Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong! (Part 2)
*Breathe in* ahhh! Fresh air! Errr.. well, not quite. If I take a deep breath in in Hong Kong it doesn’t feel that great. I have to say that’s one thing I’ll always miss about home (Vancouver, BC) is the quality of the air. It’s not something I get in Hong Kong, but nonetheless I love the city. Pollution, humidity and all. I go once every few years for extended periods of time and for once I didn’t extend my stay (although I was tempted to).
The city is addicting and I think of it as an Asian New York, but much more condensed. It’s a lively city that’s full of energy and the harder you work the harder you play. It’s fast paced, international and there’s always something to do and see… and in my case eat! So pack your appetite for Chinese food and Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong! Round 2! (This is my second visit to Hong Kong since I started Follow Me Foodie. See round 1 here.)
From Follow Me Foodie to Beijing right into Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong. Not only was the culture different, but so was the food. In Beijing it was Northern Chinese food and in Hong Kong it’s Southern Chinese food or Cantonese-Chinese food to be specific. Noodles are more popular in the North and in the South it’s all about the rice. Cantonese-Chinese people almost always have to have rice at the table and they don’t consider it dinner without a bowl of white rice. Traditionally a hot bowl of soup would start the meal and quite often end it as well.
If you’re not keen on seafood, then Asia let alone Hong Kong might be a bit tricky. It’s a seafood heavy diet with lots of prawns and fish. Traditionally having the opportunity to eat seafood was a sign of wealth and a lot of it is considered a delicacy.
There are several restaurants offering in house seafood tanks so you can feel confident that the seafood will be fresh. Most of the seafood in Hong Kong comes from all over Asia so they have so much variety and exotic shellfish that we might not see in North America. There is seafood in North America that they don’t get either, but I usually order seafood I can’t get at home. In terms of ocean friendly options I really have no idea, but let’s just say there’s room to grow in that area.
That being said, finding a non-seafood restaurant won’t be difficult. If you’re a fan of suckling pig, Chinese barbeque pork, roasted duck, and steamed chicken then you’ll easily find a butcher shop or restaurant serving all of the above on every street.
Pork is the most popular meat, but it’s easy to avoid too. If you plan to go to Hong Kong to look for “the best barbeque pork or suckling pig”, then you should plan a year there.
As I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to Beijing, it’s still a “eat everything and waste nothing” culture. China wasn’t rich (until recently) and with a billion people to feed they ate everything and still do. So if you’re used to boneless and skinless white meat, then you might as well go somewhere more tourist friendly than local. Quite often serving the whole animal is symbolic for wholeness and togetherness as to why meat and fish is often served with the head.
And if meat and seafood isn’t your thing than maybe I could interest you in some fresh bean curd? Bean curd or tofu is almost the Chinese version of cheese. Dairy is not popular in Asia and they don’t cook with it very often.
I must say I have a new found love for bean curd. I’ve always liked it, but after Hong Kong I love it! It’s home made, fresh, not processed and the quality is just better. I became obsessed with soy milk and I wasn’t even keen on it before. Even if you don’t like bean curd or tofu, I would give these places a shot and they’re very popular to locals in Hong Kong.
There are a couple famous ones I visited and they were more like snack shops than they are restaurants. Casual snack shops (eat and leave) are very popular in Hong Kong and eating alone is common.
As for food that looks appetizing? No. Chinese food for the most part does not look appetizing. At times colour is considered more so than presentation, and quite often it’s piles of family style servings and unfamiliar ingredients (if you’re looking at it from a Western perspective). Eat first… but perhaps not with your eyes. My rule of thumb is “try it until I like it”.
Traditionally, a lot of the dishes were actually created with consideration to the nutritional benefits of the ingredients rather than their flavours. Nowadays, most modern and gourmet Chinese dishes are created in terms of flavour first, but in the past it was align with Chinese medicine. Many traditional Chinese dishes have a lot of thought and or history that go beyond taste and aesthetics - see my post on soy milk and Chinese doughnuts. Chinese cooking is based on the yin and yang philosophy and creating balance and harmony in the body with food.
When it comes to dining in Hong Kong the style is “get in and get out”. There are a lot of people and space is limited. If the restaurant is casual and very busy then quite often you’ll end up sharing a table with random strangers.
As for the service? What service? It’s a fast paced culture and you have to get to the point. Know what you want or figure it out fast. Observe other tables or do some prior research if you can’t read the menus. Limit your questions and don’t be surprised when they come to you with your bill and stand next to your table waiting until you pay. That’s the norm there.
Tipping isn’t mandatory or expected (unless you’re at a Western or fancy restaurant), but that has nothing to do with the type of service you get. You’re in a city where everything is go, go, go, and although you might not consider the service friendly (for North American standards you certainly won’t) it’ll definitely be fast and efficient. The mentality is different there and it took me some adjusting, but after being yelled at a couple times I learned quickly. Two questions max.
As for farmer’s markets? There are very few farms in Hong Kong. It’s an island and almost everything is imported. That being said, the entire city is a farmer’s market. Many people do their grocery shopping at street markets (a popular wet market is shown above). From seafood stalls to butcher shops, exotic fruits and vegetables you can find way more here than you could at the standard local grocery store.
And if you’re looking for night life then look no further. Hong Kong is a party Wednesday to Saturday. People work until the late evening and go out right after. It’s also quite touristy and international so whether you’re local or tourist you’ll easily fit in. I always call it “college with a big bank account” which applies to many of the young professionals living in Hong Kong (in particularly Central).
If you think Vancouver has expensive housing, then try making it in Hong Kong. Housing is even more expensive. And if you think apartments in Vancouver are shoe boxes than the ones in Hong Kong are baby shoe boxes. It’s a fun city, but you have to work hard (or just be rich) to enjoy living here.
This is the popular Lan Kwai Fong Street where all the international people and expats party. This is a regular Saturday night. Think of it as a mini Bourbon street. Soho is really close by too and you can jump bar to bar and club to club with drink in hand. Where you see a Hard Rock Cafe (pictured on the left) you will find the tourists.
This area (known as Central) is where you’ll find the majority of Hong Kong’s Western restaurants and international cuisine. So if you don’t like Chinese food, there are still lots of options. Thai food is actually quite good in Hong Kong, but there are many non-Asian options too. There won’t be as many options as the food cities on the West Coast or New York considering Hong Kong is much smaller, but it’s decent and getting more diverse.
International food is pretty pricey in Hong Kong and for the most part I didn’t find them too impressive. Any specialty, foreign or Japanese cuisine comes with a price and while you can eat local food for really cheap, the international stuff and even formal Chinese restaurants can be just as expensive as fine dining in New York.
The restaurant scene changes really fast there too, rent is expensive and the turnover can be quick.
Last but not least, I was lucky enough to make it in time for Mid-Autumn Festival also known as the Moon Festival. It’s the second largest holiday in Asia next to the Lunar New Year and the festivities were fantastic. The occasion is a much bigger deal in China, but Hong Kong still has its celebrations and it is considered a public holiday.
When all is said and done, I have to be totally honest. I am born and raised in Vancouver and this has nothing to do with me being a”Vancity girl”, but we are spoiled by Vancouver’s Chinese food scene. Vancouver is known to have “the best Chinese food outside of Asia” and although I hate saying anything is “the best” I can see why the media and people say it. After spending a month in Asia and exploring Hong Kong’s food scene (not only this time, but all the other times) I have to say that Vancouver has got it good.
Generally speaking, and with all due respect, the Chinese food is often just as good (sometimes even better) than what I found in Hong Kong… and I just started a shouting match. I know locals who have lived in both cities for years that would agree and disagree with me on that one. So far I only know what I know and have tried what I’ve tried, and that’s how I honestly feel. I don’t want to be that person always comparing things to home, but it’s inevitable to do so.
I tried the local recommendations, did my own research and even had local foodies take me to places that were sure to impress. Some did, and some didn’t and some felt just marginally better than what I could get at home. Sure I didn’t try every single restaurant in Hong Kong and fair enough they have better for some stuff and it could get better, but for the most part we have it good in Vancouver. Yes, our dim sum and portions are larger than Hong Kong’s which makes it not as “authentic”, but when it comes to flavour and technique, we have it.
Many of our chefs in Vancouver are some of the top ones in Hong Kong anyway. The food and style might be slightly different and that’s because not all ingredients can be sourced and at times they have to cater to Vancouver tastes.
Hong Kong has an exotic and wide range of seafood, more options for Chinese dishes that we don’t even see in Vancouver, and more Chinese restaurants in general (obviously), but I feel like we have less places for you to go wrong in Vancouver. And for the dishes that we do have that Hong Kong has (which are still a lot), we have it pretty nailed. For being on the opposite side of the world I think Vancouver’s Chinese food scene has a lot to be proud of.
Here is just a small taste of things you can expect from Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong!
From old school dim sum (local favourite Lin Heung Tea House)…
My stories from Hong Kong begin soon! Start salivating… but if the pictures don’t do it, at least be curious. Food you don’t know about can be the most interesting.