One of the best ways to understand a new culture and get to know more about the country is by tasting some of its most popular dishes. As we all know every country has its own unique cuisine and there are so many delicious dishes you must eat in Hong Kong. The city is known as a “foodie’s paradise” for a reason - its food selections is diverse and bursting in right textures and flavors. You might imagine that Hong Kong food matches the sleek skyscraper and sky-high cocktail bars, but the food that I love (and the rest of the city), is a lot more down to earth - street level to be exact. When it comes to experiencing Hong Kong food culture, it’s all about eating street food, regardless of how much money you make. Pick up street food and stop by a cha chaang teng - a small local eatery - and you’ll be well on your way with a must eat Hong Kong list! Among all of the hundreds of dishes to choose from, here are my five recommendations of what to eat Hong Kong.
When eating in Hong Kong you have to try our egg tarts! It can be a dessert, a snack or a dim sum, call it whatever you like. Egg tart is one of the most popular foods in Hong Kong: there are two main types of egg tart, one with puff pastry and one with shortcrust pastry, but the traditional way to make an egg tart is actually replacing butter with lard. The reason behind is because back in the days when butter was very costly, lard had the perfect opportunity to serve as the ideal alternative in order not to lose the flakey crust result. Much later, with the emergence of short crust pastry, butter began to be used to attract a new group of customers - the younger generation. Either way, they are both filled with a rich custard which contains large proportion of egg inside, so they’re much eggier and less creamy than English custard tarts. Egg tart is an important part of Hong Kong's food culture and can be easily found in almost every local bakery - if you’re lucky enough, you might stop by a bakery as a batch is being taken out of the oven!
The most asked question from visitors to Hong Kong is “Does it really have pineapple inside though?” The truth is, no! Sorry, I know the name is deceiving; so where does it come from? It’s the characteristic look that the topping has, which resembles the texture of a pineapple. Pineapple buns and egg tarts are the two most popular must eats in Hong Kong bakeries; shining bright among its fellow bread products they stand out as a very popular choice for breakfast and afternoon tea. Take one bite into the crunchiness of the golden-brown colour top crust and the softness of the bread dough underneath and you’ll see why they’re so popular! Some like to just have it plain, and some add a slab of butter inside so that you could enjoy not only the harmony of sweetness and savory, but also the melting butter in the warm bun. Nowadays, more and more variants are being invented, the most popular being custard, red bean paste or barbecued pork inside. Or you can get creative with your Hong Kong food choice and make your own version - my pick would be the melted cheese!
Wondering what else to eat in Hong Kong? One of my favourite dishes is congee- a type of rice pudding that many of us eat for breakfast. You can find this must eat in Hong Kong restaurants, and any cha chaang teng you visit. Some of them are even dedicated solely to making congee. It’s very easy to cook; rice is boiled in a large amount of water until it softens significantly. If we stop at this point, we have something called “white porridge”, which is usually prepared for people who are sick because it requires no chewing and can be used as a cleanse for our body. But to be frank, the taste of “white porridge” is pretty bland, which is why we’ve come up with millions of combinations of congee by putting in different fresh ingredients to level up the flavor and most importantly to make it interesting.
The famous one in Hong Kong's food culture is minced pork congee with preserved egg, sampan congee (shredded squid, deep fried pig skin, fish ball and peanuts) and congee with fresh grass carp fillet. Locals will often pair their congee with supreme soy sauce fried noodles and dip these salty Chinese churros in, which is a standard way to make a staple breakfast. As for the importance of having congee at breakfast, it’s because we believe rice can provide the “chi” we need for our body to ensure our system can run smoothly and keep us feeling energetic throughout the day. So why not give congee a try instead of drinking coffee first thing in the morning?
Rice Noodles Bowl
Speaking of comfort food, you can’t miss out on rice noodles bowl - another one of Hong Kong's must eat foods. You may find it similar to Vietnamese Pho, but I think we have developed the dish more in terms of the rice noodles and the toppings. There are mostly three forms of our rice noodles: thin, spaghetti like or thick and flat. My recommendations for the toppings would be with Teochew style fish balls, braised fish with deep fried bean curd and slow-cooked brisket. However, if you are open minded and wanting a truly authentic taste of Hong Kong's food culture then I would say try with assorted beef offal - you get to taste all textures in just one bowl tenderness, chewiness and bounciness. And just a tip for those who have nothing but hatred towards green onion and coriander - please do yourself a favor, remember to ask the servers to skip them for your bowl when you order. What’s more, if you are looking for a side dish to go with your rice noodles bowl, the best buddy has to be the deep fried fish skin. With the broth from the rice noodles, the deep fried fish skin will then be softened up but still keeps the right amount of the crunchiness!
Clay Pot Rice
The key to this must eat Hong Kong dish is its preparation. The golden formula to make a clay pot rice is a charcoal fire, a clay pot and sweet soy sauce, and the way to reach that perfection requires years of experience. It’s all about the control of the fire and the timing, to make sure the rice will be crispy on the edges but still moist in the centre. Clay pot rice is a winter delicacy; therefore fatty, juicy meats will be added on top to cook with the rice from the beginning. And voilà, you have a steaming pot of rice that gets all that meaty flavour which is purely from the gravy. Don’t forget to put sweet soy sauce before eating! In Hong Kong, food is often accompanied with a healthy splash of soy sauce. Sweet soy sauce is the soul of this dish and the key to elevate the rice to a whole new level, and most people would say to put the lid of the clay pot back on for a minute or two after adding the sweet soy sauce in as to let the magic happen. The outstanding meat choices I would say are Chinese dried sausage, spare ribs and chicken thighs. They are to die for! You can find clay pot rice inside the Temple Street Market, and I’m sure by the time you get there, the smell and the crowd will lead you directly to those irresistible clay pot rice!
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