to 60 HKD).
Yung Kee in Central (32-40 Wellington Street, Open daily 11am – 11pm; Dishes range from 50 HKD to 300 HKD).
10. Roast Goose (燒鵝)
Pronunciation: siew ngo
Roast goose is the king of siu mei. Chicken and duck rule the menus of cha caan tengs and local restaurants alike, but it’s rare that they’ll serve roast goose, and serve it well. The mark of an amazing roast goose is the incandescent sheen on its skin, Soy sauce, sugar, honey, and other spices are ladled over the bird, which is roasted slowly and hung up in windows to dry. The result is a crispy and succulent skin and tender meat.
The best part of this is the skin – if you’ve ever eschewed poultry skin in the past on account of its slick and slimy texture, fear no more – because this skin is as paper-thin and slick with fat, as explosive when bitten and perfect with rice.
Roast goose isn’t so popular in world cuisine – hence, if you’re only limited to a few items on this list of must-try foods in Hong Kong, you should definitely make this one one of them.
Yat Lok in Central has been on the Michelin Guide for years – another wonderful alternative is Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai. If you don’t have quite the wallet (or numbers!) for a half goose, order a the roast goose on rice, which will only wheedle a smooth 62 HKD from your wallet (about 8 USD).
Yat Lok in Central (34-38 Stanley Street, Open Thursday to Tuesday, 10am – 9pm; Dishes range from 60 HKD to 120 HKD).
Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai (225 Hennessey Road, Open daily 11:30am to 9:30pm, Dishes range from 50 HKD to 150 HKD).
11. Rice Noodle Rolls (腸粉)
Pronunciation: cheong fun
A huge part of traditional Asian food culture is having carbs for breakfast. Forget your omelettes and your protein shakes and your sanctimonious greenery. Asian breakfast is usually carbs, washed down with more carbs, and sometimes an egg thrown in for good measure. Whether it’s congee, or rice rolls, or a bun, or soup noodles, traditional eating habits involve white processed carbohydrates – and honestly, who can blame them?
Rice noodle rolls, or cheung fun as they’re referred to here, are made by a thin batter made out of rice flour poured over a sheet pan, where they’re left to steam and solidify into delicately transclucent paper-thin sheets. They’re then rolled up, fold by fold, and then snip-snip-snipped and plated. At dim sum houses you can get them stuffed with plump crunchy shrimp and roast pork and thin slivers of liver.
My favorite, though is the chee cheong fun that you can order at street stalls and, befuddlingly (and AMAZINGLY) at 7-Eleven and Circle K (my personal shameful preference).
They’re rolled up more tightly and are smaller than the stuffed ones you’ll find at dim sum restaurants, and on their own, are pretty bland. But the sauce is what makes these things aggressively addictive – sesame sauce, plum sauce, chili sauce, all sprinkled over with a generous shake of sesame seeds. I am only mildly embarrassed enough to admit that sometimes I’d go through two cartons of chee cheong fun in a single day (and who can blame me, when an serving at Circle-K costs 11 HKD (about 1.50 USD)?
If Circle K isn’t your speed (you know what, you can turn your nose up all you want but Hong Kong runs on these convenience sores), you can also check out Hop Yik Tai in Sham Shui Po, a local shop churning out plates of chee cheong fun with huge squirt bottles of all the sauces on each and every table.
Hop Yik Tai in Sham Shui Po (121 Kweilin Street, Open daily 6:30am – 8pm; Dishes range from 10HKD to 40HKD)
Circle K (I’m serious, I really like the 11 HKD ones from any Circle K).
12. Curry Fish Balls (咖喱魚蛋)
Pronunciation: ga lei yu daan
I want to believe that Hong Kong is a street food is a city. When I post about food that I’ve eaten in Hong Kong on Instagram, someone will inevitably dreamily respond, “Oh, the street food must be amazing.” And I don’t have the heart to tell them that, well, although there is street food, it’s probably not what they’re envisioning: the tiny plastic stools propped up next to makeshift tables. Street-side woks. Hong Kong is not a street food city the way that Bangkok is a street food city – or that Hanoi is a street food city. There aren’t food markets so congested with bubbling vats of broth and sizzling meats that the vapor punctuates the crowd, like in Taipei. Because it isn’t. The dai pai dongs (outdoor street stalls) of old are slowly fading away from the actual streets, though you’ll still find gatherings of this sort in Temple Street in Kowloon or Stanley Street in central.
But there is certain food that’s firmly relegated to the category of street food, and not just “food that you can find on the street.” And curry fish balls are one of them. You’ll find them at “snack stalls,” where they’ll be bobbling in a vat of curry or stew, usually next to various things on sticks.
And they’re damn delicious. Hence the reason why they’re one of these must-try foods in Hong Kong.
Fish balls are simple. They appear further down on this list again (as fish ball noodles), but because writing about these spheres of joy is such a delight, that I really don’t mind repeating myself. They’re made by grinding fish meat until it forms a rough paste, and then pressing them into spherical little balls (okay, redundant choice of words) about an inch in diameter, give or take.
I think if you come from the Western world, fish meat pressed into shapes doesn’t exactly sound like the most appetizing thing. Like, you wouldn’t choose fish balls over an ice cream sundae. I get it. But look, Americans also made meatloaf a thing – which is basically the same thing: meat ground into oblivion and then pressed into an enormous tin that was meant for something tastier, like banana bread. Meat. Loaf.
At least you can put fish balls on sticks.
You can get these little nuggets pretty much at any snack shop or convenience store. The ones pictured here are from Brother Ja in Causeway Bay.
Brother Ja 1996 渣哥一九九六 in Causeway Bay (30 Jardine’s Bazaar, Open 8am – 10pm, Dishes range from 10HKD to 30HKD).
Kam Wing Tai Fish Balls in Cheung Chau (106 San Hing Street; Open daily 7am-5pm)
13. Egg Waffles (Or Bubble Waffle, or Eggettes) (雞蛋仔)
Pronunciation: gai daan zai
As an American, I’ve never really understood the obsession with waffles. Cute white kids in sitcoms would shout “WAFFLES!” as someone, probably a father (are waffles a “dad food” the way that grilling things is meant to be a “dad activity”?) is slaving away over a waffle iron. If I had to have some cakey-battery-pillowy thing for breakfast, I probably would have preferred pancakes. Or maybe just a bagel. There’s some charm to syrup slowly puddling in between perfect squares.
But the waffles in Hong Kong aren’t like that. Egg waffles (or eggettes, or bubble waffles) are so unique to Hong Kong. I’ve not seen this rendition of a waffle anywhere else in the world, and when I do, it’s specifically made to pay homage to this very specific iteration of a Hong Kong food.
You can even get these with ice cream scooped snugly in between (YES this is insane and it is delicious).
Lee Keung Kei Egg Waffle in North Point (2 O’Brian Road; Open daily 11am – 12am, Dishes range from 10 HKD to 25 HKD).
Mammy’s Pancake (Various locations; Dishes range from 21 HKD to 50 HKD).
14. Hong Kong-style French Toast (法蘭西多士)
Pronunciation: sai doh see
At home, French toast was always the inferior version of pancakes. In our Chinese household, I watched my dad drag slices of bread through beaten egg with a nonchalance that only a Chinese father could reserve for a half-assed attempt at Western food. The result was inevitably an poor man’s version of French toast, an eggy brown mass that we drenched in syrup (and then more syrup when the first pour sunk into the bread, which became fat and heavy with sugar).
The next version was the one at iHOP, whose splashy accoutrements of peaked whipped cream and cubes (in the multiple!) of butter never even came close to the my utter platonic ideal of a perfect chocolate-chip pancake.
Enter the Hong Kong-style French toast, which neither my dad’s indifferent imitation nor iHOP monstrosity come close to. An indisputable staple of Western-influenced Hong Kong food (see: cha caan tengs), Hong Kong-style French toast uses pillowy milk bread as its base, which, after being battered and fried, render a version of French toast that’s way fluffier and lighter than your run-of-the-mill Western version. It’s just as thick as Texas toast, but Texas toast, this isn’t.
And when it’s cut up into manageable cubes and covered in condensed milk and a hunk of fresh butter, you won’t find yourself missing iHOP one bit.
Man Wah Café in Mongkok serves a simple version for 33 Hong Kong dollars (just over 4 USD). For novel versions with sweet rich egg yolk or black sesame, go to Chau Kee in Sai Pun, a personal favorite of mine, which also churns out delicious dim sum at affordable prices.
Man Wah Cafe in Mongkok (G/F, 153-159 Tung Choi St, Open daily from 7am-3am, Dishes and sets range from 12 HKD to 50 HKD).
Chau Kee in Sai Ying Pun (Tung Lee Mansion, 1C-1K Water St, Open Tuesday-Sunday from 8am-6pm, Dishes range from 20 HKD to 40 HKD).
15. Cart Noodles (车仔面)
Pronunciation: che zai meen
If you like eating exactly what you want to eat (and by exactly I mean “chicken wing tips” and “pig blood” are viable option to smash into your mouth), then cart noodles should be your dream food. Hong Kong has no shortage of wonderful traditional noodle dishes, but cart noodles are as traditional as they come: the name itself harks back to the mid-20th century, when hawkers and streetside vendors would sell customized bowls of noodles out of literal carts on the street.
These carts have long since disappeared, but the bowls of noodles have not – they’re now found in local restaurants, usually with the sort of harsh lighting, sticky tables, and Chinese-only menus plastered over the walls. The point is, you can still choose a type of noodle (from softly yellow springy “oil noodles,” thick rice noodles, rice vermicelli, round rice noodles), and fill the bowl with as many toppings as you like, from fish balls to beef tendon to tripe to fish belly slices.
Go to Wing Kee in Wan Chai for its earth, deeply flavored beef broth and springy noodles. The favorites for toppings seem to be squid, pig’s blood cubes, and sweet marinated chicken wing tips. The pig’s blood is so soft that it could be as innocuous as silken tofu, if not for the faintly metallic tang. The chili sauce on the tables is so fiery that it makes even a spice fiend like me splutter and pretend I just have a cough.
Wing Kee Noodle in Causeway Bay (15-23 Sugar Street, Open daily from 11:30am – 10:30pm; dishes range from 30 HKD to 70 HKD).
Man Kee Cart Noodle in Sham Shui Po (121 Fuk Wing Street; Open daily from 11am-4am; Dishes range from 20 HKD to 50 HKD).
16. Milk Pudding (雙皮奶)
Pronunciation: soeng pei nai
Milk pudding is the one thing on this list that I think I have never tried before I stepped foot in Hong Kong. The others have made it into the Chinatowns, hearts, and homes of the Cantonese diaspora, and enriched my childhood by peppering it with delicious traditional Chinese eats.
Your average eater might shirk at a dessert in a bowl (oh buddy, just wait to see what else we have in store for you), but this Cantonese steamed milk pudding is an accessible and easy-to-eat starter dessert. The literal translation of the words in Chinese are “double skin milk,” and that’s because it famously forms two skins during its steaming process. The ingredients themselves are simple enough: milk, sugar, and eggs. So – not unlike your average panna cotta (which resembles this in both taste and texture).
In the end, you’ll get a bowl of fragrant and sweet pudding with a soft sheen, which usually also comes in several flavors (like almond or ginger), as well as a decadent custardy version with egg yolk.
Yee Shun Milk Company in Causeway Bay and Yau Ma Tei is well-known for this sweet snack, but you can also get this at Australia Dairy Company in Jordan.
Yee Shun Milk Company (506 Lockhart Road, Open daily from 12pm to 12am, Dishes range from 15 HKD to 50 HKD).
Australia Dairy Company in Jordan serves fluffy and well-renowned eggs (as well as milk puddings!) with equally infamous surly service (47 Parkes Street, Open Friday-Wednesday 7:30am to 11pm; Dishes range from 10 HKD to 60 HKD).
17. Scrambled Egg Sandwich (雞蛋三文治) – Or Just Scrambled Eggs
Pronunciation: gai dan sam mun zi
I loved scrambled eggs in my youth. I loved them so much that I would often plea to my mother to make one of my favorite meals, which happened to be scrambled eggs with rice. And, as I’ve realized as I’ve gotten old enough to make my own damn eggs, she must have thanked the egg gods and the gods that watch over the erratic tastebuds of preteen children that the things I wanted to eat took her mere minutes to whip up.
Eggs. Crack. Crack. Chopsticks. Thwup thwup thwup thwup. A small pour of Kikkoman soy sauce. Into the oiled hot pan. Crackles bubbles follow. A few minutes with the spatula, and then spooned, steaming, over a hot bowl of rice. It wasn’t Gordon Ramsay, but have you even seen that video? Yeah, no thanks.
And this meal allowed her to sink into the sofa, put her feet up, and turn on the latest episode of whatever drama she was watching at the time.
I know she’d faint if she knew that people were actually paying money to eat what she’d sniff and say I-can-make-this-at-home about.
But therein lies the charm – because you can get scrambled eggs at any of these local eateries in Hong Kong. Scrambled egg sandwiches. Scrambled eggs and toast. Scrambled eggs with ham. Scrambled eggs with beef. Scrambled eggs with spam.
They’re always always made with this soft pillowy white bread (no artisanal ciabattas or seedy rye breads here!) – sometimes toasted sometimes not, and the best eggs are the ones that have formed soft creamy golden-yellow curds, just cooked-through enough to solidify without running.
Australia Dairy Company in Jordan serves fluffy and well-renowned eggs (as well as milk puddings!) with equally infamous surly service (47 Parkes Street, Open Friday-Wednesday 7:30am to 11pm; Dishes range from 10 HKD to 60 HKD).
Chrisly Cafe in Wan Chai also serves up many scrambled egg dishes for breakfast, including a special truffle version (6 Heard Street, Open daily 7:00am to 11pm; Dishes range from 10 HKD to 60 HKD).
18. Congee (粥)
The appeal of congee that seem laughably elusive at first. When I try to explain it to people, I struggle to find words that can appropriately convey its broad appeal to local people.
“Um,” I say. “It’s like a rice porridge. A rice gruel.”
But what does it taste like? Someone with far too much reason and common sense is bound to ask me. Like, does it actually taste of anything?
“Um,” I say again. “No. Not really.”
BUT THAT’S WHY IT’S AWESOME!! I want to shout. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! Texturally, it’s got none of the heft and stodge of oatmeal. But that’s not where the differences end. Instead of adding things like peanut butter and fruit to it, congee gets all manner of stir-ins like fat white-flshed fish belly, the pungent acquired taste of century-egg (essentially a fermented egg), and more accessible things like beef slices and fish balls, all served with plenty of shaved or chopped scallion, ginger, and lots of white pepper to taste.
And then, you get to eat them with these bad boys, you zha gwai in Hong Kong, which literally translate to oil fried ghost, and when will you ever get to eat something with such a badass name ever again? Not to mention, they’re delicious and irresistible sticks of straight-up deep-fried dough, which add pillowy crunch to that congee whose texture you’re just loving, I know.
As children, my kid brother and I would demolish these sticks of fried dough, one-by-one, until we felt sick. I love them just as much now.
A neighborhood shop that’s known for selling fresh fish belly congee (along with literally every other ingredient under the sun) is my neighborhood Sang Kee Congee Shop, which also slings beef brisket noodles if you’d rather skip the congee. You’d just be missing out.
Although you can have congee anywhere (and many countries have their own renditions of a rice porridge), I’d still consider congee one of the many must-try foods in Hong Kong.
Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan serves silky congee and hearty bowls of noodles (7 Burd Street; Open Monday-Saturday 6:30am to 8:30pm, DIshes range from 30 HKD to 70 HKD).
Mui Kee Congee in Mongkok (Shop 11-12, Cooked Food Centre 3/F Municipal Services Building, 123A Fa Yuen St; Open Wednesday – Monday 7am – 3pm; Dishes range from 30HKD to 70 HKD).
19. Claypot Rice (煲仔飯)
Pronunciation: bo zai faan
I love talking about clay pot rice because it is, hands down, my favorite Cantonese item to eat. It’s not as widely loved and hasn’t gained the notoriety of barbecue pork buns at dim sum, but if you’re missing out on clay pot rice, then you are SLEEPING on one of the greatest comfort foods of all time.
Thankfully you have me, incessant eater and carbohydrate worshiper, to tell you about this glorious dish.
Clay pot rice, at its most basic, is rice cooked in a clay pot with any permutation of toppings that you want. If you’re eating clay pot rice for the first time, you would be making a heinous mistake not to order the version with Chinese sausuage. (There are a lot of missteps you could be making with this item, you see? I am here for you). Chinese sausage is a sweet salty cured pork sausage cooked in Chinese wine, and when it’s cooked, the little nobules of dispersed fat sizzle and release an aroma I can only describe as heartrendingly meatlicious (sorry, vegans. Just let me have this).
But if you think that these delicious sausages are the best part, you’re in for a surprise, because the best part is the rice. What’s so seductive about white rice (besides it obviously being the undisputed superior grain)? Clay pot rice is traditionally cooked on an open flame with a tight lid – by the end of the cooking process, the rice at the bottom of the pot has just begun to crisp. When it’s served and the lid is lifted, the dish first splutters and crackles with heat until the lid is lifted and a mass of steam rises from the surface. Pour plenty of the provided dark sweet soy sauce and watch it seep into the sausages, into the frog legs, whatever else you’ve ordered, and zigzag its way into every crevice of rice.
By the time you’ve reached the bottom of the bowl (which you inevitably will, because you are only human and if you do not reach the end, I can only declare you unfit to live among we mere mortals), take your spoon and chip away at the crisp rice at the bottom. It’s crunchy and salty and sweet with soy and delicious.
Kwan Kee in Sai Ying Pun serves the best clay pot rice, in my opinion, but also takes the longest (you’ll receive your pot at least 30 minutes after you’ve ordered it). A close-by under-the-radar shop on the island is Wing Hop Sing in Sai Wan.
Other popular choices include Hing Kee and Four Seasons in Kowloon. I find the rice at Four Seasons on the anemic side, and would be my last choice, but a good meal nonetheless.
Regardless of where you choose to eat it, claypot rice is definitely one of my must-try foods in Hong Kong.
20. Pork Chop (猪扒)
Pronunciation: jyu pa
Pork is a sort of chosen protein of Chinese cuisine – more ubiquitous and cheaper than beef and chicken, and you’ll find it everywhere in Hong Kong – particularly pork chops.
I didn’t eat pork chops growing up, because my mom rarely cooked them. As a child of simple tastes, I preferred more uh, interesting combinations, like scrambled eggs over rice and something my dad made called “dough soup” – a seaweed broth with fluffy nuggets of chewy cooked dough suspended throughout.
Pork chops in Hong Kong are ubiquitous – you’ll find them sandwiched in between pillowy buns, laid over rice, layered over with cheese, and baked until cheese bubbles and oozes over the meat, and cut up and tossed into a steaming bowl of noodles.
For Kee in Sheung Wan/Tai Ping Shan makes them simply and perfectly. And instead of a plate being smashed down onto the table mere seconds after placing your order, rattling utensils and glasses, in that disorienting way I’ve come to expect and love in Hong Kong, For Kee takes a little longer to cook your chops, as each one is made to order. Expect fifteen minutes instead of five (a fucking eternity, I know).
For Kee in Tai Ping Shan/Sheung Wan (200 Hollywood Road; Open Monday – Saturday 7am – 4:30pm; Dishes range from 20 HKD to 70 HKD).
Sun King Yuen Curry Restaurant in Wan Chai (20 Spring Garden Lane; Open Monday – Saturday 11am-3pm and 6:15pm to 9pm; Dishes range from 30 HKD to 70 HKD).
21. Fishball Noodles (魚蛋粉)
Pronunciation: yuu daan fun
There’s something about bouncy chewy textures that hit exactly the right spot, most especially in Asia. Whether it’s the tacky satisfaction of chewing on boba, the resilient chewiness of a tteok rice cake in tteokbokki, or the bouncy firmness of a fish ball, Asia just won’t let the chewiness go.
Enter a bowl of fishball noodles. I’ve already waxed eloquently on the merits of the wonton noodle, and I’ll put down a bowl of tonkatsu ramen faster that Matt Stonie, but fish ball noodles are both the wonton noodle’s underappreciated cousin. The one that everyone invites to the wedding but is sort of left there, being really nice, in the corner.
You can have fishball noodles in Hong Kong with any kind of noodle you want – round rice noodles, thick flat rice noodles (I’m partial to these because I like big noodz and I cannot lie), yellow noodles, and hair-thin vermicelli. But the real star of these bowls are the bouncy fish balls. A shop worth its salt will make them in-house, rather than purchasing the tight vacuum-packed ones from wholesale supermarkets, made with pressing flakey white fish together together into pleasing perfect spheres, which Hong Kongers love eating in soups, in noodles, on the street with bamboo sticks, covered in curry sauce. Anywhere and everywhere.
Fishball noodles can’t be left out of a list of must-try foods in Hong Kong.
On Lee Noodle Shop in Shau Kei Wan is in an area of Hong Kong that tourists often won’t venture. There’s less and less English the further east you go, but for a bowl of these noodles, it’s worth it. There are laminated English menus at every table (you know, to spare you the embarrassment of being not local and not Asian when you visit, because it’s only when you ask for a menu in English that people notice you’re not actually from Hong Kong). There are bowls of dry soy sauce noodles and hot steaming vats of soup noodles in every permutation you can think of. And the brisket! The brisket is fork (or is it chopstick?) – tender and perfect, the fish balls tender and bouncy.
Expect it to be busy, and a bowl with 4 toppings may run you around 56 HKD (just under 8 USD). A steal is a steal. Unless you’re one of those people on TLC’s Penny Pinchers who like, reserve breast milk and pass it around to your friends to, you know, save money. But that’s a conversation for another day.
On Lee Noodle in Shau Kei Wan (22 Shau Kei Wan Main Street East; Open Friday-Wednesday 9am-7pm; Dishes range from 30 HKD to 70 HKD.
22. Instant Noodles (公仔麵)
Pronunciation: gung zai meenn
Before you all @ me, please don’t. These are not your frat boy’s Cup Noodles. I, like so many people of Asian descent, grew up eating instant noodles of the obviously superior variety – whether that superiority meant you were eating Nissin noodles with the pudgy blonde freckled cherub on the front or the always-delicious Korean Shin Ramyun, East Asians have been gussying up these dehydrated fried noodle bricks for decades.
Over the last decade, as I learned with slow horror that the things I eat every day are shearing the years off my life, minute by minute, I might throw in some vegetables into a freshly made pot of instant ramen in a bid to add some time back into my life. Sauteed greens here….pah! 3 minutes back into my sad millennial life. A few chopsticks-full of kimchi there…boom! 5 minutes, because probiotics.
But, as I’ve sadly come to terms with, no amount of greenery will ever compete with a bowl of meaty trimmings. And that, my friends, is where Hong Kong gets it right.
Any cha caan teng worth its muster will serve instant noodles on its menu – sometimes with Spam, which we refer to as “luncheon meat,” sometimes with barbecued roast pork, sometimes with ham, or satay beef. It’s an ode to a childhood staple – a frazzled mother, a distracted father. The first thing you learned to “cook”.
And today, the adults of Hong Kong still can’t resist it. Just walk past any Circle K or 7-Eleven at lunch time, and you’ll still find adults slurping instant noodles from cups in the windowsills.
At a cha caan teng, pick your poison – it’s all delicious.
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).
Sun Kee Cheese Noodle in Tsim Sha Tsui makes a unique version with melted cheese (Champagne Court, Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; Open daily 12pm-1am; Dishes range from 30 HKD to 70 HKD).
23. Tofu Fa (豆腐花)
Pronunciation: dou fu fa
If you’ve ever been to a dim sum restaurant, chances are that you’ve seen this food being rolled around. It’s normally eaten at the end of a meal and kept in a giant steel pot.
Soybeans are such a staple in East Asian cuisines that you’ll find it everywhere – dessert is no exception. Although certain regions of China will eat it savory (and in certain parts of Taiwan they do this too), for simplicity’s sake, for this post I’ll only go into the dessert version, which is found commonly enough in Hong Kong to be on this list of local must-try foods in Hong Kong.
It’s essentially an extremely soft silken tofu, cooked slowly and gently until it forms a pudding-like texture. It’s then spooned into bowls and commonly served with clear simple syrup or ginger syrup – although really, you can get it however you want. Usually you can ask for more or less syrup to your taste, but in general, locals don’t tend towards the too-sweet.
Yan Wo Dou Bun Cheong in Causeway Bay has a comfortingly long list of different ways to gussy up your bowl of tofu dessert (and it’s delicious, so silky smooth), as well as a list of soy drinks.
If you’re ever visiting Lamma Island on a day trip, be sure to stop by Ah Por Tofu Fa shortly after leaving Yung Shue Wan on the Lamma Family Walk Trail. The soy here isn’t as so super-smooth as the Yan Wo’s, but it’s still refreshing during a walk (and photogenic as hell!).
Yan Wo Dou Bun Chong in Causeway Bay (55 Jardine’s Bazaar; Open daily 11:30am to 11pm; Dishes range from 10 HKD to 30 HKD).
Ah Por Tofu Fa (Tofu Garden) on Lamma Island (Lamma Island Family Walk; Open daily 10:30am to 5:30pm; 10 HKD to 15 HKD).
24. Milk Tea (奶茶)
Pronunciation: nai cha
I’ve been drinking different iterations of bubble milk tea (boba milk tea?) since I was old enough to choke on a tapioca boba and decide I didn’t like whatever made up these sticky dark spheres of death (and yes, this actually happens).
But if there’s an iconic beverage of Hong Kong, this is it. A relic from British colonial Hong Kong, where the practice of drinking black tea with milk and sugar became commonplace, the habit of drinking milk tea just stuck. Seeing as how the British took tea from the Asian continent to begin with – I guess it all does come full circle.
Hong Kong milk tea is made with a blend of black tea tea. Evaporated or condensed milk is then added – lending the drink its charateristic smooth creaminess not found in a simple cup of tea and milk.
Lan Fong Yuen in Central claims to have been the originators of the first “pantyhose” milk tea, where the tea is filtered through a sackcloth. They also claim to be the first to create another ubiquitous called “Yuen Yueng” – a mix of a milk tea is filtered through sackcloth, but to be honest, both of these drinks are so, well, everywhere and so delicious that it really doesn’t matter where it was done first.
You can get milk tea almost everywhere you go – iced or hot – especially in casual local joints. It’s definitely considered one of the must-try foods (drinks?) in Hong Kong.
25. Tong Sui Desserts
Pronunciation: tong sui
“I feel like non-Asians don’t like Asian desserts that much,” I once said to my friend. I paused. “I feel like I don’t like Asian desserts that much.
I, a Chinese American through and through, was raised on envying the chocolate cakes on television screens (until the fateful day that I saw a round boy painfully, forcefully, consume a gigantic chocolate cake at the hands of one Miss Trunchbull on an old VCR tape), the chocolate chip cookies that every mother (not mind though!) allegedly baked at home – and pies, most of all, were a totally foreign luxury, one that I saw through the lens of Thanksgiving advertisements and ate merrily, defrosted, once in a blue moon. Sometimes we baked cookies in elementary school, which was a real luxury.
And then there were the tong sui – any sweet soup that can be served as a dessert at the end of a traditional Chinese meal. It’s a whole genre of dessert that held decidedly less fanfare than consuming a perfectly frosted cupcake or a creamy tarte tatin. Chinese desserts, to me, for the most part, are an amalgation of oh-so-slightly sweet soups and liquids in flavors like ginger and almond and red bean and black sesame – flavors that, well, sound a little too natural to taste any good.
And look, I’m not here to try to convince you that a red bean bun is supposed to measure up to a chocolate souffle or a creme brulee or a perfect chocolate chip cookie. Because if you genuinely prefer a ginger syrup tofu fa to a slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream on top, then I have nothing to say to you – you are a thing of either great monstrousness or great majesty. Teach me the ways of enjoying low-sugar treats and I may yet learn to do yoga on a regular basis and actually like ingesting things like celery.
Regardless, tong sui still deserves a place on the must-try foods in Hong Kong list.
Because they tend to less sweet, they’re all the more refreshing as a palate cleanser after a large meal. Take sago, a starch that’s made from the pith of various types of palm plants. It goes into a coconutty sweet soup (and can oftentimes be found being rolled around in dim sum restaurants in the west – look for a large watermelon!). If you’ve ever had tapioca pearls in the form of boba tea, you’ll know somewhat what the texture of sago will be like.
My personal favorite, though, are the glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame. Sticky-chewy-tacky textures are the best – and judging by the popularity of mochi globally, I think most people can agree. These little spheres are filled with a sweet black sesame filling. I wouldn’t recommend gulping the entire thing down unless you take unprecedented pleasure in burning the entire interior of your mouth.
Other common dessert fixtures include various other wobbly, gelatinous, chewy, and slightly sweet cubes of things made from plants – think aiyu jelly, grass jelly, more glutinous rice.
Hey, don’t knock it til you try it!
Honeymoon Dessert serves rather modern versions (Various locations; Dishes range from 15 HKD to 50 HKD).
Kai Kai Dessert in Jordan (29 Ning Po Street; Open daily from 12pm – 3:30am; Dishes range from 15 HKD to 40 HKD).
Comment and Share
There you have it – some of what I consider the must-try foods in Hong Kong. I’d love to know if you’ve tried any of the foods on this list! Comment and share this post if you think it might help someone visiting Hong Kong for the first time – or if food in Hong Kong is just not your thing, I’d love to know the why (yes, people have this opinion. I’m still scratching my head).
If you’re interested in reading more about Hong Kong eats, check out the following posts: