On my recent trip to Hong Kong I discovered that when it comes to food, guide books are useless. They focus entirely too much on established restaurants in the city and barely scratch the surface when it comes to street food. And it is often at the shady looking joints where one must balance on rickety stools or the stalls where you must take your food and quickly leave that a city’s best local eats are found.
One of my favourite things to do in fact when exploring a new city is to aimlessly wander around and buy the strangest looking food I can find. But, if you’re in a city for only a short period of time then this trial and error method of exploration can leads to a lot of anxiety as the FOMO (Fear of missing out) kicks in. Which is why I was super excited when I stumbled across Eating Adventures, a company that offers local food tours in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
Having already explored Mong Kok, I went on a walk with them to explore North Point – another residential area known for its local food – and had the time of my life. Not only did we have some amazing dim sum at the world’s cheapest One-Michelin starred restaurant but we also feasted on the unusual chicken feat and black jelly. Below’s a photo diary on all the amazing food we found!
We started our walk by visiting the famous Lee Keung stall that sells Gaai Dan Sai, an Asian twist on the egg waffle. Crisp on the outside yet light and fluffy on the inside, these waffles are the perfect tea time snack and there’s no where better to try them than at Lee Keung who now owns 7 stores across the city. Why the egg shape? Rumour has it that it was created to replicate the feel of having eggs, a huge luxury in post-war times when this snack was invented.
On my last visit to Hong Kong we were at our wits end trying to find vegetarian food for my mum which is akin to finding gold in Asian cities. I discovered though that they are actually quite a few vegetarian restaurants and the trick to finding these is to look for the sign in the sky and not at the Cantonese sign board!
We could choose from Vegetarian Chicken or Vegetarian Beef – how cool!
Our next stop was another sweet (ish) one where we tried some famous tea-cakes. We had ones with different fillings. The one below is a lotus seed paste…
And this one is a red bean paste. Apparently its one of the top 10 moon cake flavours in Asia though its really not very sweet at all and in my opinion is a bit of an acquired taste.
Our tummies were now semi-full so we headed to explore a local wet market and see what were the different kinds of fruits and veggies we could find. While chickens getting slaughtered is a daily experience for us Indians, it was quite the revelation for the British family that was on the tour with us. What I found interesting though was that the locals will happily pay twice the normal price for a fresh chicken as they believe that the meaty flavour is stronger in a freshly cut chicken – I wonder if there is any scientific truth to that?
My main fascination however was walking onwards to a local dim sum store in the market. It was only 4 pm but the stall was doing some really brisk business and I was in awe of the giant bamboo steaming baskets.
Some how we were all hungry again and headed next to a local stall to try Chiu Chow Roast Goose. The dish is named after the Chiu Chow style of cooking popular in the Canton region, which emphasizes the natural flavour of the meat. A key part of Chiu Chow cooking is the ‘lo soi’ or “old water” which is the master sauce that the bird is simmered in. It takes a first cooking with the goose to create the lo soi, after which the same master sauce can be used to simmer several geese sometimes for months at end.
Our cook with his pot of ‘Lo Soi’ that has been bubbling away for over eight months!
Now that we had tried some local food, it was time to head to our One-Michelin starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan. Started by a dim sum master at the Four Seasons Hotel, Tim Ho Wan now has 3 outlets in HK and a new one in Sydney too. It’s popularity is evident by the snaking queue outside the restaurant as early as 6pm for dinner and the best things to eat here are the Prawn Sui Mai (our neighbour ordered 13 baskets between 4 people!), Char Sui Bao – a baked pork bun and the Chicken Feet which taste 100 times better than what they look!
Do not leave without trying these Chicken Feet!
After all this eating, it was time for dessert and we decided to catch a tram out of North Point to try some funky sweets. We got free reign to order what we like and my pick was the interesting sounding ‘Black Jelly’. Turns out this is basically sweetened and cooled green tea jelly which was intriguing but not something I’d likely order again. We also tried the Double Boiled Milk and the Mango Sago Pomelo and the latter was delicious!
We ended our tour with the mandatory group picture and with promises to stay in touch. I left North Point feeling thoroughly satisfied and several notes on other places to explore in the city.
Thanks to Eating Adventures, I discovered a bunch of great local eats in North Point, Hong Kong. Predictably though what I enjoyed even more were the little stories and traditions behind the meals we ate and the visible pride for the food that our guide had. My favourite story was why people in Hong Kong tap their knuckles on the table when food is served.
This custom is said to have originated in the Qing dynasty when the Qianlong Emperor traveled in disguise throughout the empire. Servants were told not to reveal their master’s identity. One day in a restaurant, the emperor, after pouring himself a cup of tea, filled a servant’s cup as well. To that servant it was a huge honor to have the emperor pour him a cup of tea. Out of habit, he wanted to kneel and express his thanks to the emperor. However, he could not do this since that would reveal the emperor’s identity, so he bent his fingers on the table to express his gratitude and respect to the emperor. And to this day, the locals continue this tradition by tapping their knuckles in a bid to thank the tea master for their drink!
What you need to know:
Food Tour: Eating Adventures HongKong Island Food Tour
Cost: From HKD 740 onwards (Approximately ₹6500)
Meeting Point: North Point MTR Station
Favourite Eats: Char Sui Bao at Tim Ho Wan and the Gai Daan Sai at Lee Keung
Disclaimer: While I tried a bunch of other local eats during my 3-day stay in Hong Kong, all of the discoveries above were made possible thanks to Eating Adventures. They run individual and group tours in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shanghai amongst other cities and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org