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As the Little Koo blog draws to a close (due to our relocation to the UK), I have a couple of guest posts for you from my husband, Tom! He had the lovely idea of writing about things he will miss about Hong Kong, but when he started writing he wrote so much about Chinese food that it turned into a blog post all of its own! So you’ll have another post to look forward to soon, but for now here he is in his own words, talking about Chinese food. Enjoy!
I have long had a passion for Chinese food and Hong Kong is certainly one of the best places in the world to try it. I thought I would share with you some of my favourite restaurants and dishes from across China which I have sampled in my time here. This is not an exhaustive list and I don’t claim to be an expert so there may be better, cheaper or more authentic options out there! Also, since my office is in Wan Chai there is a definite geographic bias in some of my recommendations, but I hope that this is a useful introduction to the different types of Chinese food you can find in Hong Kong.
I’ve included the Chinese names of my favourite dishes and for restaurants who don’t have translated names for ease of reference. For the sake of correctness I have used traditional characters for Cantonese dishes and simplified for those that come from other regions of China (since traditional characters are used in Hong Kong but the rest of China uses simplified characters).
The obvious highlight of Hong Kong cuisine is the world famous 點心(Dim Sum) which can be enjoyed across the whole spectrum of restaurants from the grandest to the most modest of settings. I will never tire of going to yum cha with my colleagues and friends and it seems every time I go someone orders a dish I haven’t come across before.
My personal favourites are 叉燒包(Char siu bao or BBQ pork buns – always a favourite with westerners), 糯米雞(Lor mai gaai or glutinous rice dumpling), 奶黃包(lai wong bao or egg custard buns) and chilli peppers stuffed with pork (a dish whose Chinese name I have never fully learnt but translates to something like tiger skin peppers). If you have guests in town you can’t go far wrong with Maxim’s Palace in City Hall (2/F, City Hall, 5-7 Edinburgh Place, Central), and whilst there are undoubtedly more authentic and local restaurants around the food is decent, the atmosphere is fun and they still push food around on trolleys. There are no reservations so make sure you download the FoodGulu app to your phone and get your ticket for the queue whilst you are on your way to avoid waiting around for up to 1 hour at busy periods, such as weekend lunchtimes.
Lor mai gaai
Stuffed tiger skin peppers
Tim Ho Wan 添好運 (numerous restaurants around HK) is a very worthy alternative if you want cheap high quality (Michelin starred in some locations) Dim Sum. Queues are often horrendous in the more popular restaurants, we have found the North Point branch (2-8 Wharf Road, North Point) to be better but often get take away from the one in IFC (Shop 12A, L1/F, Hong Kong MTR Station, Central) and head up to the public area on the roof top of the mall to enjoy our spoils.
Apart from Dim Sum my other favourite food local to Hong Kong is 叉燒燒肉飯(char siu siu yuk faan – a combination of BBQ pork & roast pork with rice) which can be obtained from any local restaurant displaying a variety of cooked poultry hanging in the window. Depending on quality you can pay between HK$25-50 for a hearty lunch.
I must confess though that apart from various fried dishes involving 河粉(ho fun – thick rice noodles) this is roughly where my love of Cantonese food dries up. The more formal restaurants often focus heavily on seafood like abalone, geoduck (look it up) and sea cucumber with textures and flavours which I can’t say I’ve ever really understood.
Fortunately Hong Kong does have plenty of restaurants offering dishes from many of the other regional cuisines of China, my favourite of which (being a lover of spicy food) is Sichuan. There are numerous restaurants all over town which lay claim to providing authentic Sichuan food. One of my favourites is the private kitchen Yu Chuan Club 渝川菜館 (Shop B, 1/F, 7-17 Amoy Street, Wan Chai). As soon as you enter you are hit in the nostrils by an amazing smell which is a combination of famous Sichuan flavours: 麻 (ma or numbing – courtesy of the Sichuan pepper corns) and 辣(la or spicy). The food is excellent and the place gets pretty busy so I would recommend making a reservation. I have also had very enjoyable and to my knowledge fairly authentic dinners at San Xi Lou 三希樓 (7/F Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-levels) and if you want a more upmarket/unusual experience the private kitchen Da Ping Huo 四川菜大平伙 (LG/F, 49 Hollywood Road, Central) provides a set 8-10 course Sichuan feast which is usually accompanied by the hostess bursting into Sichuan Opera at the end (I’ve been twice and this only happened on one of the two occasions).
In terms of dishes my personal favourites are 鱼香茄子 (yuxiang qiezi – fish fragrant aubergines), 水煮牛肉 (shuizhu niurou “water boiled” beef – i.e. beef boiled in a fiery pot of chilli oil) and 辣子鸡 (laziji – chicken fried in an unbelievable mound of chilli and Sichuan pepper corns).
Fish fragrant aubergines
Another Sichuan classic, ma po tofu
Shanghainese is another popular cuisine in Hong Kong, one represented by a number of restaurant chains across the city. Whilst there are a great many dishes from the region I am going to focus on my favourite dish – the famous soup filled pork dumpling 小笼包(xiao long bao or siu long bao depending on whether you use Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation) . Probably my favourite siu long bao in Hong Kong is found in the catchily named Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao, which has many branches around Hong Kong. Din Tai Fung is another popular Taiwanese chain but despite their reputation I personally prefer Crystal Jade’s dumpling which I think tend to have a thinner skin.
Other non-chain options include 3.6.9. Shanghai 上海三六九菜館 (G/F 30-32 O’Brien Road, Wan Chai) which is a more local style restaurant which does very tasty siu long bao and is open late which makes it a good spot for a late meal after a few drinks at the end of the week. Finally, for something a little bit different Paradise Dynasty (6/F, Lee Theatre, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay) provides a multi-coloured array of different flavours in a single basket. The red Sichuan flavoured one was my favourite of these new flavours but you still can’t beat the original.
Multi-coloured xiao long bao at Paradise Dynasty
Speaking of dumplings, if you are looking for a hearty lunch you can’t go too far wrong than a plate of humble 饺子(Jiaozi or dumpling) and whilst none that I have found in Hong Kong have quite matched those sampled in Beijing there are a couple of places which I would recommend. In Wan Chai (and branches elsewhere) Northern Dumpling Yuan 北方餃子源 (259 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai) serves up tasty dumplings in soup. If you like your dumplings spicy then you can have your dumplings in 酸辣汤 (suan la tang or sour and spicy soup – I think this soup is often called hot and sour soup in the UK, they taste very similar to me) for an extra HK$15 which is well worth the extra expense. In Central Wang Fu 王府 (G/F 65 Wellington Street, Central) provides decent dumplings at reasonable prices.
Dumplings in sour and spicy soup at Northern Dumpling Yuan
Sticking with the northern Chinese for a moment, if you are looking to get your fix of 北京烤鸭Peking duck then you can do far worse than heading to Spring Deer 鹿鳴春飯店 (1/F, 42 Mody road, Tsim Sha Tsui) where you will be greeted by typically surly service and a decent selection of northern Chinese favourites. The restaurant is up a random set of stairs off the street so look for the signs above you. If you are in Wan Chai then the confusingly titled American Restaurant 美利堅京菜 (G/F 20 Lockhart Road) is another reasonable bet. This restaurant has been around for a long time and when you walk in you can tell by the age of the bow tie clad waiters but from my recollection the food is good and not overly expensive.
For a more upmarket dinner in the northern style you can’t get much better than Hutong 胡同 (28/F, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) with arguably one of the best views of Hong Kong island of any restaurant on Kowloon. We went there for dinner on our “babymoon” before our twins were born and can highly recommend it, although it is definitely at the higher end of most people’s budgets, as I recall we spent well over HK$2000 for the two of us. If you are looking for somewhere for a pre or post dinner drink then head up two floors to Aqua Spirit (30/F) which is one of our favourite bars in Hong Kong.
Moving further south, Rachel and I went to Xi’an last year, and having had little or no knowledge of what to expect from the food in Shaanxi province, we were very pleasantly surprised by what we found (see Rachel’s blog post on this visit here). The food from this mostly dry region with a large population of the Hui (one of China’s muslim ethnic minority group) is a million miles away from the Chinese takeaway food I grew up on in the UK. Breads, 包子(baozi or buns) and dumplings feature prominently, frequently along with lamb, fresh vegetables and spices including cumin, chilli and my beloved Sichuan pepper corn.
Finding authentic Shaanxi food in Hong Kong is not all that easy but fortunately a colleague who studied for his degree in Xi’an recommended Youyuan xiao xu 有緣小敍 (36 Man Yuen Street), tucked away in the back of Jordan. This place has very quickly become one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong and I heartily recommend a trip out there. The biangbiang mian (very wide, flat noodles served up in a bowl with spicy condiments) is excellent, particularly with the lamb dumplings. Another favourite dish is the 肉夹馍(rou jia mo – flat bread filled with meat) which is one of Shaanxi’s most famous dishes. In Xi’an we mostly had these filled with minced lamb and cumin, the ones here have pulled pork in but are still excellent. The extensive menu has a whole host of other (mostly spicy) options which I haven’t yet tried but intend on doing so several times before we leave Hong Kong.
Biangbiang mian at Youyuan xiao xu
Moving back to spicy food, I went to Changsha last year with a few colleagues for a quick foodie weekend to sample the delights of Hunan cuisine. To be honest the city of Changsha itself doesn’t have a lot to recommend it for tourists (unless you desperately want to go and see a huge statue of a young Chairman Mao’s head) but what it does offer is fantastic, often incredibly spicy food. Hunan cuisine is the less well known brother to Sichuan food and delivers similar levels of spiciness – we had some 口味虾 (kou wei xia – literally translated either “saliva” or “mouth watering” prawns which come in a dark red, spicy sauce) which were so spicy they were accompanied by plastic gloves to protect the hands – but usually without the numbing ma quality found in Sichuan.
I have only been to a couple of Hunan places in Hong Kong but I was recently taken to Cafe Hunan 書湘門第 (1/F, 68-70 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai) by a colleague who grew up in Changsha and recommended the food as being very authentic. Unfortunately as I am less familiar with Hunan food I can’t tell you what any of the dishes we had were called but the food was excellent and definitely reminded me of the food we ate there.
Last but not least in our culinary tour of China is Xinjiang, the north west province of China home to the indigenous Muslim Uyghur people. To be honest there are very few places in Hong Kong which are said to provide authentic Xinjiang food but Ba Yi 巴依餐廳 (G/F, 43 Water Street, Western District) is the most commonly recommended option. I recently had the opportunity to head over there to try it out but unfortunately we were running late and as they have fixed sittings at 6.00pm and 7.45pm we had to have a very quick dinner. Still if you need to get your fix of 羊肉串(yang rou chuan – lamb kebabs) or my personal favourite 大盘鸡 (da pan ji – literally big plate of chicken) this place is a very good option. If you want to experience eating Camel meat you need to order one day in advance!
That about does it for my recommendations. As you can see, there are loads of great places to get Chinese food in Hong Kong but needless to say there are numerous other fantastic restaurants serving all kinds of foods from all around the world. The Chinese love to eat and restaurants come and go all the time so you are never short of options! But if you are looking for some specific types of Chinese food I hope this was a useful guide for you.
Thanks Tom! What a great insight into the different types of Chinese food. My mouth is watering just reading this! I’d better get out to a restaurant now…
Thanks for reading!