Good news foodies, I’m going to give you the low-down on Hong Kong’s best local eats to give you a taste of what this incrEDIBLE city has to offer. After my unfortunate incident with a parasite which left me hospitalalized, you would have thought I’d be off local eats, but those who have travelled Asia know it’s those places where the locals go that dish up some of the best food around. So parasite or no parasite I was going to embrace it. My last minute decision to visit Hong Kong for the mid-autumn festival meant I had done absolutely zero research on the city let alone where to eat. However, I made the most out of my time and managed to eat my way through my five days there. Here’s seven local favourites and “must eats’ when visiting Hong Kong.
1. A selection of local comfort food from Match Box, Causeway Bay
Match Box is a traditional Hong Kong fast food tea house otherwise known as a Cha Chan Teng where locals go to enjoy simple comfort food. I visited many Cha Chan Teng’s in Hong Kong, most for breakfast where I enjoyed milk tea and a number of baked goods. I went to Match Box with Matthew, Shamraiz and Chloe (read her blog here) from Couchsurfing who I had arranged to meet up with to celebrate the mid-autumn festival. Local Matthew, suggested Match Box because of it’s quirky interior which is done out like an old-style HK tea house from the 60’s. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in an episode of Mad Men and I loved the feeling of being in a different era, not to mention a different country.
We let Matthew order as he’s an expert of local HK food and the the following arrived at the table:
- Chicken pie in green pea soup
- Pancakes with banana, cream and honey
- Roasted pork spaghetti
- Black sesame toast
- Pancakes with ham, cheese, pineapple, fried egg and maple syrup
- Scrambled egg on toast
- Milk tea
My first thought was that most of these dishes are quintessentially English, forgetting that Hong Kong used to be part of the British colony and it was wonderful to taste some old-school British classics (the “Britishness” of pancakes and spaghetti could be debated). All the dishes were rather scrumptious and I especially liked the pancakes and chicken pie. I found it amusing that it was a good 15 minutes before we tucked in as we were busy taking photos. I learnt that in Hong Kong it is perfectly normal to let the food go cold whilst everyone at the table snaps away and uploads the photos to Instagram. We even pulled out the selfie stick at times for that perfect shot. In Hong Kong is it also normal to eat the dishes in no particular order, so I had a bite of chicken pie followed by a spoonful of sweet maple pancake and back to the roasted pork spaghetti. I loved the informality of the Cha Chan Teng dining style, not to mention the excellent value with our banquet coming to under £5 a head!
2: Fish Ball Noodle Soup from Guang Dong (Tsim Sha Tsui)
When travelling solo I always find myself wandering around until I’m too exhausted to think straight and end up struggling to find anywhere to eat. On this occassion I just wanted to go to bed but knew I should have a proper meal before doing so. I wanted to try something local, even though all I was craving was pizza, but I felt obliged to eat Asian food, as I was in Hong Kong afterall. It’s always fun when I enter a restaurant with no English menu and take my chances with a random point. This probably wasn’t the best occassion to try it, but I pointed at what appeared to be the most backpacker friendly (the cheapest) thing on the menu and was presented with a bowl of fish ball noodle soup. The noodle soup was just the same as nearly every other noodle soup I’ve had in Asia and boy there has been plenty! I added my own seasoning of soy sauce to enhance the flavour which, if I’m being honest was pretty bland. The fish balls were rather good and a must try when visiting Hong Kong, although I’m not sure I would choose this dish again.
3. Pineapple Bun, Kam Wah (Prince Edward)
Famous for it’s buns, Kam Wah is is the heart of the local district close to Prince Edward Station. Again, the menu isn’t in English but luckily the lady knew that I had come for one of their most talked about pineapple buns. I was the only westerner and was placed at a table with two young local girls who giggled as I sat down. I was then quite abruptly told I had to order a drink if I was sitting in so I ordered traditional hot Yuanyang, a mixture of milk tea and coffee, which has become a favourite of mine. To my disappointment my bun arrived later but it was cold, not hot out the oven as I asked. I suppose they can’t serve every bun ‘hot out the oven’ but I was more than happy to wait as having it hot would have turned the very tasty butter bun into something truly divine. I’ve since had a few more pineapple buns and all have been cold due to the fact I keep forgetting that they are only served hot at certain times of day (around 10am and 3pm) as I learnt through locals. I was suprised to find that a pineapple bun is just a bread roll with a crusty top, usually served with a thick slab of butter inside and contains no pineapple. This popular local treat is called a pineapple bun because of the crispy top which resembles the outside of a pineapple. The service in Kam Wah was so awful that I laughed, but this was a traditional in-out-no-fuss operation in what I’ve learnt is an incredibly fussy culture.
4. Eggettes, Street stall (Mong Kok)
I was lucky enough to be shown around by a local girl called Liz who’d I’d met on couchsurfing.com. Liz showed me all the local spots including the most popular street food among locals, one of them being Eggettes. Eggettes are egg waffles shaped in clusters of round pockets. They don’t have a great deal of flavour and are very light making them a perfect ‘pick me up’ when peckish but not wanting anything too heavy. These went down well with a milk tea (this one from ComeBuy), which became my favourite thirst quencher whilst in Hong Kong. This popular tea, often referred to as bubble tea, comes in all kinds of flavours with my favourite being milk tea with tapioca, which tastes a little like a very sweet milky tea you’d find in England but with chewy balls of black jelly and stringy clear jelly. Refreshing, revitalising and filling but not the best for my health I’d expect!
5. Egg Tarts from Honolulu Coffee Shop (Central)
Honolulu is a Cha Chan Teng just like Match Box but slightly more of a local fast food joint than a sit down meal. Cha Chan Teng’s are extremely popular in Hong Kong and each one usually has a signature dish. Like Kam Wah is famous for it’s pineapple buns, Honolulu is known for their egg tarts so I suggested heading there for breakfast one morning when meeting my friend Shamraiz. True to their word the egg tarts were truly delicious and are pretty much identical to traditional homemade English ones, far better than the ones you find in UK supermarkets I must say. As delicious as the egg tarts were, the scrambled egg and French toast we had were shockingly awful, as was the service, but we enjoyed a giggle while trying to order from the Cantonese menu.
6. Dim Sum from Michelin starred Tim Ho Wan (Sham Shui Po)
How often does one get to dine at a Michelin star restaurant for just over a fiver? Dim Sum is meant for sharing and I was luckily enough to be joined by my new couchsurfing friends for my last dinner in Hong Kong. Michelin star Tim Ho Wan has become so popular there are now a handful of branches throughout Hong Kong and another has just opened in Singapore. Although familiar with tourists, locals occupied the majority of the tables and the place certainly has an authentic feel to it. I let my local friends order for me making sure they included Tim Ho Wan’s specialities.
The following arrived at our table:
- Numerous rounds of steamed dumplings
- Crispy baked BBQ pork buns
- Steamed egg cake
- Glutinous rice dumpling (sticky rice in lotus leaf)
- Pan fried turnip cake
- Lettuce in soy sauce
- Vermicelli rolls
- Tonic medlar and petal cake
- Bird’s nest and egg white
The food was good but nothing to write home about apart from the signature baked BBQ pork buns which were a good combination of meaty, sweet and perfectly baked dough. The egg cake was very nice too and had enough flavour and moisture not to require cream or custard like it would be paired with in the UK. The service was better than expected and I was surprised we didn’t have to queue on a Thursday evening. Is it worth a Michelin star? Hmm, not in my eyes but then again I’m used to dining at Michelin starred European restaurants like Maze and Lima in London. However, my local friends confessed that they have had better dim sum elsewhere. Good food, great value, but don’t expect Michelin standards.
7. Pancakes and waffles at Sweet Tooth (Mong Kok)
One thing I love about Hong Kong is that instead of going down the local pub for a pint or for an overpriced cocktail at a bar somewhere, groups of friends spend their evenings at one of the many dessert cafés. The majority, like Sweet Tooth open until the early hours and have similar menus filled with European desserts, pancakes, waffles, French toast and ice cream. We had not long eaten so we shared waffles, fruit and ice cream which was served in a car and pancakes with cream, nuts and toffee presented as a cute bunny rabbit. Both tasted just as good as they looked and I could happily spend every evening in Sweet Tooth catching up with friends.
Of course I consumed much more food during my five days in Hong Kong, but I’ve chosen to highlight my favourite seven most traditional eats most popular with locals. A few other not-so-traditional favourites of mine (from left to right in the above photo) were Bi Bim Bap from Hungry Korean, noodles in a bag from a street stall, Mr Softy Ice Cream near the star ferry, pork dumplings from the shop with no English name (I asked!), black chicken bun from Bread Talk bakery and a peanut butter and jelly cupcake from Twelve Cupcakes in The One Mall. Hong Kong is the perfect destination for foodies and if you’re lucky enough to visit you must make sure you try some of the dishes I’ve shared with you – enjoy!
Living life, loving foodie paradise Hong Kong,