In the UK (and, I’m sure, around the world) there are many Chinese takeaways serving dishes that we’ve become familiar with, such as chow mein and sweet and sour pork. Most of these dishes are actually Cantonese (i.e. Southern Chinese) and don’t represent much of what is eaten around China. However, even the Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong can be very different from the “Chinese” food that we’re used to. I thought I’d identify a few favourites that you may not be aware of!
Noodle soup is a staple here, and very cheap. A large bowl can be purchased for HK$20-30 (£1.60-2.50). It basically comprises a large amount of thin noodles in a clear thin soup, sort of like a weak chicken stock. Usually you have something else in your noodles – such as shrimp wontons, which are like dumplings (see below). The picture below shows noodle soup with beef balls, which are basically processed beef in a ball shape! I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of noodle soup, as it’s quite bland. But it does fill you up if you want something cheap for lunch!
I read somewhere that Japanese ramen is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. This is a good thing! I’ve only come across it here, but it’s similar to noodle soup only with a lot more flavour and more interesting things in with the noodles. Also, I prefer to have udon noodles instead of ramen, which are thicker.
Chinese dumplings are very different to British dumplings! The Chinese variety comprises minced meat, shrimp and/or vegetables wrapped in a soft thin pasta-like package. They may be steamed, fried or boiled. There are loads of different types, from all over China. One of our favourites are xiaolongbao (pictured below) from Shanghai, which have a little soup inside as well as the meat. This makes them very difficult to eat without dropping the soup everywhere!
Pork chop curry
I don’t believe that this originates in China but you can get it in many of the little cafés here. It is one of Tom’s favourites! It comprises a breaded pork chop cutlet in a thick spicy curry sauce, and is often served with potatoes and rice. Definitely not what I expected local Chinese food to be!
A hotpot is a bit like an oil fondue, where you dip your food into the bowl to cook it. However, in the bowl is a spicy broth with lots of chillis, Sichuan peppercorns and black beans along with a whole host of other things to add to the flavour. When we have this in a restaurant we have to ask them to make it a little less spicy otherwise it’s too hot to eat! There are loads of things that are great to cook in your hotpot. In the picture below you can see corn on the cob and dumplings. We also like to have beef, beef balls, broccoli, cauliflower, noodles, mushrooms and Chinese cabbage in ours, but the list is pretty endless!
Sichuan cuisine comes from the Sichuan province in south-west China, and is legendarily spicy. Tom loves it but I can only tolerate it in small doses! In fact, most Cantonese people struggle with how spicy it is as Cantonese food is generally not at all spicy.
There is one Sichuan dish that has made it to UK takeaways – Kung Po chicken – but it is nothing like the original! The UK version comprises chicken and vegetables in a slightly sweet thick pink sauce. When you order it here, you are given a plate of diced chicken, chillis and peanuts (and maybe some other veg) with a very small amount of brown sauce. It’s really nice, but very spicy!
I couldn’t leave without mentioning dim sum, perhaps our favourite Cantonese cuisine. I know you can get it in the UK, but I hadn’t had it very often until we came here. Dim sum is essentially a meal of small dishes which you select from a large menu. Some of our favourite dim sum dishes include BBQ pork buns (pork cooked in a sweet sauce inside a sweet breaded white bun), dumplings of many different varieties, stuffed peppers (the stuffing is often minced pork) and glutinous rice dumplings (a large ball of sticky rice with other ingredients mixed in, such as chicken, prawns, egg and mushrooms). Depending on where you go, dim sum can be pretty cheap too, and we’ve had meals where we’ve left completely stuffed and the bill has come to HK$120 (£10) for the two of us.
Thanks for reading!