Hong Kong is undoubtedly the most vibrant and exciting food destination I have been to in my life. From the ubiquitous noodle shops to the most lavish, Michelin starred restaurants, Hong Kong provides an unlimited selection of options for every budget.
My journey to this corner of South East-Asia started in the extremely relaxing Airport Lounge at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 (thanks Holiday Extras) and only got better from there. After arriving and the usual check-in malarkey, I quickly set out on foot to try and size-up this steamy metropolis, easier said than done in that kind of humidity!
So, first things first. The restaurant industry in Hong Kong is one of the city’s biggest economic forces – moreover with a population of 7 million in a relatively small area, Hong Kong contains one the highest number of restaurants per capita in the world. Food is BIG here and locals are discerning in their choices, so thankfully bad restaurants don’t stay open for long.
This brings me immediately on to my hardest task, to try and summaries Hong Kong’s cuisine in a paragraph or two. Suffice to say, it is heavily influenced by Cantonese and Japanese cuisine, its colonial history and importance as a major trading port and commercial city in south-east Asia. Cantonese cuisine naturally plays a deciding role in influencing the food that ends up on your plate; most Hong Kong Chinese are descendants from Cantonese-speaking parts of southern China. The city is renowned for such Cantonese delicacies as, Dim Sum, Sweet and Sour Pork, Shark’s fin soup, roast duck and every type of sea food imaginable!
In fact, the best way to get a handle on Hong Kong’s foodie soul if you like, is to wander for a few hours in the city’s many food markets – basically, if it’s even remotely edible than you’ll be able to find it. And apart from the assortment of preserved food stuffs and herbal remedies that fill millions upon millions of jars at these markets, a staggering assortment of fresh fish and shellfish is kept alive in tanks that fill many squares meters of limited space in Hong Kong – Crab, Prawns, Clams, Turbot, Lobster, Bass, well you get the point.
Ultimately, this all adds up to a bewildering array of food options for the visitor during their stay. So let’s start with the options if you are on a budget? I recommend heading to the Kowloon Peninsula, very different in atmosphere to Hong Kong and a better place to search for budget eating venues. Head to Ashley Road if you fancy some cheap, international cuisine – Malaysian, Korean, Indian, Singaporean and Thai are all available. Or, be adventurous and choose your dinner at the Shanhai New Sam Yung Market.
The formula is simple. During my first evening out in Hong Kong I paid a visit to the market and was promptly asked to point and select what I wanted, a selection of fresh prawns, some crab, lobster and sea bass to finish (there was 6 of us) Our bounty was then unceremoniously bagged and not seen again until we sat at the recommended venue, Cheong Fat Chiu Chow restaurant. The novelty of meeting my dinner face to face, as it were was a pleasurable one and we were treated to a feast of gently steamed fish and shellfish where the absence of strong seasoning was notable. Apparently, according to our waiter, if a fish dish is heavily spiced then it’s a sure sign that it wasn’t fresh.
Which is (or should be!) everything to a Cantonese chef, who always place the highest value on using only the freshest ingredients available, although paradoxically many imported foods, arriving daily in Hong Kong are used in local cooking. Unlike most westerners, the Cantonese are not at all squeamish about food and all parts of the animal are used – including liver, offal, feet, and eyeballs. Fundamental to their philosophy is that food should never be greasy, nor is it heavily spiced and herbs are used sparingly. Food is classically steamed or stir fried and from what I saw, certain ingredients are commonly used in most of their signature dishes, namely, soy sauce, spring onion, rice wine and ginger. And as I discovered during my foray into Hong Kong’s dining scene, it is possible to eat well here for relatively little.
But what if you fancy a splurge? The problem is very much where to start, for Hong Kong and Kowloon have plenty of restaurants that will happily deprive you of serious sums of money. Spring Moon at the Peninsular hotel in Hong Kong wowed me with the quality of Dim Sum, Roast Duck and Lobster stuffed with Black Truffle , but of course you pay for the pleasure. The T’ang Court at The Langam Hotel was similarly impressive, perhaps even more so as the service was that bit more pampering and they made us feel very special.
Visitors who want a change from strictly authentic Cantonese food should try Richard Ekkebu’s restaurant, Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This two Michelin starred venue serves the finest fusion cuisine in Hong Kong, East meets West with spectacular results. Highlights include the Smoked Tasmanian Salmon, served with Kyuri cucumber and Hokkaido sea urchin, on a bed of crispy seaweed waffles.
And if that doesn’t whet your appetite, don’t worry; there are hundreds more restaurants to choose from!