Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Week in Hong Kong: Stereotypes that don't apply here

We've just returned from a week in Hong Kong, a nice holiday mainly filled with eating and shopping, with the odd sprinkling of sightseeing.  The food landscape is definitely a different beast there, with a greater range in prices for dining out (you can get a filling meal for the equivalent of $4 NZD, to a high end dining experience for hundreds of dollars), and lots of smaller eateries specialising in one particular type of food (for instance roast goose or milk pudding).

The rules of thumb we've adopted in New Zealand don't seem to apply either.  Here are some ideas that have been well and truly crushed.

Western fast food franchises should be a last resort

You've got an excuse if you need to refuel quickly or have an inexplicable craving for fast food, but otherwise, there are just so many better (healthier, tastier and probably cheaper) choices out there, right?  You've travelled half way up the globe, so surely you should be trying out the local food instead.  Well, fast food outlets have a particularly useful function in Hong Kong, as a supplier of... erm, toilets.  Never mind that they are usually really dirty and you have to queue for ages to use them, when you've walked up and down several blocks looking for a bathroom, you are just grateful that there is one available at all.

Fast food outlets are also interesting in terms of offering items not in your home country.  We were particularly excited to see taro pie and gingerbread lattes for sale at McDonald's.

Sweet taro pie

Gingerbread latte and mint mocha

Avoid food courts in shopping malls

In Auckland, places like Food Alley = good.  Stalls at your local Westfield mall = bad, especially if there are warming drawers involved.  We realised this might not be true in Asian countries, when we found our best meal in Malaysia in the basement of the Lot 10 shopping complex. We can't say the same of a Hong Kong shopping centre, but there are perfectly acceptable meals to be had in them, from dumplings to mini burgers.

Restaurant chains will have poorer quality

There aren't actually too many restaurant chains in Auckland.  But when I see them, unless I hear otherwise, I assume that the original chef has been distracted by all the branches and the standard of cooking will be lower across the board as a result.

Hong Kong provides a counterexample to this theory in the form of Lei Garden.  Its Mong Kok branch has two Michelin stars, and a number of other branches have one.  In fact, the first time we ate at one of these places was when we saw the huge queue for Lei Bistro at the bottom of Times Square.  This was before we had purchased a Michelin guide so we didn't know what to expect, and we were blown away by the food.  This was dim sum that was delicate and light, familiar dishes that had been improved upon.

Unexpectedly good preserved vegetables, deep fried pumpkin and taro balls.
The egg tarts and bo lo bao (not pictured) were smaller than at bakeries, but very light and delicate, fresh and crispy at the edges.

Another chain that sells consistently amazing food is the Yee Shun Milk Company, which originally came from Macau, I believe.  Their steamed milk is silky smooth, and rich and delicious, and we have confirmed this at both of their Hong Kong branches.

Half eaten bowl of steamed milk, which has the smoth texture of tofu jelly but a strong milky taste.
Yet another favourite is the Ocean Empire (海皇粥店) chain, which serves great congee, freshly fried bread sticks ("twisted doughnut") and steamed ricesheet rolls.  The fact that they provide a good range of table condiments, so you can drizzle over your plate as much peanut sauce and sweet sauce as you like, or sprinkle over a dusting of toasted sesame seeds, just makes it that much better.

You can watch the fried bread sticks being made through the front window.
Congee, fried turnip cake with XO sauce, and zhaliang (fried bread stick wrapped in ricesheet roll).  We went a bit overboard with the sauce, and also added chilli sauce by mistake.
To be honest, delicious and inexpensive food is available just about everywhere in Hong Kong.  If you are happy to eat anything, you will not have trouble, though if you had a particular item in mind, you might want to do your research first.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I was born in Hong Kong and have lots of family there so it will always hold a special place in my heart. It really is a foodie's city. It is not uncommon to have 5 meals a day.

    I too love trying exotic menu items a places like McDonald's. I had their macaroni noodle soup there for breakfast, which was perfect for a cold winters day. I also love that you can get very good quality roast duck on rice for breakfast from chains like cafe de coral. Duck for breakfast makes me super happy.

  2. Thanks! I'm sure you get to eat lots more yummy food when you know people who can take you around and make recommendations too. It can be quite intimidating otherwise to walk into an eatery where you are not entirely sure what is on the menu.


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