Hong Kong, as mentioned in the previous post (read it here) is a food lovers paradise and I am as big a foodie as can be. My numerous visits to Hong Kong have been a lot of fun and they have always included sampling of its famous dishes. While, my budget have never allowed me to experience any of Hong Kong’s excellent Michelin starred restaurants, I have sampled some seriously good food at the city’s cooked food centers.
My favourite had been the one at Queen’s Street. It had been closest to my hotel at Des Voeux Road West and the evenings had brought the place alive. Locals, expats and tourists had mingled there in equal parts and the cooked food center had buzzed with conversation, clinking cutlery, scurrying feet and attention seeking cats. People had eaten, gossiped, dated and shared beers over hot pots, stir fries, naan breads and solo diners like me have taken in the spectacle silently. Now meals in Hong Kong are a traditional, yet evolving affair and cooked food centers have epitomized this concept to the fullest.
They have stemmed from the need of keeping Hong Kong’s dai pai dong (street side eateries) tradition alive, while giving utmost priority to hygiene and comfort in mind. Thus, over the period of time, registered dai pai dongs slowly got shifted indoors and cooked food centers became the new hub for cheap, tasty (and hygienic) mostly Cantonese bites. This has been one of Hong Kong’s many brilliant “moving on with time” decisions and today, cooked food centers are important part of tourist trails. Housed inside municipality buildings which sensibly holds wet (or fresh produce) markets on the ground and basement levels, cooked food markets are value for money dining options in expensive Hong Kong. Plus, they provide excellent authentic Hong Kong experience along with great photo moments.
Most of these centers go by the fame of some particular dish or dai pai dong and Queen’s Street Food Market is renowned for various global cuisines like Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Italian, availability of wine, proper cutlery and mouth watering roast suckling pig. Many other interesting dishes like razor clams, fried pig knuckles, innards and good dumplings are also available there. Tai Po Hui Cooked Food Center is another personal favourite and I have always been a loyal customer of its congees and Lam Kee dimsums. The best quality Cantonese food at affordable prices are found at Wong Nai Chung Cooked Food Center at Happy Valley and many award winning chefs have their outlets there.
Among the most famous cooked food centers, the ones at Bowrington Road at Wan Chai and Java Road at North Point have starred in many television shows, including the famous Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. Their roast chicken (Wing Kee, Wan Chai ), squid ink pasta, fried fish in corn sauce and wind sand chicken (Tung Po, Java Road) are must haves and in the evenings it is hard to find space there. Hong Kong, due its culinary preferences, is not for the faint stomached and some of the city’s favourite dishes are downright bizarre. From pig testicles, squid tentacles, innards, offals, stomach linings, century old eggs, snake bits etc, Hong Kong residents hold no bars and these can be enjoyed at both street food shops and expensive restaurants.
Thankfully, Hong Kong has many unique dishes which are also pretty tame and I personally can never have enough of their buns. Farmer’s bun (hollowed loaf filled with juicy curry), pork chop bun, lotus paste filled bun, pineapple bun…Hong Kong is one bun kingdom and in the evenings wife cakes (buns filled with winter melon paste), white sugar cakes, egg tarts, eggettes etc sell like hot cakes. They are churned out from every nook and cranny of Hong Kong and people queue up at food outlets at MTR stations, neighbourhood mom and pop bakeries, swish patisseries for their favourite tea time snacks.
Tea is another Hong Kong specialty and the city’s silk stocking tea is a must try for every food lover. Although available at all cha chan tengs, the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon serves this humble beverage in style. Locals prefer milk tea and Hong Kongers consume it by gallons. Made from continuous drenching and straining through elongated sack cloth strainer (which resembles a panty hose, hence the name), this sweet milky tea is full of flavour. A slightly bitter, yet very fragrant and sweet aftertaste accompanies a typical Hong Kong milk tea and the sack cloth strainer gives it a rich brown colour.
The blooming flower tea is the latest trend in Hong Kong’s dining scene and they are nothing short of being a decorative centerpiece just because of its sheer beauty. Calendula, jasmine and other dried flower bulbs are mixed with tea which are put into glass containers in such a way that, once hot water is poured over them they bloom vibrantly regaining their original colours. Needless to say, they are more pricier than loose leaf tea and the Li-Nong Tea House in the Ngong Ping tourist village on Lantau Island specializes in an extensive list of blooming teas.
Other popular and quintessentially Hong Kong beverages include sugarcane juice, red bean ice, boiled Coca Cola with ginger and lemon, coconut juice smoothies etc. Most of them are easily available and pocket friendly and the multi tiered colourful drinks of coconut juice, fresh fruit, taro, rice balls or crystal jelly cubes are nothing short of pure pleasure. Both refreshing and artistic, it is great fun to sip through mango bits to reach the delightfully chewy glutinous balls settled at the bottom of the cup.
…..To be continued
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE.