What Hong Kong Tastes Like: A City in Eight Meals

By Zoe Suen

2024년 3월 28일

What Hong Kong Tastes Like: A City in Eight Meals

When I think about growing up in Hong Kong, I see the view from our childhood living room window, which overlooked its dense verdant hills when the weather permitted, and a muggy grey expanse when on jubilant typhoon days, it didn’t. I feel the white-knuckling jolt of the mini bus as it haphazardly ferried uniformed high schoolers into the city’s cha chaan teng (茶餐廳)-peppered depths; and getting sand off my feet before returning to the backseat of our baking car after afternoons at the beach. But more than anything, I think about eating.

A lot of the time, the meals I conjure up were made by my mum, who almost always commandeers my first and last meals at home. If not, they rarely stray far from the below — an assemblage of my favourite local dishes, which in and out of a rapidly changing city, I know I can come back to for a taste of my humid home. 

Clay pot rice 煲仔飯

Whenever we worked up the courage, my family would venture out to Wing Hop Sing (永合成) in Sheung Wan, where a formidable middle-aged lady serves as the lunch-only restaurant’s fearsome manager, judge, jury, and executioner. We sat exactly where she told us to (or else) and ordered the beef and egg clay pot rice (窩蛋牛肉飯), which merits an extra drizzle of dark soy before it’s mixed and the raw egg cooks in the residual heat. We ate greedily, breathing in a semi-yogic fashion to cool the contents of our mouths.

HK breakfast 早餐

Not unlike the British with their pubs, Hong Kongers are loyal to their breakfast joints, which are also revealing reminders of the city’s colonial past. Some join tourists in the long lines for Australia Dairy Company (where getting a takeaway is underrated) and others return to their neighbourhood joints, where elders sit with their racing pages. We have a few favourites, among them Bing Kee (丙記) in Tai Hang, which was my first order of business when we lived nearby and if I touched down early in the morning. To each his own — macaroni and ham or instant noodles; tea with condensed milk or lemon — but my go-to is always a sandwich. Egg and corned beef on untoasted white bread, to be exact. 

Wonton Noodles 雲吞麵

I only came to appreciate many of these dishes after leaving for university in London, where the trifecta of noodles, broth and toppings are often lacking in some way or another to mouths spoilt by Hong Kong chefs. For my dad, wonton noodles — lighter fare and in a smaller portion than many an iconic local eat — have always been the ideal supplemental food. It’s what he’ll order when he’s feeling virtuous or, more often than not, unsatisfied after a fancy dinner. Because of that, the bouncy, slippery wontons, al dente noodles (which I used to strongly dislike but have since warmed to) and dried seafood-flavoured clear broth will always have a place in my heart.

Beef Brisket Noodles 牛腩麵

You’ll be pleased to know that Sister Wah’s (華姐清湯腩) has a fast-moving line, especially if you, like me on one or two occasions, are worse for wear after a late night. The beef brisket and tendon ho fun in broth (牛筋腩河)  is peerless hungover food, but also peerless food, full stop; its clear broth nectar of the gods whether or not you’ve overindulged. I used to champion the other famous brisket noodle spot, Kau Kee (九記), and will now comfortably admit I was wrong. (I jest: Sister Wah’s suits those with a lighter palette, while Kau Kee’s still delicious noodles are overall richer and more strongly seasoned.)

Dim Sum 點心

I also took my time appreciating dim sum. For years, the bites housed in bamboo steamers tasted like routine and obligation — we’d go (and still go) to the exact same restaurant minutes away from where my grandma lives every time we visited; I still don’t know why she refuses to go to any of the much better establishments in the same mall complex and returns to the spot not only weekly but daily for the same assortment. Now, I crave cheongfun (腸粉) and hargao (蝦餃) on weekend mornings more than I ever do eggs and bacon. When I’m in town, we go to that dim sum joint and I’m hit with the fact that as much as I find the food greasy and unappetising, I’ll miss it all when she’s gone.

Roast Meats on Rice 燒臘飯

During our last visit, my boyfriend remarked that Hong Kong runs on roast meat — he’s not wrong. My high school was minutes away from a cheap and cheerful spot that was in hindsight mediocre but at the time fantastic. At least several times a week, we took advantage of our privileges as seniors and flocked in pursuit of charsiu — specifically, the barbequed pork over rice with extra sauce and a sunny side up egg (叉燒煎蛋飯,多汁), plus an iced lemon tea with less syrup (凍檸茶,少甜). Over time, I’m sure memory will do its thing; I’ll become convinced that my high school go-to was something akin to Stephen Chow’s iconic roast meat bowl in The God of Cookery. I’m fine with that! 

Fried Beef Ho Fun 乾炒牛河

Ho fun is a beloved carb in Cantonese cuisine and thrives when fried either dry — soy-darkened with beef and bean sprouts — or wet — with beef, peppers, and black beans in gravy. The latter’s sauciness can cover a multitude of sins (often a lack of wok hei), and it’s harder to find a dry fried ho fun that doesn’t taste too greasy. But when you do, and you top it with a bit of chilli sauce, it’s instant happiness closely followed by fierce competition over who gets the biggest bowl. 

Tofu Pudding  豆腐花

I’d be remiss not to include a dessert and, in my opinion, this is the platonic ideal — silky smooth, nowhere near stodgy and its sweetness dialled up or down to your liking with orange can sugar and syrup. My trips home are punctuated by bowls of the stuff: a cold one post-hike on a sweltering island hopping day; several portions to calm my stomach after a mouth-numbing Sichuanese feast; a shared bowl at Kung Wo Beancurd Factory (公和荳品廠) in Sham Shui Po, where they make the case for tofu pudding and street skewers as a well-balanced meal.

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