Local Food Culture
Note: As many smaller, older and independent Chinese restaurants don’t maintain websites, the best sources for phone numbers, opening hours, menus and directions are OpenRice and Google Maps. Many Chinese restaurants have similar names when transliterated into English, so the Chinese characters are included below to help avoid confusion.
By far the best represented regional cuisine in Hong Kong, Cantonese cooking is known for its imagination and culinary versatility, evident in both quick snacks and elaborate banquets, usually flavored with soy, hoisin or oyster sauce.
A good Cantonese dinner is a balanced presentation: vegetables, meat and a large variety of seafood dishes simply prepared by steaming or poaching, served with a subtle sauce of light vinegar, minced ginger and scallions. Specialties include seafood, abalone, steamed fish, roast pork, roast goose, stir-fried vegetables and fried rice.
Dim sum, a range of tasty bite-sized morsels, is traditionally part of yum cha (which literally means “drink tea,” an important daily social event). It is served from early morning to lunchtime, and in many restaurants until 5pm. In between sips of Chinese tea, one eats from a seemingly endless parade of dumplings, fried or steamed buns, glutinous rice in lotus leaves, roast pork and spring rolls, served in traditional bamboo steamers.
Portions are small, so you can sample a terrific variety in one sitting if shared among friends. The bigger the group the better. If your appetite permits, don’t miss out on the Cantonese-style noodles and fried rice. Congee (aka jook), a rice porridge, is often on the menu, usually with various meats, seafood, or preserved or salted eggs added in. Chinese fried dough sticks (you tiao) and rice flour rolls (cheung fun) are also served at breakfast time.
Many hotels offer buffet selections of dim sum to provide a wide variety for those who may have difficulty choosing, and dedicated “all-day” dim sum restaurants have also become popular in the city. One reason for this is the popularity of Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum specialist serving a limited menu of high-quality dim sum dishes at economical prices. In fact, the Sham Shui Po location is the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. It has several locations around Hong Kong, including one on the podium at Hong Kong Station in Central.
Siu Mei (Barbecued Meats)
Wandering the streets of Hong Kong, you can’t help but notice the many siu mei shops with their racks of barbecue pork (char siu), goose and steamed chicken hanging at the ready for an entering customer’s inspection and purchase. Take-out lunch boxes full of steamed rice topped with cut meats can be purchased at these shops almost any time of the day.
Almost all sit-down Cantonese restaurants will also have barbecued meats on their menu. Plates with more than one type of meat, such as barbecue pork and roast goose, may be ordered as an appetizer.
- Joy Hing Roasted Meat (再興燒臘飯店) (Wan Chai)
- Tsui Hang Village (翠亨邨) (Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui)
- Yung Kee (鏞記酒家) (Central)
Of Hong Kong’s many iconic dishes, the humble bowl of wonton soup is hard to resist. Wontons are dumplings typically filled with shrimp and/or pork, served with or without noodles in a clear broth. This unassuming dish gained cult status when a few local shops selling it appeared in the Hong Kong edition of the Michelin guide. While wonton noodle soup is sold in every part of Hong Kong, a couple of the best-known shops are located along Wellington Street in Central.
Hong Kongers are becoming increasingly responsible diners. Once the star of every Chinese banquet spread, shark’s fin is now off many local menus thanks to a growing awareness of inhumane fishing and finning practices. Although the city is still a global hub for the shark’s fin trade, appetites for this controversial ingredient are fading fast, especially among the younger generation.
WWF maintains a list of restaurants and catering outlets that have pledged not to serve shark’s fin.
Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong-style café)
You can’t come to Hong Kong and not eat at a cha chaan teng, or Hong Kong-style café.
Its name in Cantonese literally translates to “tea restaurant,” and it’s where locals go for meals, snacks and drinks at all hours of the day. Menus and seating areas are no frills and service may be brusque, but the cheap, quick-to-arrive, satisfying food is what makes the cha chaan teng a Hong Kong institution.
Five Must-Order Items
Hong Kong-style milk tea
A strong brew of black tea is poured through a strainer then mixed with evaporated or condensed milk to create the velvety, subtly smoky blend loved by millions. Enjoy it hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened for a caffeine boost.
Macaroni soup with ham
This popular breakfast dish, which many locals grew up eating, is often served as part of a set that includes a side dish of fluffy scrambled eggs and slices of toast.
Bo lo bao (pineapple bun)
The name of this (pineapple-free) bread was inspired by its sugary, egg-yolk-coated top crust, which is baked into a golden brown checkered pattern resembling the spiny yellow fruit. Usually accompanied with milk tea as an afternoon snack, this sweet crispy bun can also be enjoyed with a slab of butter if you’re feeling indulgent.
Scrambled egg sandwiches
Often combined with corned beef or luncheon meat, these breakfast sandwiches can sometimes be bought to-go from local bakeries in the morning.
Instant noodles with meat
Drizzled in spring onion sauce and served with your choice of chicken steak, satay beef or luncheon meat, this dish of instant noodles makes for a filling and tasty meal any day of the week.
Cha Chaan Tengs to Try
Australia Dairy Company (澳洲牛奶公司) (Jordan)
This quirkily named cha chaan teng in Jordan has perpetual lines in front of its doors. Visit and you will soon see why. Famous for its fluffy, savory scrambled eggs and curt customer service, this place is a must-visit for breakfast buffs seeking an authentic Hong Kong dining experience.
Capital Café (Wah Sing Bing Sutt) (華星冰室) (Wan Chai)
Capital Café in Wan Chai (sometimes known as Chrisly Cafe) is another well-known cha chaan teng known for local classics. Their scrambled eggs on toast give Australia Dairy Company’s version a run for its money.
Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) (Central)
Opened in 1952, Lan Fong Yuen in Central is one of Hong Kong’s oldest cha chaan tengs. It is also one of the most famous, thanks to its reputation as the creator of “silk stocking milk tea,” so named after the tea strainer used in making it that resembles pantyhose or silk stockings. Its pork chop buns are likewise a crowd pleaser.
Mido Cafe (美都餐室) (Yau Ma Tei)
Mido Cafe in Yau Ma Tei is a favorite spot for local film productions because of its vintage decor of 50s, 60s and 70s-era tiles and a panoramic window view of Tin Hau Temple Park. Like most cha chaan tengs, it is a family-run operation with several generations participating in the business.
Tsui Wah (翠華餐廳) (Locations across Hong Kong)
Clean and brightly lit with modern furnishings and English-language menus, Tsui Wah is the place for a nice and easy introduction to Hong Kong’s cha chaan teng scene. Cherished by locals and expats alike, it also has a presence in eight other cities in Macau and mainland China. First timers should order from the “Top 10 Dishes” menu, which includes their signature fish ball soup noodles and crispy buns drizzled with condensed milk.
Eating Outside the Box:
Street Food Stalls and Food Centers
Street food, to say nothing of cooked food centers and the city’s famous dai pai dongs, is a way of life in Hong Kong. Characterized by shouty vendors and an endless tide of customers eager for hot, ready-to-eat tidbits, the city’s street food scene is an experience not to be missed.
Popular Street Foods
The offerings at some of Hong Kong’s street food stalls can be intimidating to the uninitiated – think octopus tentacles, smelly tofu and offal – so ease your way into it with the following tasty treats.
Curry fish balls, cheung fun (rice rolls) and siu mai (shrimp and pork dumplings)
Simple and unpretentious, these three items are staples of the city’s street food scene, fueling millions of Hong Kong residents one skewer at a time. Served steaming hot and drenched in a combination of sauces, what these snacks lack in nutrition is certainly made up for in flavor.
Soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, Hong Kong-style egg waffles are made by pouring a sweetened egg batter into a special iron skillet with dimples shaped like little balls or puffs. This humble street snack has found its way onto the menus of many modern dessert places, skyrocketing it to global fame in recent years.
- Lee Keung Kee (利強記北角雞蛋仔) (North Point)
- Mammy Pancake (媽咪雞蛋仔) (Locations across Hong Kong)
The classic Hong Kong egg tart, made mainly from milk, egg and sugar, is sold at local bakeries, and can also be ordered as dessert during a dim sum meal. The Portuguese egg tart with its flaky puff pastry crust and blistered top is just as popular, and there is a long-standing debate about which version is better.
Roasted sweet potato and chestnuts
Both served from the same cart during Hong Kong’s colder months, the irresistible scent of these popular winter treats roasting will warm you instantly. Served without sauce or oil, this could very well be the city’s healthiest street food option.
Bubble or pearl tea
A widely consumed tea drink containing “bubbles,” made from chewy little balls of tapioca starch. Given the number of shops in Hong Kong specializing in bubble tea, you would be forgiven for thinking that this Taiwanese export is native to Hong Kong. Try the Hong Kong milk tea flavor for a true local twist.
Leaving the concrete confines of the city in search of sun, sea and freshly-caught seafood is a worthwhile weekend pursuit. While you can find marine options on the menu at most regular restaurants, it simply can’t compare to a feast at one of Hong Kong’s historical fishing villages, where live fish, shellfish and crustaceans are caught from enormous tanks and cooked for you on the spot.
The fishing villages of Lamma Island, Cheung Chau and Lei Yue Mun are all accessible by ferry, and, when combined with the promise of fresh seafood, make for a rewarding day out. Here are some of our recommended restaurants:
Dai Pai Dongs
Assemblages of street stalls, known as dai pai dongs, are Hong Kong’s answer to street cafés. Having dinner at a dai pai dong is a noisy, rowdy, no-frills affair – all characteristics that make it the ultimate local eating-out experience. The food served at these stalls is generally tasty, although occasionally greasy and prepared with questionable hygiene standards, which is all part and parcel of the experience.
Dai pai dongs originated from humble cooked food stands, which after World War Two were issued with a dai pai (“big license”) – and so its nickname dai pai dong (“big license stalls”) stuck. The original stall was a movable wagon with a food-serving unit on wheels. In front of the unit was a long bench upon which three small stools were installed. Other equipment included two folding tables and eight folding chairs.
Their popularity grew during the 1950s, which saw massive immigration from China, with many people living in basic huts that had little or no space for cooking. These food stalls served the general public. Dai pai dong culture is said to have grown alongside that of Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, what was once a firm piece of the city’s cultural heritage is diminishing by the day; due to hygiene and traffic concerns, no new licenses are being given out and today there are only about 25 licensed dai pai dongs remaining in Hong Kong.
Cooked Food Markets
These venues are essentially food courts, as they offer a variety of cooked foods in one location. Varying in size and type of food served, there are over 25 licensed cooked food markets located across urban Hong Kong, all managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Popular among locals for their value for money and fast service, cooked food markets are often situated on levels above wet markets. Round up a group of friends and head to one of these centers for an evening of delicious food in a lively, unedited setting. The noisy, crowded and boisterous ambience adds to the authenticity of the experience.
- Centre Street Market
- Hung Hom Market
- Mong Kok Cooked Food Market
- Queen Street Cooked Food Market
- Wan Chai Market
The full list of public markets and cooked food markets can be found on the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department website.
Other Chinese Cuisines
The saying that “Hong Kong is a gateway to China” is true in more ways than one, not least in a culinary sense. Besides Cantonese food, diners in Hong Kong have access to cuisines from different regions in China, most of which are well represented here.
Beijing (Peking) Cuisine
Beijing was home to the Imperial Court of China, and its influence is visible in many of this region’s impressive dishes, such as the famous Peking Duck. The cuisine uses more meat, particularly mutton, and places greater emphasis on dumplings and deep-fried foods. A distinctive feature is the hot pot (or “Mongolian hot pot” in winter), a type of fondue that uses boiling stock instead of oil. It is served in a big chafing dish, its contents shared by all at the table. Substantial, strongly flavored meals, as well as sizzling and often spectacular platters, are characteristic of northern cuisine.
Chiuchow (Chaozhou/Swatow/Teochew) Cuisine
Famed for its excellent seafood dishes, specialties of this unique style of southern Chinese cooking include chilled crab, oyster congee, duck and lemon soup and braised goose. To stimulate the appetite before a Chiuchow meal, tiny cups of strong, astringent “Iron Goddess of Mercy” tea from Fujian province are served. Chiuchow cuisine is also famous for its delicious pan-fried noodles.
Hakka cuisine is characterized by its generous use of bean curd and salted vegetables. Salt-baked chicken, commonly mistaken for a Cantonese dish, is in fact Hakka. There aren’t many traditional Hakka restaurants in the city so those determined to try the elusive cuisine may need to journey to the New Territories, where many locals of Hakka descent reside.
- Kong Hing Restaurant (港興大飯店) (Tai Wai)
- Chuen Cheung Kui (泉章居) (Locations in Mong Kok and Sheung Wan)
- Red Kitchen (private kitchen) (紅廚) (Yuen Long)
For two months every fall, hairy crabs from a large lake near Shanghai are the highlight of Chinese dining. Steamed and served with ginger tea and vinegar sauce, this delicacy has a dedicated following among Hong Kong’s Cantonese and Shanghainese residents.
Shanghainese cuisine uses a great range of fresh produce, as well as many preserved vegetables and pickles. Selections of cold starters are a famous form of Shanghai antipasti, and varieties of eel dishes are popular, though rather greasy.
Xiao Long Bao
Shanghainese favorite xiao long bao (steamed pork soup dumplings) are available at all restaurants that have a Shanghainese menu. Some small street-level shops in Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui make them at their store front windows to entice hungry diners. Other casual restaurants serve these up as a mainstay of their menu.
The spicy and fiery food typical of this region is strongly flavored with dried chili, Sichuan’s tongue-numbing peppercorns, spring onion and garlic. Sichuan smoked duck or pigeon in camphor and tea are dishes of note. Specialties like braised eggplant, pork dumplings and dry fried string beans are all served with spicy sauces. Dan dan meen (spicy noodles) and ma po dou fu (tofu in spicy sauce) are two iconic dishes.
With Taiwan being a top travel destination for Hong Kongers, it’s no surprise that the cuisine is a popular choice locally as well. Taiwanese food bears a variety of influences, from Japanese to Hakka to Fujianese to local indigenous flavors. Trademark dishes like beef noodle soup, three-cup chicken, gua bao (Taiwanese hamburgers) and braised pork rice are hearty and umami-rich. Taiwanese shaved-ice desserts with toppings like fruit, sweet red beans, and tapioca pearls are also ubiquitous around Hong Kong, and are the perfect antidote to the sticky summer heat.
Chinese tea is an integral part of any Chinese meal.
While it used to be complimentary in restaurants, most restaurants now add on a per-head tea charge. Indicate an empty pot needs refilling by cocking its lid half open. Taken straight, never with milk or sugar, Chinese tea complements the richness of Chinese cooking, both as a palate cleanser and as an aid to digestion. Sample some of the best teas that Hong Kong has to offer at one of the following shops dedicated to that purpose, or order from their websites:
Long before the proliferation of American ice cream shops and Italian gelaterias, Chinese dessert shops were where locals would go to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Many are still in operation today serving a variety of hot and cold Chinese desserts such as chilled mango pudding, glutinous rice dumplings in sweet soup, soft tofu pudding with ginger syrup and sweet red bean soup. While you can certainly find traditional places along the street, a good way to sample these sweets for the first time is to order them after dinner at a Cantonese restaurant, or to visit one of the following dessert chains with locations around Hong Kong: