Eating like a local:- Exploring the Pearl of the Orient
Regional food specialties
Regional food specialties
After finding a fantastic deal on airfare to Beijing it was time to decide where else we wanted to go while there. We gave serious thought to Seoul which is just a two hour flight but we ended up crossing one off that was high on the bucketlist. If we were going to be in China then we weren't going to be too far from Hong Kong. A spot long on my hit list. So the decision was a pretty easy one.
Sights from Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of those cities that all experienced travelers have a story about. One of the worlds great cities has seen some slight change since the British gave it back to China. For example English is now the second language though you wouldn't be able to tell it's not the first. This is Asia but it's probably the most North American city in all of Asia. It's their NYC. Hong Kong is a city of over seven million which is comparable to NYC's population of 8.5 million. In fact Hong Kong is considered a small Chinese city in terms of population. Most Chinese cities have +20 million.
More Sights from Hong Kong
Part of the reason it feels so Western here is they don't abide to the same rules as Mainland China. So you need not worry about being unable to access Google or other social media sites like Facebook. Hong Kong is a very savvy social media city. Pretty much all of it's residents are on it. Which makes a for a nice fix of old and new which is a constant throughout the city. I cant imagine what it looked like 30 years ago and that's bc it was a totally different place. Today it's the center of commerce in Asia. A city studded with skyscrapers as far as the eyes can see. I loved how you could walk into a 100 year old shop where they're still making egg noodles by hand. Then you walk out and you're engulfed by high rises housing department stores and such. Old and new blends well.
More Sights from Hong Kong
More Sights from Hong Kong
Speaking of food. There's so much of it. And it's not all Chinese. In fact they have it all. Pretty much every dish that has a following in Asia can be found here. On top of all that Hong Kong has it's own kind of cuisine that was formed during British rule. Not to mention all the classic Cantonese spots. I didn't get to try it all. For example we wanted to get some roast goose on the last day but we arrived to an absurd line at the famous Kam's. But one thing you can count on is the food will be memorable. The only problem is knowing where to start. I did hours and hours of research and still barely scratched the surface. That said I was able to put together a nice little guide for those headed to Hong Kong. My only piece of advice is don't skip out on the local mom and pop shops in favor of the fancier hotel restaurants. The best spots as always are those frequented by the locals. Let's roll.
More Sights from Hong Kong
First stop up was one of the most anticipated. Do to it's close proximity to our hotel I made it our first order of business. Mak is originally from Guangzhou and his son opened a Hong Kong location in 1968. These day's Mak's has multiple locations most of which are run by descendants of the namesake. Known for having some of the best wonton noodle soup in the world but also known for what locals deem a super small bowl that cost damn near double compared to the other spots. It's not that they don't think it's good but some question whether it's twice as good as other places around town. After all Hong Kong is pretty much the center of the wonton soup world. Well that's partly do to the wonton soup served at Mak's. It's Michelin rated which means lots of tourists like myself come calling and none of us should have a problem paying the up-cost bc 1) they blast the AC keeping the inside nice and cool and 2) you probably haven't had better. The wontons are perfect.
Wonton Noodle Soup at Mak's
Tsim Chai Kee
Across the street from Mak's is a spot called Tsim Chai Kee. They share a Pat's and Geno's Cheesesteak and a Lafayette and American Coney style rivalry. Tsim Chai Kee opened in the 90’s and immediately became known for their wontons which were about twice the size as Mak’s. Same goes for the bowl of noodles. The signature dish from here includes wontons, beef brisket, fish balls, egg noodles in broth. I was skeptical of all that other stuff but I always make sure to try the signature dish and this was it. My skepticism was warranted I didn't care much for the tough brisket nor the fish cake ball. Both of which took away space from the delicious wontons. Good but not Mak's good.
Wonton Noodle Soup at Tsim Chai Kee
Shari Shari Kakigori
After a short time walking around the area and a failure to find a dim sum I wanted to try we needed to cool down. With Shari Shari Kakigori House nearby we got to do exactly that. Icy desserts are having a moment right now which means you can find them all over Hong Kong. One of the best ways you can cool down is Japanese Kakigori which is their version of shaved ice. Shari Shari claims they make their Japanese ice with water from Hokkaido. So they say the water quality there is 2nd to none. Honestly at that point right then and there I wouldn’t care if it was made with water from Flint. Anything to beat the heat. Well this was exactly what I needed. Finely shaved ice is loaded with fresh strawberry puree which is standard for kakigori. The Japanese don't fuck with artificial flavors.
Starberry Kakigori at Shari Shari Kakigori
Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns
What a delight it was when I randomly found a location of the spot at the very top of my hit list. I had initially thought the only location of Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns was across the Bay on the mainland. So I had it planned for a food crawl the following day but got them out of the way right away. Which makes it sound like I was dreading them but I most certainly was not. This was after all my first chance to try real deal Sheng Jian Bao aka pan fried pork buns. Think of them as a lightly fried soup dumpling. Something we do not have access to in Chicago or really anywhere in America from what I hear. You can find them but they wont be as good as these. So they say you may find better in Shanghai but this spot is about as good as it gets outside of there. The family that owns Cheung Hing came to HK from Shanghai. These too are Michelin rated which is probably why you can find more than one location. Easily the best dumplings of the trip and most likely my life.
Sheng Jian Bao at Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-Fried Buns
Tai Cheong Bakery
The Egg Tart is a well traveled pastry. Originally of Portuguese descent it's settled in almost as many places as the Chinese themselves have. Hong Kong, along with Macau, are two spots where the egg tart is very popular. For many Hong Konger's these are a trip back to childhood. That said they make them a bit differently in each region where they're famous. This from an online article I found " In terms of crust, it’s important to note that Hong Kong egg tarts come in two varieties: the cookie crust (曲奇皮), which is dense like a pumpkin pie crust, and the flaky crust (酥皮), which is very layered and crumbly. Both of these crust variations are distinct from the Portuguese egg tart crust which has a larger flake and bears similarity to the outer layers of a croissant. If you look closely, the layers of the crust of a Portuguese egg tart forms concentric circles around the filling." Searching for HK's best egg tart will leave you with endless options so I just threw a few in my maps and made sure to stop by one of them when I was near. Tai Cheong Bakery was the winner. Open since 1954 this was one of those spots where you could get a glimspe into old Hong Kong just by walking in. It was awesome.
Egg Tart from Tai Cheong Bakery
As far as specific foods go yakitori is right up there as far as my favorites. I crave it daily. Unfortunately it's not possible to eat it everyday in Chicago. So I like to make sure to get my fix when I have the chance. Yardbird is one of Hong Kong's hottest restaurants and yakitori is their jam. The Japanese art of grilling is best with the chicken where no piece or part is left behind. Every last piece of skin and organ is used to make some of the best tasting grilled meats that man can consume. It's a skill that takes great practice which is why it's not as common as other forms of grilling. Well the folks behind Yardbird did their homework. But I'm by no means an expert as I've never really met a yakitori skewer that I disliked. My absolute favorite is the oyster which is a round piece of dark meat located on the back by the thigh bone. The name comes from its shape but could also be attributed to the fact it explodes when you bite it just like an oyster would. The Japanese say this is the juiciest bite of the chicken and one that should never be thrown out. Especially not when you can get $5 for one grilled over some extremely hot coals. Other favorites include the tail, wing tip, Ume thigh, knee.
Yakitori at Yardbird
Kwann Kee Claypot Rice
After a flurry of yakitori we walked over for the other half of our dinner. I had made sure to save room for some claypot rice from Kwann Kee. This little dive is a locals favorite and they were out and eating on our visit around 9p. We ended up waiting for about 20 minutes as the main dinner rush finished up. Kwann Kee is your typical HK greasy spoon diner. By which I mean to say if stuff like someone walking out of the kitchen shirtless is a big turnoff - stick to your hotel restaurant. Both the stir fries and the claypot rice are why you're here so try and remember that you'll be treated to some classic Hong Kong comfort food. We got an order of the rice which is made to order so allow for 20 minutes. Kwann Kee uses three different rices which cook in a claypot in an oven until the bottom is crispy. The meat options for your bowl are long but there's only a couple seafood selections. I thought the white eel was awesome and the perfect compliment to the crispy rice which was really good as is but even better with the little bowl of sauce that comes with each order. It's some pretty magical stuff.
Claypot Rice with White Eel at Kwann Kee Claypot Rice
Sing Heung Yuen
I'd read that this spot was one of the few remaining old school Dai Pai Dongs in Hong Kong where they specialized in Tomato Noodle and Crispy Toasts. It's highly rated among the locals who soon appeared right after they opened. I wasn't exactly seeking out the locally loved tomato soup. But when I stopped at another spot nearby and they weren't going to have food ready for another hour I decided to walk over here. I was the first person seated and I was able to communicate through a picture that I wanted a bowl of tomato noodle soup. I'm not a big tomato soup guy so this wasn't something I loved but it was oddly satisfying though I couldn't quite pinpoint why. Hangover cure?
Tomato Noodle Soup with a fried egg at Sing Heung Yuen
Ding Dim 1968
After an unsuccessful attempt at dim sum on day one we went over for some post a trip on the Peak Tram. Ding Dim 1968 is one of about 100 dim sum parlors that seemed worth trying. It wasn't a must stop so to say but getting some dim sum was a must so we went bc it was close. The menu is traditional dim sum that has a bit of a contemporary twist. The chef is the younger owners uncle. The old man makes the food which he's been doing since 1968. There's three items I'll always order if I see them on a dim sum menu. The first one being pan fried rice roll. Here that comes with XO sauce and lots of chili flakes. Fantastic. Next up is Hargow aka shrimp dumplings. These were pristine which I'd read they would be. Rated among the best in the city by many bloggers. Last but not least is the dim sum classic shrimp siumai. They offer them with black truffle for show if that's how you roll.
Dim Sum at Ding Dim 1968
We made our way across the harbour on the Star Fairy to the mainland. There were plenty of spots on my list that I had wanted to hit on this side. But damn was it hot. We got off to a semi rough start when after trying to find Three Potatoes for 15 minutes we finally found it only to find they no longer had the hash brown bowl I had come for. I know what's up with hash browns in Hong Kong? Why? Well they were Michelin rated (big whoop) and I saw a bloggers post about this dish and it looked legit. Like the type of thing I would eat no matter where I was. Hash browns are an art and apparently those from here are now a coveted piece of it. I did try the fries and I will say they were pretty great.
Wedge Fries at Three Potatoes
Sun Kee Cheese Noodle
Here's another spot that took us a good 20 minutes to find. If you know ahead of time that you need to go into a building which is the less modern one of the two within question of where it's marked on google maps it should be easier to find. Look for said awning up above. The walls are lined with pics of local TV stars who stopped by. Sun Kee Cheese Noodle has a cult following. It's members bow down to the cheesy noodles and pork neck. This is one of those dishes that can be very polar. It's made with instant noodles and the cheese is the salty processed stuff. But pork cheek meat isn't cheap nor abundant so you're going to pay around $7 US for a bowl of instant noodles. The jowl meat is lean but it's binded by a layer of fat that when cooked low and slow becomes nice and tender and then full of flavor when grilled. This was a guilty pleasure bowl of noodles that I wouldn't say I loved but I would definitely enjoy a couple times a year when the taste for mac and cheese came calling.
Cheesy Noodles with Pork Neck at Sun Kee Cheese Noodle
Closing in on 100 years of service has made Kau Kee one of the most famous restaurants in Hong Kong. Their specialty is brisket which is big in HK. They're well known for two dishes which are brisket in clear broth with your choice of noodles and also brisket and tendon curry. If this is your first trip you cant skip the curry tendon. It holds a wonderfully fragrant curry broth that's more like the consistency of gravy. It's both rich and meaty and it will have you slurping noodles like there's no tomorrow. This was one of my favorites from the trip. How come the most comforting cold weather foods come from warm ass places? Who knows but I'll be craving this daily come February.
Curry Tendon at Kau Kee
For those that were unaware I can clean up pretty nicely too. Dinner at the Chairman was going to be our "nice" dinner out. One of Asia’s best restaurants according to the people the worlds 50 Best. But that’s not why we went. I don’t give much credence to lists. Instead I pay attention to those I know share the same passion as I do when it comes to food. So when an internet food friend (@brian_eng) rec’d this spot it was a no-brainer for me. As soon as I saw their signature dish I made a reservation. Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged ShaoXing Wine, Fragrant Chicken Oil, and Flat Rice Noodles was money. Literally. As it’s a triple figure dish in US dollars. Not to be outdone the wild clams with chile jam and basil were also extremely fresh and flavorful. But the thing is if I'm being honest not as flavorful as some of the mom and pop spots. You're here for the quality of the ingredients. Crispy Enoki 'shrooms and spicy peppercorn king prawns rounded out a meal I’ll be posting about at years end when my annual year end Best Of... list hits the word wide web.
Fried Enoki Mushrooms
Wild Clams with Chile Jam at the Chairman
Peppercorn King Prawns
Steamed Fresh Flowery Crab with Aged ShaoXing Wine, Fragrant Chicken Oil, and Flat Rice Noodles at The Chairman
My plate after the waiter split it up for us
Tim Ho Wan
Tim Ho Wan is a very famous local chain. Internationally famous in fact. There was a time when they were considered the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world but that was before they released their Singapore guide. Dimsum is the company's specialty. It can be found in over ten countries including the USA however so they say it's better in it's homeland. Hong Kong has a handful of Tim Ho Wan locations including this one in the main train terminal. It was busy but we were able to walk in and order within minutes. The kitchen is packed with workers who are making what seems to be endless supply of dimsum for a steady stream of customers. Aside from my two regular go-to dimsum items we had to try the famous pan fried turnip cakes and their most popular item the pork buns. Awesome stuff, all of it, but as always it was the hargow and siumai I liked most.
Dimsum at Tim Ho Wan
Yuk Kin Fast Food
I had high hopes for this locally loved fast food shack that also got the nod from Mark Wiens aka Migrationology. Yuk Kin is a typical family run HK style fast food shack. They set up in a col-de-sac each day and feed the masses of construction workers and such. They make a bunch of classics with their fried rice being one of the most popular plates. Mark Wiens recommended the curry fried rice and made sure to mention to add a fried egg for extra measure. I was excited for this bc a good plate of fried rice can be extra special. Usually it takes a place like Yuk Kin to find that special fried rice but this kind of missed the mark. It was good but not the life changing fried rice I was hoping for.
Curry Fried Rice at Yuk Kin Fast Food
I found Home. Dumpling when searching around for where to find the best what else? Dumplings. It's a small store with a few seats in the window on a street right off a main downtown strip. There's a handful of spots worth checking out it seems. I tried a mango smoothie from the drink vendor next door to this shop and it rocked. Here you can see them making dumplings right there in the open kitchen. In fact these weren't made until I ordered them. I love me some classic pork and leek. They made a really flavorful filling and did a pretty good fry job so these were up there for best dumps. I have a love for potstickers and if you do too you might as well head here for a classic example.
Fried Dumplings at Home. Dumpling
Hong Kong has any and everything that's trendy so Japanese food is abundant. This hip izakaya is from a local restaurant team that gets lots of respect from the locals. It's name means owl which is one of the nights most graceful creatures. Their menu is a showcase of Japanese drinking den favorites all of which are meant to be enjoyed amongst each other. So go in expecting to get at least three things. You can count on all of them to be enjoyable but of the four dishes we tried the three fish tartare and the caramel corn were the clear winners with the snow crab yaki udon being a close second and the karaage being just ok. The caramel corn was pretty much what it sounded like except it wasn't fresh popped caramel corn. They halved corn on the cob and then lightly fried it with a caramel coating. The type of plate that makes for a sig-dish that pretty much everyone orders.
Izakaya Food at Fukuro
One night I wandered in a cab over at a very popular strip of streets for nighttime dining. The options were overwhelming but luckily I went prepared. The first spot I stopped at was called Yu making it a pretty hard find as far as info on on it in particular. But it was in my google maps guide with this note that I must've found somewhere online. "Traditionally, street vendors who sold this dish to passersby carried their ingredients in two baskets attached to either end of a pole called a "dan dan". At Yu, these thin spaghetti-like noodles are served in two separate bowls - one with the noodles, mixed with spring onions and minced pork, the other with Sichuan chicken, in a chilli and lemon grass sauce. It's this herbal offset that makes Yu's version a stand-out, refining the spice into a clean, dry burn that leaves the lips delightfully numb." Yu is the owners name and he hails from the Sichuan Province. As you might imagine I was really taken aback by how good his dandan noodle soup was. The noodles in particular were really crave-worthy. This is a dish worth going to China and eating. One day I'll do so in it's natural habitat but in the meantime I was very pleased with my decision to stop here.
DanDan Noodles at Restaurant Yu
Mysterious Soup Dumpling Shop
This was a spot that wasn't on my list but must've been very near the last stop. I went in after seeing the guys making soup dumplings in the windows. Inside the walls are lined with articles from publications across China naming their soup dumplings this and that. How do I not stop in and get an order? Especially when I missed my opportunity at a spot high on my list earlier. I got the pork and crab option and of course they were good but I'll be honest and admit I've had better in the States. I think the fact the night was winding down here may have played in a role in them being over steamed.
Xioa Long Bao at mysterious XLB spot
For Kee Restaurant
One of my favorite plates of food was found as this classic Hong Kong diner that was basically engraved into the high-rises. For Kee is another great place to take a peek back into old world Hong Kong. If it was in America it would be one of those spots featured on all of the food shows and documentaries that like to feature the classic establishments. Part of it's lore is the cook/owner. I read she's the one and only person who does the cooking so if it gets busy prepare to wait and don't be the ass that asks when it will be ready bc she may come out to tell you never. Hordes of everyday people as well as famous Hong Kong actors and actresses come here for basically one thing. The pork chop over rice is a legendary breakfast dish when you add a fried egg. It's got a bit of Portuguese influence from their time in Macau but 'm not sure how it compares to the pork chops over there. I just know this was the tender most sweetest piece of pig I'd had in a long, long time. A memorable dish.
Pork Chop over Rice at For Kee
Penang Prawn Noodle Shop
One true sign of an international city? It’s eating options. With the people come their foods. Lots of Malaysians here so no surprise to find some killer Laksa (Prawn Curry Noodle Soup). It's one of the worlds greatest hangover remedies. This spot also serves a really nice bowl of Hokkien Mee. It too is a prawn noodle soup but the biggest difference between the two is the laksa has a little bit of coconut milk. Both broths are made from prawns shells and come loaded with deep shrimp flavor. Penang is currently number three on my travel bucketlist (paired up with Singapore) and I cant wait to try both of these dishes in their natural habitat. That's the thing about Asia. This spot might not be considered good against the best of Penang but if it was in any US city and it got a little exposure from someone with influence it would gain a quick cult following. Literally 1000's of spots are worth a stop in HK.
Hokkien Mee at Penang Prawn Noodle Shop
Curry Laksa at Penang Prawn Noodle Shop
My last meal in HK came randomly bc I was running out of time. With about an hour until we took off for the airport I wandered out from our hotel and walked through a park that connected two neighborhoods.This small little storefront was on the same street as Home.Dumpling up above. But bc there's a bunch of street vendors in between both sides of the street you will only see the shops of whatever side you're on. Deli Blossom seemed to specialize in Hainan style Chicken Rice among other things. One of my favorite regional Asian dishes to eat. Chicken Rice is big in not just Hainan but also Singapore and Thailand. Hainan is a spot I'd love to travel to someday but in the meantime this chicken rice was wonderful. The poached chicken dish seems so normal but it's a dish that requires the type of skill that requires a life time of dedication. How was this compared to some of the best spots in Singapore? I cant tell you that but I loved the tenderness of the slippery chicken and the little cup of fat infused broth was great used to soak up the rice. A very nice farewell meal.
Hainan Chicken Rice at Deli Blossom
See ya next time @chibbqking