Food: Off-Campus

Hong Kong has some of the best food in the world. I’ve eaten meals here which I would rank as some of the greatest I’ve ever had. As you might expect, none of these incredible dishes can be found in a cheap canteen on a university campus. To experience what Hong Kong has to offer, one must escape the confines of their campus and venture out into the big, scary, durian-filled city.

First off, I’m gonna talk about the food that Hong Kong is famous for: dim sum (點心 – literally ‘touch your heart). Long ago, travelers on the Silk Road would stop at these little tea houses when they were tired. Eventually, people realised that tea aids in digestion, so these tea houses started selling little bite-sized steamed dishes as well. Over the course of centuries, the Cantonese converted this peaceful respite into a loud and friendly gathering over lots of food. Much better! The act of going out to dim sum is referred to as yum cha (飲茶 – literally ‘drink tea‘). Dim sum nowadays consists of various kinds of bite-sized food, mostly steamed, served in bamboo baskets or small plates. Always served with plenty of hot, refreshing tea. It’s cheap, offers a lot of variety, and most importantly, is bloody delicious.

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An exciting spread of dim sum at a restaurant in Sai Kung.

Some of the most common dim sum dishes include cha siu bao (steamed bun filled with bbq pork), siu mai (pork and shrimp dumpling), har gow (whole shrimp dumpling), and fong djau (chicken feet). You’ll also see various kinds of stuffed vermicelli rolls, glutinous rice, turnip cake, spring rolls, congee, squid, and vegetable dishes. They even have dessert dishes perfect for sweet-toothed gweilos like myself; things like custard buns, steamed egg cake, egg tarts, mango pudding, sesame balls, mmm… Depending on where you eat, these dishes can be as cheap as 15HKD – 25HKD a go. Sixteen or so dishes is plenty of a table of four, costing under 80HKD a head (£8.25).

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Prawn dumplings, with spring rolls and vermicelli rolls in the background.

I’ve eaten at most of the famous dim sum places in HK now, including the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant Tim Ho Wan, as well as One Dim Sum, Dim Dim Sum, and plenty of others. If you asked me which of these is the best, I honestly wouldn’t be able to answer you. My friends and I all agree that every dim sum place we’ve visited does one dish better than anywhere else, so they’re all the best in their own way. For example, the baked bbq pork buns at Tim Ho Wan are divine, One Dim Sum does some absolutely gorgeous steamed custard buns, and Dim Dim Sum has very yummy dumplings. They’re all so cheap that it’s worth giving each one a visit to find your favourite!

I must say, the baked bbq pork buns at Tim Ho Wan are some of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in my life. I honestly can’t get enough of them. Sweet, crispy buns exploding with perfectly seasoned and steaming hot succulent bbq pork. If you come to Hong Kong without visiting a branch of Tim Ho Wan, you are really missing out. At 23HKD (£2.37) for a plate of three, they may have the best price-to-quality ratio of anything I’ve ever had. Seriously, if you haven’t tried them yet, go there now. You won’t be disappointed. Just order an extra plate for me, okay?

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Steaming hot, beautifully crispy, and just the right amount of sweet. Heavenly.

The other well-known area of Hong Kong cuisine is the hotpot dinner. Basically just a big pot of soup, meat, and veggies, which is cooked at your table on a portable stove. The first week I was in Hong Kong was the only time I’ve had hotpot. I made a reservation at some place off Nathan Road for just my girlfriend and I. Only when I arrived did I see that every other table had at least five or six people. Also, the staff didn’t speak any English and we had basically no idea what we were doing. The whole evening, staff kept coming over to change the temperature on our stove or stir the soup for us since this was clearly our first time. We ordered Chinese herbal soup with half a chicken, as well as some Chinese lettuce on the side. Even though I’m not a soup guy, it was honestly delicious. The deep flavour of the soup, the lovely tender chicken, and crunchy fresh vegetables. As there were only two of us, it worked out rather expensive and we had quite a bit of food left over. I think it’s much more suited to a social activity in medium to large groups. Definitely give it a try, its reputation is well deserved.

Other than dim sum, most of the food in Hong Kong is actually quite expensive, with some places approaching London prices for regular meals. As rent is so high here, businesses have to up their prices to compensate, so many goods and services are more expensive than you might expect. However, there is one simple dish which you can find almost anywhere for around 20 to 30 HKD: noodle soup. Due to its simple ingredients, it’s cheap to produce and therefore remains affordable for penniless British exchange students like me (curse you, Farage, you lying bellend). One of my favourite places for a cheap meal out is Wing Wah Noodles, near Wan Chai. Just 32HKD for a hearty bowl of noodles in a mouthwatering soup, perfected over its sixty years of business. The wonton dumplings are 70% shrimp and 30% pork, and they compliment the soup perfectly. The restaurant is simple and honestly a bit grimy, but don’t let that put you off. These guys know how to make good noodles. There is a whole host of other excellent wonton noodle shops around Hong Kong such as Mak’s Noodles and Lau Sum Kee. Check them out if you’re after a cheap meal!

While I’ve yet to encounter any reasonably priced, authentic, and actually good Western food, Hong Kong has plenty of excellent Thai, Japanese and Korean food. If you’re into sushi, there are some great sushi places about, and also a surprising amount of Japanese buffet restaurants offering all-you-can-eat at around 200-300HKD for two hours.

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Beautifully presented eel and egg sushi at a Japanese buffet restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.

I am personally a big fan of Japanese curry, and lucky for me, Hong Kong has what I need. My favourite place for Japanese curry is Camper’s in Quarry Bay; a cute camping-themed ramen and curry restaurant. The chef hails from Tokyo and is dedicated to serving low-fat dishes with plenty of veggies and no MSG. The curry is very reasonably priced at around 50-60HKD and is absolutely lovely. Very colourful with loads of veggies even in the meat curries, and no nasty additives.

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Butter chicken curry with plenty of veggies, washed down with Suntory beer. Lovely.

The seaside town of Sai Kung is a great spot for amazing Thai food. Whether you’re after a spicy Thai curry or a big plate of Pad Thai noodles, you can find it for a decent price in Sai Kung. I remember going to one place and ordering a few curries for our table. After the first came, a red curry, we managed to burn our tongues off and so asked the staff to make the spice level in our next curry gweilo-friendly. They did just that, and even though it makes me like less of a man, I could finally appreciate the incredible flavours of the curry. Creamy, slightly sweet, perfectly seasoned and overflowing with big chunks of meat and veggies. Absolutely delicious, just make sure to ask for it less spicy.

One time, there was a trip organised by the HKUST student housing office to this barbecue place up on the north coast! So a busload of hungry students were brought up there, split into small groups and each took over our own barbecue and a large bag full of meat and veggies. These kind of bbq parties are really popular here because people love bbq food and it’s a very social activity. We also had this honey bbq sauce which we brushed onto the meat, oh boy it was good.

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A big ol’ bbq pit, manned by a circle of hungry boys armed with large forks.

Walking around the streets of TST, Mong Kok, or Yau Ma Tei, you are likely to stumble across many different street food vendors selling an assortment of mystery-meat skewers and egg pancakes. They often have no English menu, no pricing, and no clear ordering method, so you basically just have to push your way to the counter and point at stuff. I’m sure they also charge you more if you’re a foreigner, but it’s still worth it, trust me. You can get octopus, sausage, meatballs, other strange things, usually on a stick. Give it a try if you’re not a picky eater. Some of it is really good.

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These bubble egg waffle things are everywhere. Just tear off a piece! Easy to share.

I’m also a big fan of a certain bright-orange Japanese fast food chain popular in Hong Kong called Yoshinoya (吉野家). They serve big rice bowls topped with thinly sliced braised beef and onions, resembling the Japanese gyudon (beef rice bowl). There are branches all over Hong Kong, including in Hang Hau, the nearest MTR station to the HKUST campus. Get the 38HKD regular beef bowl, or 41HKD with a drink. I know it’s fast food but it’s so, so good. They also have MOS Burger here if you’re into that.

One time, I went with a group of friends to a type of open-air food stall in Hong Kong called a dai pai dong. These offer a range of affordable Chinese dishes along with rice, typically seated outdoors. According to the HK Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, there are only 25 of these restaurants left in Hong Kong. They are characterised by their untidy atmosphere, lack of air conditioning, and low prices. Our waiter was quite rude and the table cloth was dirty, but oh boy the good was good. Not the most welcoming of places but if you power through it, the rewards are great.

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Deep fried squid, lemon chicken, broccoli, sweet & sour pork, Chinese greens, lots of tea…
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And here we are eating it! You can see the less-than-impressed waiter in the background.

Although to be considered a true dai pai dong, you must possess the proper license, the term is commonly used to refer to any streetside restaurant with outdoor seating, like the ones on Temple Street. I’ve eaten at these places before, and although they have a much better atmosphere, they are aimed at tourists and so are more welcoming but offer more expensive and less delicious food.

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Beer and strange Chinese food with a real-life Asian beside Temple Street Market.

When eating out with groups of friends, we often would go to a traditional Chinese dessert place after dinner. Now I am a big fan of desserts, but these places aren’t what I’m used to. There is no chocolate cake, no ice cream, no sticky toffee pudding. They offer things like sweet soup, tofu, and lots of fruit-based desserts. I find the desserts from these places very inconsistent; some I have loved, some I could barely stomach. One thing’s for sure; they are very different. If you feel like trying something new, don’t go to 7-11 and buy donuts for dessert, go get some peanut and sesame dumplings in hot ginger soup!

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Here we are stuffing our faces with strange Chinese pudding. Mmmmm…(?)

One of my favourite little places I’ve been to is this quaint matcha tea cafe half-way up a very tall building somewhere on Hong Kong Island. I forget the name, but it was a very cute place which sold some lovely matcha-based drinks and desserts. I had scones with jam and matcha cream which were surprisingly good. Others enjoyed matcha latte, iced matcha, matcha soup, matcha cake, and matcha lava cake. It was a bit pricey but worth it for the really nice atmosphere.

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Matcha soup and matcha latte.
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They actually didn’t mention on the menu it was matcha cream. Good thing it was tasty!

Finally, I should mention the extremely common milk-tea vendors. You will often see people walking around holding these large cups of tea, sealed tight with plastic which is pierced by a thick straw. These stalls are everywhere and offer a massive variety of teas, with or without bubbles, for around 15 to 25 HKD. While I’m not a big tea drinker, they tend to do excellent iced coffee. There’s one place in Hang Hau called CoCo which does a chocolate milk drink with big chunks of vanilla pudding for 19HKD. A snack I sometimes enjoy while making the journey back to campus.

So there you go! A very brief overview of some of the best food I’ve had off campus during my first semester here. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the massive world of Hong Kong cuisine, but I hope this gives you some useful information. I’m very excited to be returning to the UK two days from now, as I’ve been craving some proper fish and chips for a while. However, I’m sure that after a few weeks, I’ll be craving some cha siu bao and egg waffle.

Peace out,
Danny

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