Hong Kong is a wonderful microcosm of flavors from all around the world. It’s regarded as one of the absolute best cities for ardent foodies and a promised land for brave new tastes. I try to always keep an empty mind before a new destination but I’ll admit it – my expectations were quite high just before visiting the city.
I ended up loving HK’s uniquely frenetic energy and – as a friend of mine who used to live there described it – the apocalyptic atmosphere of a city full of contradictions and polar opposites.
There’s just one thing I didn’t enjoy. The food.
The city does have a plethora of fantastic wet markets that provide a healthy alternative to supermarkets, and they really have some fantastic produce… But I wasn’t really planning on cooking anything myself.
The first thing I did was head over to the Gage Street wet market in Sheung Wan, but not for the fresh produce. I was on a mission. I knew Hong Kong was addicted to milk tea, and I knew it all started here in the 1950s, at Lan Fong Yuen (Gage Street 2).
Milk tea is the local version of the British colonialist’s favorite beverage, strained through a cloth to give it a smooth and creamy consistency. This odd preparation has earned it the moniker pantyhouse tea, because the tea colors the cloth and makes it look like silk stockings.
It’s actually very good, and one of the best things I had during my trip to Hong Kong.
The tea woke up my hunger, so I dipped into a tiny little noodle shop further on Gage Street. They did not have an English menu, and the lady taking the orders seemed to loathe me for attempting to ask for one. I tried my best to make sense of the menu but the longer I looked at it the less I seemed to understand. I ended up just marking down a few things, hoping for the best.
It wasn’t bad, but the mixture of udon, soft tofu, some sort of tasteless mushrooms and bok choy didn’t really make for the tastiest or most exciting dish. I continued my journey a bit disappointed.
The wet markets I enjoyed, but the endless shops selling dried fish… Not so much. The stench seems to wrap all around you and remain far too long after you’ve passed the shops. I didn’t even dare try them.
It didn’t take me long to learn that Hongkongers love to stand in line, for almost anything. I thought I might find something better for a late lunch if I just followed the lines. There were dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people waiting for roasted duck or some sort of barbequed meats.
I’m sure the food would have been delightful, but I’ve never been too patient. I ended up veering to another restaurant with no lines, and had a so-so meal. Nothing to write home about.
After touring the shady streets of Sheung Wan for a long while I thought maybe dessert would brighten my day. I headed over to Elephant Grounds (11 Gough Street), mostly because I had heard great things about their Rudeboy Cookies. Well, they were all out. They did have some fantastic ice cream sandwiches, though, and a nice little patio in the back!
After nightfall I found myself hungry again. I walked past several street food stalls and sleepy restaurants, most with only a few customers, until I stumbled upon a small and cosy restaurant that didn’t even have a sign outside. I peaked in through the windows and noticed it was full of people, seemingly enjoying themselves. I braced myself and entered.
I’m sure it wasn’t me, but the restaurant seemed to clear of all other customers as soon as I sat down. I chose not to take it as a bad sign, because I was delirious to have the luxury of an English menu. I stumbled upon a rice pot with chicken and sausage – that sounds pretty good, right?
Well, Chinese sausage is VERY different to any sausage anywhere else in the world. The only way I can really describe it is a sweet sausage that tastes like fermented vomit. I had never eaten anything quite as disgusting before and I was immediately sure I never would.
I fought myself through most of my dish, only because we were the only customers and the owners were so nice and seemed so proud of their restaurant and their food. Never in my life have I hoped for a sudden accident to wipe me off this Earth, just so I wouldn’t have to finish that last bit of sausage.
The meal had a happy(ish) ending when the waiter came over, scraped off the rice from the bottom of the clay pot and sugared it. The surprisingly tasty dessert was almost enough to calm my stomach as I headed back to my hotel, trying to decide wether I wanted to google the ingredients and preparation methods to a chinese sausage or not.
The next morning I decided to play it safe and headed over to the legendary Lin Heung Tea House (160 Wellington Street), famous for their tasty yum cha, which is what Hongkongers call tea and dim sum.
The restaurant is a time machine into days gone by, a wonderful window into a more authentic Hong Kong. Unfortunately the restaurant was packed, and again my impatience got the best of me.
I did try some wife cake from their downstairs bakery – a flaky crust with a tasty winter melon filling
The wife cake managed to wake up my yearning for more of something sweet, so I headed over to the nearby Tai Cheong Bakery (35 Lyndhurst Terrace) to try their world-famous egg tarts. I decided to take mine to go, because there was a camera crew filming and I was afraid of getting caught on the local news eating nothing but pastries.
Still hoping for tasty treats, I headed over to the living legend Tim Ho Wan, also known as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. They are infamously hard to get into, but this time I decided to be patient and actually wait a while.
It was definitely worth the wait, because their baked buns with BBQ pork were absolutely amazing. Easily the best thing I ate in Hong Kong, and maybe even the best thing I’ve eaten all year. There was only one dark spot in this delightful meal…
I can only blame my own adventurous nature. I wanted to try the steamed chicken feet. I thought it would be fun. As it turns out, it was not. Remember when I mentioned thinking I would never eat anything quite as disgusting as the Chinese sausage? Well, I might have been wrong.
Encouraged by my first (nearly) successful outing and hoping to repeat my good fortune, I ventured into a tiny restaurant filled with businessmen slurping on suspicious plates of noodles with anything and everything. It looks odd but it was actually kind of tasty, sort of like something a child might make.
After a while I began to crave something sweet and stumbled on a literal hole in the wall that was hawking some durian filled mochi. I had wanted to try it earlier in Singapore but never managed to find any, so I was happy to get a chance to try the infamously stinky and controversial fruit.
As soon as I bit into that mochi I began to regret my actions. For the third time in a very short time I was sure I had eaten the worst thing in my entire life. The durian was soft and gooey, sort of like an overripe banana mixed with some unappealing bodily fluids. The taste profile was that of caramel, banana, metal and sweat. I wanted to cry so much but there were people all around me so I only cried a little bit.
I had to gulp down some Hot and Sour noodles just so I wouldn’t lose my will to live
After dark I headed over to Mong Kok, the most densely populated neighborhood in the world. The area is a sea of neon and a labyrinthe of streets filled with wonderful street food. Here I finally got some spicy Hong Kong fish balls, and happily strolled some night markets.
Another shining star of the Hong Kong street food scene is the egg waffle, which is surprisingly simple and plain yet still delicious.
Hong Kong’s egg waffles come in many flavors but are most often eaten plain
After all the hardships I endured I thought I would spend the rest of my time in Hong Kong indulging in the one thing I new would be guaranteed to make me happy: dim sum.
Luckily these tasty dumplings have a very strong presence in Hong Kong, especially during breakfast and lunchtime. A number of restaurants also serve dim sum for dinner, for those of us who have a tendency of sleeping through lunchtime…
Custard buns are one of my favorite desserts, and a great way to end a food tour of Hong Kong!