As a traveller, you owe it to yourself to cross paths with Hong Kong at least once in your lifetime. This tiny, crowded, bustling metropolis is a lively mix of world-class shopping, towering skyscrapers, unique history and a quirky culture, all jam-packed onto a tiny peninsula in China's south. However, what Hong Kong might be most famous for is its food. A long-time foodie favourite, Hong Kong cuisine has deep Cantonese roots, and is well known for its simple yet flavourful dishes that have stayed largely unaltered from traditional times. With their hearty meals and food-centric culture, if you were looking for the Chinese version of soul food, a strong case could be made for it being found on the streets of Hong Kong.
As a starting point, here are six Hong Kong cheap eats to get your taste buds singing in this incredible city.
1. Egg tarts (dan tat)
Hong Kong’s version of a custard tart is one of the most iconic desserts you’ll find here and is served anywhere from small family run bakeries to the finest restaurants. The custard might be more thick and eggy than what’s served in the West, and perhaps not quite as sweet, which makes these a delightful treat that the people of Hong Kong enjoy at any time of day. It’s not uncommon to see tray upon tray displayed outside Hong Kong’s bakeries; some who solely bake these and nothing else to satisfy the endless stream of customers. You may find variations around town — some with a slightly more eggy or milky filling, or perhaps a firmer or puffier pastry – but all are delicious in their own way. Your only problem will be tasting them all to decide where your loyalties lie!
2. Congee (jook)
Congee is a rice porridge that is a favourite breakfast in Hong Kong, often cooked at small family run cafes, tea houses and restaurants. While most people think of breakfast porridge as oats or grains topped with sugar or honey, Hong Kong congee generally consists of such savoury flavours as fish or chicken, or even more adventurous offerings such as duck, crab or shellfish. It’s popular to have a plate of Chinese doughnuts, or you tiao on the side, which people love to dip in their congee or simply nibble between spoonfuls of porridge. Congee is perhaps a more heavy breakfast than you’re accustomed to, but it will surely keep you going well past lunchtime!
3. Egg waffle (gai daan jai)
Egg waffles are a popular Hong Kong street food that you will probably smell from a distance before you turn the corner and find the waffle guy churning out stacks of the stuff behind his little street stall. While most use an electric griddle, the traditional way to cook them is over hot coals, which you can still see today; it can be amusing to watch them carefully cook each batch, turning the griddle at just the right time to get the perfect fluffiness when it’s finally opened up. The end result is a hot sheet of crispy, egg-shaped waffle, stuffed in a brown bag and ready for you to munch on. While you can find different flavours nowadays, such as chocolate and green tea, the majority of people still prefer to enjoy this timeless snack plain and untarnished, the same way they’ve been served since the 1950s.
4. Rice rolls (cheong fun)
Cheap, fast and delicious, steamed rice rolls are one of the snacks on Hong Kong’s streets that everyone loves. Sheets of rice noodle are simply steamed and rolled up into cigar-like pieces, then chopped up and served to you on a sheet of paper or a Styrofoam cup. From there you get to choose which sauce(s) to lather them in before you indulge — sweet, peanut and sesame are all popular. You’ll also be given a pair of chopsticks or a pointed satay stick to keep your fingers clean in the gooey mess. Simply delicious.
5. Curry fish balls (gaa lei yu dan)
Possibly Hong Kong’s most iconic street food treat, curried fish balls are served on street corners throughout the city, at all times of the day and night. You’ll often see crowds huddled outside the stalls in the evenings, with the trays of steaming, curry-soaked fish balls out on display in front of you. While the fish balls themselves are probably no different than the standard supermarket variety, each street stall concocts its own special curry sauce, meaning you’ll find different combinations of sweet, savoury and spicy all over Hong Kong. Most commonly served in small cups with a couple of toothpicks, it’s a light, tasty snack that will win you over quickly, and like most Hong Kong street food, is very easy on the wallet, too.
6. Hong Kong French toast
You thought the French had mastered this creation? Think again. Hong Kong’s version of French toast is a slightly more decadent take on this breakfast classic. Two slices of white bread are soaked in egg and then deep fried to a golden crisp. Often you’ll get the option of a sweet spread, such as chocolate or peanut butter, in between the slices. Once plated, it’s topped with maple syrup, a generous blob of butter and often enjoyed with a beverage of your choice. This dish is served in most local coffee shops and tea houses, so if you see French toast on the menu, just know you’ll be getting something slightly more fattening (and delicious) than what you’re used to!
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Hong Kong encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater to different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.