By Lea T. Dalawis
I spent the holidays in Hong Kong and and spent most of my time there visiting and dining at some of the city’s Michelin starred and best restaurants. I’ve been there several times and I have always enjoyed its food. I was quite puzzled when people complained that there was no good food in Hong Kong and they ended up eating fast food every meal. Some of them had encountered dining experiences so “bad” that their appetite for Hong Kong as a dining destination had been ruined for good. There is not only good food, but awesome food in Hong Kong, if you know where and what to eat, and what to expect. I’m not the first to write about it and I certainly won’t be the last. The city is legendary around Asia, and in the world, for its role as culinary heavy hitter relying on multicultural history and a certain level of creativity to create one of the best cuisines in the world. But instead of doing a round-up of the best of Hong Kong’s food scene, I can only share what I ate and experienced first-hand.
Ho Hung Kee
Level 5, Arrivals Hall, Hong Kong International Airport
We arrived past 7 a.m. in Hong Kong and, still toting our luggage, headed to Ho Hung Kee Congee and Noodle Wantun Shop, one of the few wonton noodles shops that had been awarded a one Michelin star. You would have thought only fine dining restaurants would get accolades like that. Ho Hung Kee is conveniently located inside the Hong Kong International Airport. It’s a “can’t miss spot” as it is one of the busiest restaurants on the first floor. This is a perfect spot for those just coming off their long flight and hungry for some quality food. This is a sit down restaurant, with a big menu, and just could not try everything so we ordered their famous signature wonton noodles soup, ha gao (steamed shrimp dumpling), and dou sha bao (steamed red bean paste bun). Their wonton noodles are thin, really thin and springy with six little parcels wrapped with shrimps, submerged in delightful lightly flavored clear soup. Ho Hung Kee makes their base for wontons by taking “seven-part shrimp to three-part pork” which they grind to a paste and spread onto a thin egg flour wrapper. They also added “wood ear” fungus to the mixture. I love the added “springiness” to the whole texture of the dumpling. And when you bite into the shrimp wontons, the elasticity of the minced shrimp mixture is a nice contrast against the transparent skin. Although the wontons are a bit small compared to the ones outside of the airport, the broth and fresh shrimp are what makes this dish a must try.
I highly recommend their dou shabao because of the red bean paste filling which is, by the way, my ultimate comfort food. The bun served here has a soft texture and is slightly sweet and you would easily know that it is freshly made. The red bean paste is not too sweet, very smooth, and silky. Their ha gao is equally delicious. There is no shortage of shrimps in there.
The place can get pretty packed but the wait never feels too long. They also have a section for you to leave your luggage and it is watched securely by an attendant while you dine. Since this is in the airport, it is to be expected that the price is on a “high” side. Don’t dismay, you can always check out their other branch in Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay.
Yung Kee Restaurant
Wellington Street, Central
Yung Kee was once named the “Top 15 Restaurants in the World” by Fortune Magazine, Asia’s “Top 20 Restaurants” by Miele Guide, and held one star in the Michelin guide in 2009, 2010, and 2011 in the HK and Macau edition. The famous Yung Kee is enormous and is one of HK’s oldest and most popular Cantonese restaurants. Their menu features a fairly large list of award-winning dishes. The restaurant offers four floor of dining space, from the casual first floor, where we dined, serving barbecued meats, to the exclusive fourth floor offering the finest Cantonese cuisine. Yung Kee generally serves familiar Chinese cuisine, but they have one specialty that people always order here: roasted goose. The glossy roast geese strung up in the restaurant’s street side windows and give diners a preview of the main event before they even enter Yung Kee’s threshold. The restaurant also has a certain sense of old-fashioned class about it without being pretentious.
Yung Kee’s half roasted goose (HK$200), which is perfect for two to share, is beautifully fragrant and flavorsome, achieving a perfectly golden brown glaze. The delicate skin is thin yet crispy, with a thin layer of fat underneath it. Melt-in-your-mouth style meat was juicy and succulent, served over a bed of braised peanuts which effortlessly soaked up the flavor and the delicate plum sauce. Crispy skin, fats, and meat—all three worked in a lethal combination that made us ordered another round. It was simply lip-smacking, and not a hint of guilt at all. It was indeed worth the hype and the accolades, and you have to try it to believe that a simple dish like this could take your breath away.
To counterbalance the rich taste of the roasted goose, James, the waiter, suggested that we also order the vegetables with mushroom sauce and beef fried rice. Vegetables with mushroom sauce turned out to be shiitake mushrooms in a bed of steamed bok choy drizzled with mushroom sauce. After two orders of roasted goose and veggies, we were so full and we barely touched the beef fried rice. We took the fried rice to go. I do love that doggie bags are not frowned upon in HK.
When it comes to roast goose, Yung Kee is a Hong Kong institution. Its reputation means that prices aren’t cheap, and while some HK locals regard it now as more of a tourist trap, it’s still worth visiting. Just one bite of the juicy, succulent bird encased in crisp, honey-glazed smoky skin and I’ll wager you’ll be booking a return trip back to HK before you’ve pushed your chopsticks together in satisfied defeat.
Lockhart Road, Wan Chai
If I made a list of all my favorite food, Peking duck would be somewhere between number one and number five. I’ve always adored Peking duck—even just the act of picking of the meat and assembling it with a pancake is fun! The American restaurant has a misleading name. From its bare, minimalistic interior to the waiters who just might have worked here more years than I’ve been alive, there is nothing American about this restaurant. It is a traditional Chinese restaurant and it is consistently in the list of best places to eat Peking duck in Hong Kong. We do not have a reservation when we dined here but the wait staff was very gracious and she gave us a seat near the swing doors. And once we entered the dining area, we were flooded with vibrancy—glasses tinkling, cutlery clanging, plates banging, spoons servings, and the noise of customers chatting. The menu is pretty big so I asked a little help from the female wait staff. We ordered their hot and sour soup, Yang Chow fried rice, and their specialty—the Peking duck.
At American Restaurant, they serve their Peking duck without much ritual. And they serve a lot of Peking duck. When it was time to serve the duck, the waiter waved at us and showed me the whole barbecued duck. When I said okay, he proceeded to carve the duck and he presented it to us on a large plate with the meat and skin together. And of course, it is served with still warm pancakes, thinly sliced cucumber and spring onion, and hoisin sauce. The duck is moist in the right places and crispy where it should be—the skin, served with dutiful hoisin, cucumber, and thinly sliced scallions and you’re good to go. I simply love it—juicy, glossy skin, super tender meat, just the perfect crisp that I am looking for. And the hoisin sauce, which according to the wait staff, is made in-house, is so damn delicious I asked for a second serving. I literally licked the serving spoon.
If you are looking for a good restaurant in HK for Peking duck without spending a fortune, then I recommend this restaurant in Wan Chai. Their Peking duck was so good that I returned the next night.
The Social Place
The L Place, Queen’s Road Central, Central
Dim sum literally means to touch the heart and it’s impossible not to be profoundly touched by the wide array of Hong Kong’s dim sum. My trip to Hong Kong would not have been complete without venturing out to this one restaurant to get a taste of the real deal dim sum. Social Place is located on the 2/F of L Place building. The lift opens to a modern, light space with a ping pong table in the middle where you can eat and possibly have a game? The concept is simple, Social Place want to provide diners with a chic, cozy dining venue with a range of contemporary Chinese dim sum and dishes using fresh ingredients and simply no MSG. Rice bran oil is used as the cooking oil and quality rules the kitchen, just from this concept sets it apart from other dim sum places I’ve been to. I was excited to sit down and eat. Their menu is simple and yet bursting with yummy options for everyone. The place also has comedic touches here and there like the printed flies and bugs in the bottom of the bowls. At first glance, I thought they were real flies and bugs, but really, they were just painted on.
How about the food? The food is thrilling—adventurous ingredients, the presentation is delightfully tweaked while cherished Chinese flavors are meticulously preserved. Take for example the truffle shiitake buns—the skin encasing the mushroom filling was neatly styled to resemble a mushroom. I learned that they used chocolate powder to coat the skin so that the “mushrooms” look like they were just plucked from the soil. It’s an Instagram worthy creation. The bun dough was soft and fluffy. But it’s the addition of truffle oil, an expensive ingredient drawn from European cuisine, which carries the dish delivering a hint of fusion without going too far. The mushroom stuffing was moist, but I think the dough-to-filling ratio could be improved. More filling, please!
We started with the pork belly sliders. I definitely couldn’t get past those pork belly sliders. A thick slab of soft and tender pork belly is sandwiched between a steamed bun with pickled veggies and a red tomato sauce to tie it all together. We devoured those fatty pork bellies within seconds and wanted more. At HK$39 a piece, it wasn’t cheap, but who cares? I ordered another round.
It felt cruel to bite into their pig-shaped sweet potato buns. The buns are so cute and adorable and the purple sweet potato puree is so pretty and vibrant it tasted pretty good too, not overly sweet but a little heavy. So sharing with a friend is definitely your best option to make sure you have enough room for everything else. While the bun is yummy, it is a bit pricey at HK$29 for just one bun.
For desserts, I got the Chinese “chess” custard buns and sesame ping pong. The custard buns did not disappoint. Flowing “lava” of custard and egg yolk, my goodness. It’s not like the traditional firm custard and salted duck eggs filling. It was so good; it can take you to heaven. It was the perfect way to end a delicious meal. The sesame “ping pong” balls were the best sesame balls I’ve had but the menu could have had more information to say that they were filled with pineapple because they are normally filled with red beans. The pineapple filling tasted so much better because it was thick and chewy with a fruity pineapple taste. The glutinous rice is pineapple flavored, too.
The Flying Pan
Lockhart Road, Wan Chai
The Flying Pan is one of my more recent discoveries in Hong Kong. Situated on the third floor, The Flying Pan is a 24-hour diner-style eatery voted the Best Place for Brunch in HK, Best Restaurant for Dining Solo in HK, and Best Restaurant for Breakfast HK. It serves mostly western breakfast food all day and all night. It’s perfectly situated for those who fancy a sit-down brunch. Prices are reasonable for the food offered and there’s an extensive menu too—eggs Benedict, eggs Florentine, eggs Maharajah, eggs Oscar, eggs Norwegian, eggs nantucket, and eggs champignon—you get the idea—it’s all in their menu. The space’s environment isn’t too much to write about, but the black-and-white checkered tile floor, comfy couches, wide windows, and mom-and-pop kitchen vibe makes for a nice diner experience. Just about every breakfast combo is up for grabs here.
I ordered the Flying Pan combo—two pieces of bacon, hash browns, baked beans, four pieces toast, three sunny side up eggs, one slice of ham, one piece chorizo patty, a small glass of orange juice, and bottomless coffee. The portion was huge and sadly I couldn’t finish it all. I thought it leaned a little on the greasy side for my personal liking but sometimes that’s what you need especially if your schedule for the day entails a lot of walking. They also serve kiddie meals like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pancakes. There are also breakfast wraps and homemade cheese blintzes (thin pancakes). Many of the selections are served with a choice of two sides, juice, and toast, spelling unbeatable value for quality food.
Hong Kong has no lack of street stalls and Michelin-starred restaurants. Till date, I’ve never ran out of places to discover and eat. There’s always a new kid-on-the-block and another long-standing restaurant that I’ve yet to try. I spent seven days eating mostly dim sum and noodles, but there are also lots of other incredible foods in HK that just make your taste buds dance. Never again will I be able to eat Chinese food, Cantonese in particular, anywhere else with the same appreciation as I did in Hong Kong.
Wellington Street, Central
Wellington Street is one of Hong Kong’s best-kept budget culinary secrets. It is where a cluster of low-key, cheap noodle and dumplings hole-in-the-wall restaurants either have a Michelin star or have been Michelin recommended. Since Mak’s Noodles and Tsim Chai Kee are directly across from each other in the said street, there is a lot of debate on which one to visit. My answer would be both if you are really curious, but if you care about taste over price and quantity, then visit Mak’s Noodles in Central. Both restaurants are Michelin starred.
The store is really simple. Inside you sit on small chairs with a foldable table, where you’ll find the menu slipped under the glass. If the decor of a restaurant is important to you, then you might want to turn around at the front door. Though the interior of the restaurant was basic, it was clean, which was more important than a fancy decor in my opinion.
When I ordered the stirred noodles with beef brisket, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much was packed into a small plate. The noodles did not disappoint. Savory and delicious on their own and had great texture, firm with a great bite. On top of the noodles were large chunks of beef brisket. The beef tasted oh so meaty and yet slightly sweet in flavor. Each bite was unbelievably tender and just melted in my mouth, especially the fatty pieces. For something that seemed so simple, I was blown away by the layers of flavors and texture of the dish. Meanwhile, the wontons in the shrimp wonton soup were a thing of beauty. It’s all shrimps! The skin was just the right thickness and inside was a big piece of tender, salty, and sweet shrimp. One bowl has eight pieces of wontons. And the broth, I don’t know where to begin with how delicious the prawn based broth was. So complex yet simple with multiple layers of flavors. All the salty, savory, and meaty flavors were well balanced. It left me wanting more. Now it all makes sense. People are upset about the small portion sizes only because they want more of this delicious soup.
Think of Mak’s like a great classic burger with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and maybe some thousand island type of dressing. No, it’s not the Wagyu beef burger topped with foie gras, but the fundamental flavors are on point.
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