The scale doesn’t lie and according to it’s numbers I enjoyed Hong Kong’s culinary delights more than any place we have been. When it comes to Hong Kong food, it’s hard to know where to start…or when to stop. Hong Kong’s past as a British colony certainly didn’t boost the city’s culinary esteem. However, that fact coupled with it’s role in international commerce has influenced the culinary direction of the city. Hong Kong is often described as a gourmet paradise and I can’t argue. From the dai pai dong shops to the private kitchens Hong Kong is a foodie’s heaven on earth.
A dai pai dong food stall in the Mong Kok district, serving pork and duck
A dai pai dong is a casual, open-air, Chinese style dining restaurant catering mostly to locals. A little bit of pointing and embarassing gesturing will get you a delicious, cheap meal. The pork and duck shown above was served over rice with a slightly sweet sauce, which was perfect with a bubble tea.
Bubble tea is the perfect hot day pick-me-up for just two US dollars
Bubble Tea is a delicious “pearl milk tea” also known as “boba milk tea”, which is a strong black tea with milk that contains small chewy balls made of tapioca starch, called pearls. It is a cheap cold drink in the summer and it’s served hot in the winter, you know you’ve ordered the right thing if it comes with a thick straw to suck up the tapioca pearls. You can find a Come Buy on almost every corner, which serves such divine bubble tea it easily became addictive.
We were happy to find that ordering is easy at many “fast food” places in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong-style fast food is either served in fast-casual restaurants or mall food courts. No charades are necessary to order as they almost always have pictures or plastic food displays. As you can see above thinkCHUA ordered his food by simply pointing to his selection.
Another quick and satisfying food option is the Hong Kong-style Chinese pastry, which offers a plethora of choices. Always baked fresh you can count on the egg tarts as a sure bet. With a melt in your mouth, buttery pastry shell filled with egg custard and served hot, what’s not to love. We seemed to devour the pastries before we even got pictures of them, but you won’t have any trouble finding these delights if you head to Hong Kong.
While all of the above mouth-watering choices will sustain you the true culinary delights are found in the morning dim sum meals and the private kitchens. For dim sum you can’t beat the prices and taste treats at Tim Ho Wan, known as the world’s cheapest Michelin rated restaurant. Don’t expect Michelin-style service, but the food makes up for it and the prices will keep you from complaining about the curt staff. You can’t miss it as a mob crowds the entrance to wait for their number to be called, getting a coveted seat for breakfast requires marathon-like endurance as the wait can be as long as three hours. We waited half that time and would do it again for just one of their delectable fried pork buns. They are so amazing that you can’t help but burn your tongue as you can’t possibly wait to get it in your mouth.
Me waiting to get my number for a coveted seat at Tim Ho Wan, the masses had started waiting before the restaurant even opened. When we got there upon opening we were already too late.
The man behind Tim Ho Wan is Mak Pui Gor, the former dim sum master at Hong Kong’s Four Seasons Hotel, which explains his dim sum expertise. The first dish out of Mak Pui Gor’s kitchen was steamed pork buns, followed by his signature dish Cha siu baau (pork buns), this time with a twist. They sell like hot cakes here upwards of 750 a day. Most dim sum places only serve them steamed, but here they are fried: the slightly crisp sugar glaze around the pastry bun protecting a decadent mixture of diced pork and sauce is a slice of heaven. I’m drooling on my keyboard just recalling the taste.
A glimpse into the incredible fried pork bun served at Tim Ho Wan.
After our dim sum meal, I didn’t think anything else that passed my lips in this magical gourmet city would beat it, until I went to Margaret Xu’s private kitchen in Wan Chai. True farm-to-table Chinese cuisine-presented in cosmopolitan Hong Kong style is the way Xu describes Yin Yang. Her five course, twelve dish menu is a great value for the variety of filling dishes you get. We started with a beautiful spring sample platter that included goose, beets, fresh greens from Xu’s organic garden and two unique sauces. Many of the flavors were new to me and with the limited English spoken I still can’t tell you all the different things we ate over the course of four hours.
These Jell-O like chicken dumplings were simply described as “Gold Satin” on the menu.
After the starters we had Xu’s signature dish of Yellow Chicken, which was my favorite course of the meal. We also enjoyed mussels, steamed bok choy, fragrant rice, “soup without water”, suckling pig and a gorgeous dessert platter. Each new dish brought to the table was beautifully presented and tasty. While not all the flavors struck a chord with me, the evening stands out as a highlight of my time in Hong Kong. The intimate atmosphere (Yin Yang only seats 20 in it’s refurbished 1930’s shop house) and care put into the food make this an unforgettable experience.
The Yellow Earth Chicken was succulent, with the crispy skin being the highlight.
Whether you seek out a private kitchen or stick to the dai pai dong stalls on the streets Hong Kong will not disappoint you in the food category. Move out of your comfort zone and try something new, you will be rewarded with some of the best taste sensations you have ever had.
IF YOU GO:
Be ready to wait for the good stuff. Tim Ho Wan (Shop 8, Taui Yuen Mansion Phase 2, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok) is open from 10 am to 10 pm daily and the line starts forming outside around 8 am. Get there before you’re hungry as the wait can be long. The best time to avoid lines is the afternoon during the week while many people are at work.
Make reservations ahead of time, there are very few private kitchens that do not require reservations. Yin Yang (18 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong) has quite a process to reserve a table, go to their website and complete their dinner reservation form and email it in before you arrive in Hong Kong to insure you can get a table.
Try something new, street food is safe for the most part and anyone who ventures out of their food comfort zone will be rewarded. As always use your best judgement, but we experienced no problems eating from street food stalls.