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Dining out is the social norm in Hong Kong and there’s a wide range of dishes and restaurants to try. Navigate local markets and delicacies with our must-try list of food and drink.
3 top foodie tips
Food and cocktail combos
Cocktails are hugely popular with Hongkongers who love to experiment at events like the annual Wine & Dine festival (26-29 October 2017), which last year featured such pairings as miso marinated pork and a karasi sour cocktail. Restaurant VEA offers a menu paired with inventive cocktails such as a consommé of shiitake mushrooms laced with whisky.
‘Hong Kong is seeing a boom in veggie food,’ says Australian chef Shane Osborne and according to chef Randy See of Le Port Parfumé, expensive caviar and white truffles no longer excite wealthy locals, who are more interested in the provenance of simple vegetables. And the quirkiest vegetable trend of all? Cindy Kuan of the Chinese Culinary Institute says it’s purple sweet potatoes, which appear in a huge range of snacks, including toast, cakes, sandwiches and ice cream. Our suggestion for veggie eats? Sustainable eating hub Sohofama.
Smart street food
Blogger Janice Leung Hayes urges you to seek out modern twists on old-school snacks or street food, such as eggettes (a local style of waffle). You can also find upscale versions of staples like beef noodles and wontons, such as beef noodles in a lobster bisque-like soup.
Top 10 dishes to try
Hong Kong-style milky tea mixed with instant coffee. A riff on Hong Kong milk tea this is THE essential drink at cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong-style cafés).
Not actually very pineappley, but a soft pillowy sweet bread roll topped with a crunchy sugary top. The kind of portable breakfast Hongkongers take to the office.
Cantonese-style barbecued pork, marinated in five spice, rose liqueur, soy bean paste and glazed with honey or syrup: ubiquitous and essential to any Hongkonger’s diet.
Only in season for a few weeks but this seasonal Hong Kong delicacy appears on menus all over town between late October and the end of November where the tiny crabs fetch about £30. With their rich colour and egg-yolk consistency, they can be stirred into fresh pasta just like a sauce, or used to make a bouillabaisse-type fish sauce.
Salt marinated chicken
A great way of cooking chicken, brined with a fabulously crisp papery skin of the kind you more often find on duck and suckling pig, like at culinary arts spot Duddells.
Slightly slithery rice rolls served with a punchy sauce made with soy sauce, peanut butter, hoisin and chilli sauce – try them at locals’ favourite Hop Yik Tai Cheung Fun in Sham Shui Po.
Egg noodles with shrimp roe. Eat them at the Lau Sum Kee noodle shop in Sham Shui Po – and if you want to recreate the experience at home, you could try adding to our veg-packed noodle & egg bowl.
If you’re brave enough, snakes are said to boost the circulation and are eaten as a warming food during winter. One of many ingredients that are considered medicinal by the locals. Try it at Shia Wong Hip in Sham Sui Po.
After a long day at work, find a local hot pot restaurant around Causeway Bay if on the Island, while Mong Kok and Prince Edward are the places to go on Kowloon side. Try to order as many different types of food on the menu, cook everything yourself, and wash it all down with Blue Girl beers and Soju. It’s the proper local way to do it.
The pan-Asian bao bun craze has hit Hong Kong, too. Go to Little Bao for inventive fillings such as Szechuan fried chicken bao and fish tempura.
How to do it
Where to shop
‘Locals shop at both “wet” fresh food markets (gai see) and supermarkets,’ says Janice Leung Hayes. ‘The older generation usually shop daily – a hangover from when home refrigeration wasn’t the norm. Every district has at least one wet market run by the government, so you’re never too far from one.’
What to eat and when
‘To eat like a local at lunch, visit a noodle house,’ says Michael Larkin, restaurant manager at fashionable Korean restaurant Jinjuu. ‘They’re not pretty, but they are cheap as chips, and the flavours are so unexpected. Find a place that has a queue going around the corner and without a Westerner in sight – you’ll have struck gold. Tsim Chai Kee, on 98 Wellington, is a personal favourite. ‘Hong Kong has some of the world’s best restaurants, but if you really want eat like a local, you have to hit the night markets of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok,’ says Michael. ‘The choices are endless and cheap.’
‘Loudly slurping your ramen broth or noodle soup is not rude, but in fact a sign you appreciate it,’ says travel writer Chris Dwyer. ‘Leaving your chopsticks embedded in rice is a no-no, associated with funerals. Also, be very mindful of not confusing serving and personal eating chopsticks at group dinners – no one likes a double dipper!’
Chinese people love sharing a meal
‘For a family gathering, seniors are normally asked to start first as a sign of respect to the elderly,’ says Cindy Kuan. ‘If there are guests around the table, they will be invited to get their food first when a dish is being presented. However, guests should still wait until the host gives the signal to start.’ On how to find a good place to eat, she advises, ‘Look for crowds and queues. Hongkongers love a queue.’ Her blog is also a good source of recommendations. ‘If there’s a good or new noodle shop, they’ll queue for over an hour,’ says Carrie Poonki, who runs Hong Kong Foodie tours. ‘Also, OpenRice is a useful local food-finding app to download.’
How to order
‘Ordering a meal is usually quite easy as most places have menus in Chinese and English, but don’t expect any help from the staff. If you’re going really local, there will be no pictures, no translation, nothing. So, go green, and order a vegetable dish like sou choi to share,’ says Michael Larkin. ‘Try to spot a dish that looks appealing on someone else’s table, and say “Nigo”, meaning “this”.’ Chris Dwyer says Google’s Translate app scans any photos so works well for menus.
Where to stay
A training hotel for the hospitality industry, T Hotel is an unconventional choice. A bona fide tourist address nonetheless, the luxury accommodation and panoramic views massively over-deliver for the price. Situated 20 minutes from the centre of Hong Kong, it’s much quieter (and taxis are cheap). £95 a night.
Accommodation for this trip was provided by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Read our other must-try foodie travel guides…
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