Hong Kong, long considered the central hub of Asia where the “East meets the West”, prides itself in its reputation as the culinary mecca of Asia – from the finest haute cuisine to unique local treats and street food vendors, it is a food lover’s ultimate playground. Hong Kong is also widely known as the city with three of the most affordable Michelin star restaurants in the world – Tim Ho Wan, Ho Hung Kee, and Din Tai Fung all have garnered one Michelin star ratings. I’ve experienced two out of the three – Ho Hung Kee’s unique wanton noodles known as sai yong and XiaoLongBao at Din Tai Fung. Tim Ho Wan’s famous baked pork buns remains elusive. I’ve traveled the MTR to two different locations to no avail – always solo, I’m unwilling to stand in queues that look to be an hour long. Next trip, hopefully.
After two really great food tours in Shanghai, I decided to sign up for one in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Foodies had great reviews on Trip Advisor so I signed up for the Central and Sheung Wan tour and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t be pouring down rain on that day. It had been raining every day – surely a break in the weather was imminent. Now a veteran food touree (I just made that word up) with four food tours under my belt, I can honestly say this is the best thing you can do when visiting Hong Kong or Shanghai if you’re interested in learning about the local cuisine along with some colorful anecdotes on history and culture thrown in by knowledgeable guides. I really enjoy meeting and talking with other folks and hearing about where they’re from, too. At about day four, I’m thrilled to be speaking my native language in an actual conversation. On this tour nearly everyone was from Australia or New Zealand.
Hong Kong Foodies Central and Sheung Wan tour includes six stops – actually ours was five because this was the time of year that the owner of the Tea Studio takes two weeks off to visit the provinces where he sources his tea. One quick MTR trip from Tsim ShaTsui to Central, walk a few blocks down Queens Road and meet in front of The L Place – easy. Our first stop, Tsim Chai Kee Noodle was practically next door, then down a flight of stairs. A family owned restaurant for generations, they are known for their Guangzhou type wontons with shrimp – giant paper-thin skinned wontons exploding with 3 whole shrimp – no tiny bits mixed in with pork here. Over the years, the family has pared down the menu to six specialty items.
Dressed up with a generous amount of chile sauce.
We strolled through the wet markets in near Gage and Graham Street and Silvana filled us in on how the modernization of Hong Kong has finally encroached upon this area, forcing vendors to relocate, and putting an end to how locals have shopped for centuries.
Walking allowed us a chance to work off the wonton noodle soup and an appetite for another Hong Kong favorite: roasted barbecued pork at Lung Kee Restaurant. Famous for roast duck, goose, chicken, pork, sausage and an occasional octopus; I’m pretty sure this is the place where I bought roast duck takeaway after downing the herbal tonic on my last trip – I recognized the window dressing.
We were served a simple bowl of sticky, sweet roasted pork and steamed rice in an upstairs dining room – all the food you eat on these tours is included in the tour price. And, not knowing Cantonese, it’s so great to have someone fluent in both English and Cantonese take care of all the ordering! This is the favorite dish for most people that take the tour according to our lovely guide Silvana. Lung Kee’s BBQ is considered superior because they roast their own meats and the pork is roasted whole, vs. being cut into pieces, in gigantic vertical ovens. On an average day they roast 60 pigs – a staggering amount for such a small place. Our group was able to walk quickly and carefully into the kitchen, which may or may not have influenced some of the participants in their final answer when Silvana polled us for our favorites at the end of the tour.
This is the place where Anthony Bourdain savored BBQ pork for his show and it’s no wonder that locals and celebrity TV hosts favor the unctuous tender roasted meat of Lung Kee.
You depart Lung Kee with a lingering sweetness coating your tongue and head out for a palate refresher of sugar cane juice. Silvana explains how different Chinese foods are classified as heating or cooling to the body and talked at length about the healing properties and detoxing qualities of particular dishes, herbs, and drinks. Sugar cane juice has cooling properties and aids in detoxifying your body. The sugar cane juice was grassy in color with a syrupy sweet taste that I didn’t care for, but most of the others drained their cups. The shop, next door to one of the oldest remaining buildings in Central, also makes turtle soup which has cooling and detoxifying qualities and is good for the complexion – it’s especially popular after Chinese New Year when people have overindulged in fried food and sweets. On our way out, we peaked into the ancient large brass vat where the soup is made.
We meandered the back streets of Sheung Wan while Silvana told us of its storied past as an impoverished Chinese community during British rule, now it’s an area of skyrocketing real estate values and businesses that cater to the largely expat professionals who can afford such urbane housing. We passed by the Tea Studio and heard a little about the six kinds of tea and how the owner hand picks his teas from the best tea growers in China. Really sad to have missed this, but I took solace in the fact that I know where it is and, with the HK Foodies map, can trace my steps on another visit.
There’s more! Our 4th stop was Dim Sum Square where we savored a few traditional Hong Kong dim sum: Har Bao (shrimp dumpling), Siu Mai (pork dumpling), Jaa Chun Guen (deep fried spring rolls), and Char Siu Bao (Crispy BBQ Pork Bun. The Char Siu Bao won me over at first bite. The lightly crisped exterior with a whisper of sugar and a fluffy light interior surrounding burnished BBQ pork was not the least bit dry. Biting into the bun the redolent, smoky, sweet sauce oozed out, sticky on the chin, finger-licking good, extra napkins requested. Dim Sum Square cafe is also a family-owned cafe passed down through the generations but with striking signage, an uncommonly contemporary exterior with large picture windows revealing twinkling lights and a collage of black & white photography depicting the family’s origin.
Har Bao (Shrimp Dumpling)
Char Siu Bao (Crispy BBQ Pork Bun)
Our time together ended with a luscious egg tart (Daan Taat) at Hei Lee Cake Shop, a tiny storefront awash in glaring flourescent light in the center of a gritty street scene. Surprisingly delicious with a flaky crust, the egg tart was a favorite among the Aussies. We thanked Silvana profusely and I raced off to experience the MTR at rush hour and rest up for that night’s business dinner.
Like I said, a must-do when in Hong Kong. Five stops of delicious food from wonton soup to egg tarts, 3+ hours of history, culture and sightseeing with a friendly, knowledgeable guide filling you in on the origins of these Hong Kong favorites while you savor them – the perfect equation for enjoyment.