In one of our last send-off seminars with Drexel’s study abroad advisors, we were asked what we were most anticipating in Hong Kong. My answer, of course, was the food! Hong Kong is famous for having some amazing and distinct cuisine. You will come across most of these traditional foods being sold walking down any street in any district; they are almost impossible to not try at least once. Here is a list (in no particular order) of my favorites so far:
1. Dim Sum
Dim sum is a style of Chinese food that consists of small plates of dumplings or other snacks, usually eaten during lunchtime hours. It is common to order many of these small dishes by marking up a paper menu and then share with a group of people, like tapas. I frequent dim sum restaurants in Philly, so I was super excited to try it in an authentic Cantonese setting. It did not disappoint: from pork and shrimp siu mai to translucent shrimp dumplings to rice rolls, everything I’ve eaten has been delicious. (Minus chicken feet; I’ll admit the texture was not my cup of tea.) Overall, the dumplings in Hong Kong are some of the best I’ve ever had. Upon arrival, servers will give you boiling hot tea and an empty bowl for rinsing/cleaning your utensils and plates; the bowl with the dirty tea is then taken away, and you drink the remaining tea for the rest of the meal. This is a traditional routine here that’s uncommon in the US—the first time we saw the bowl, we didn’t know what we should use it for! Now though, after visiting so many dim sum restaurants, we are used to the procedure.
2. Wonton noodles
Unlike noodle dishes from other Asian cuisines, such as ramen with its many toppings and add-ons, I’ve found that a lot of traditional noodle dishes in Hong Kong are very simple: just broth, the noodles, and one topping of usually wontons, beef, or dumplings. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy something so plain—and then I tried it. Again, the dumplings and wontons in Hong Kong are incredible. The broth is always flavorful, and there’s usually a variety of noodle types you can choose (rice noodles vs. ramen noodles vs. flat noodles). We visited one of the cheapest Michelin-star restaurants in Hong Kong, famous for its prawn wonton noodles, and I got a tasty, award-winning dish for about US $5. There is also a noodle shop right around the corner from my apartment that’s open until 5am, so I’ve made it a late-night tradition to make the 30-second walk for some pork and shrimp wonton noodles.
3. Egg waffles
Another staple of Hong Kong cuisine, egg waffles are a popular street food that are hard to dislike. The taste is similar to a normal waffle, but richer due to the egg-based batter. They are shaped almost like bubble wrap! It’s really easy to eat with your hands just by breaking each bubble off, which is usually necessary; because it’s street food, most shops that sell them do not offer seating. They are usually served with some sort of topping, such as condensed milk, chocolate, peanut butter, etc., but they are also delicious plain.
4. Milk tea
Milk tea is also something I order frequently in the US, but I had never had Hong Kong-style milk tea before, and it’s life-changing. It’s served in HKU’s dining halls (or “canteens”) and most restaurants as a drink of choice, and is commonly be mixed with coffee. I’ve also gotten it with boba multiple times as a snack, although I have to be careful about ordering “pearls” instead of “boba”—the latter translates to something inappropriate in Cantonese!
5. Fish balls/siu mai
These might be the most popular traditional street foods of Hong Kong. Fish balls are a sort of meatball, made of fish paste and then boiled; they are a popular topping in soups, but can be served deep-fried or with curry sauce. They didn’t really sound appealing to me until I tried it in cart noodle soup; despite the chewy texture, which some people might not prefer, I thought the taste was great. Siu mai looks and tastes similar to shumai that I’ve eaten in Japanese restaurants. Pork and shrimp siu mai is usually served in dim sum restaurants, but the ones I’ve eaten on the street usually have a fish meat filling. They are usually served with some sort of sauce whose flavor has varied from spicy to sweet depending on where I ordered. When I visited Lamma Island, they were actually grilled, brushed with spices, and served on a stick, which was really yummy.
Overall, although I miss my Western breads and cheeses from time to time, it’s been a great experience to try new, unique foods, as well as try familiar dishes in the area from which they originated. I’m definitely going to miss Hong Kong cuisine!