Food in Hong Kong

Understand the importance of food in Hong Kong culture. Also an explanation of the different types of Chinese cuisine: Cantonese, Sichuan and Beijing food...

Food is a central part of Chinese culture, uniting families, colleagues and friends. As most people live in relatively small apartments, restaurants are often the chosen venue for meeting and eating.

Hong Kong is one of the great centres in the world for international cuisine. As well as Chinese, there are numerous Indian, Asian, European and American restaurants varying greatly in style and price range. Snacks are available from street stalls. Many residents of Hong Kong are from the Guangdong region meaning that Cantonese food is widely available.

Here are some examples of typical Chinese cuisine.

Breakfast

Congee is a popular breakfast dish. This is white rice which has been boiled in stock or water until it takes on a porridge-like consistency. It is usually eaten as a savoury dish and can be served with many different ingredients, such as minced pork, pig's intestines, salted pork, octopus, fish or minced beef.

Lunch

Dim Sum, which means "little bits of heart", is a popular lunch time meal. Dim Sum are fried or steamed dumplings served in bamboo baskets or on a small plate. They consist of either meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit. In some Dim Sum restaurants, trolleys are wheeled round to the customers allowing them to make an instant choice, although usually a card is provided and the chosen dishes ticked off. Not all restaurants translate the cards into English, but the Hong Kong Tourism Board's website has a Dim Sum guide that can be used when ordering:

Popular Dim Sum choices include:

  • Char siu bao: barbecued pork bun
  • Cheung fun: soft white rice flour rolls with soy
  • Chun guen: fried spring roll
  • Har gau: steamed prawn dumplings
  • Hoi sin fu pei guen: deep-fried diced seafood in crispy bean curd sheet
  • Jiu yim yau yu so: fried squid with spicy salt
  • Luo buo gau: fried squares of turnip, pork and mushroom
  • Sa lut ming ha guk: deep-fried dried shrimp dumplings
  • Siu mai: steamed minced pork and prawn dumplings

Sauces and dips to accompany Dim Sum include soy sauce, vinegar garnished with thin strips of ginger, chilli oil, XO sauce (oil flavoured with chilli and fish sauce), chilli sauce, sweet sauce and mustard sauce.

A small selection of desserts is usually served after Dim Sum. Mango pudding, sweet red bean soup, mini-egg tarts and sesame or peanut balls in sweet soup (tong yun) are among the most popular.

Dinner: Regional Specialities

Cantonese food often utilises parboiling, steaming and quick stir-frying to retain natural juices and flavours. The food tends to be neither salty nor greasy and seafood is prepared especially well. Meals usually include steamed rice. The coastal location means a wide variety of seafood is available in Hong Kong restaurants, with customers often able to choose their fish fresh from fish tanks. Many regional Chinese specialities are also available in Hong Kong.

  • Foods from the North, including Beijing, tend to utilise wheat-based products; pancakes, bread and noodles are plentiful as are deep-fried dishes and spicy sauces. Specialities include Peking duck and hotpot dishes
  • Dishes from Shanghai are diced or shredded, stewed in soya or fried in sesame oil with peppers and garlic
  • Hakka food is generally simple in style, with baked chicken in salt among the most popular dishes
  • Sichuan food is renowned for being hot and spiced with chilli; barbecued meat is a speciality

Desserts

Cakes and desserts include:

  • Bow law yau: steaming hot buns stuffed with melted butter
  • Daan tart: baked custard tarts
  • Yau char gwai: deep fried dough sticks

Other Chinese Dishes

Many popular Chinese dishes are eaten for what is believed to be health-giving properties. Examples include snake bile and ox blood. Very little of an animal goes to waste and chicken's feet and hearts, fish eyes, pig's ears, snout and tails and goose head and web are commonly served in Chinese restaurants.

Ming Dynasty eggs (otherwise known as fermented eggs, ancient eggs, century eggs, thousand-year-old eggs, or hundred-year-old eggs) are preserved duck eggs which are in fact only about 50 to 100 days old. The eggs are covered with a coating of lime, ash, salt and rice straw, then buried in shallow holes. The lime petrifies the egg, making it look old. The whites turn from amber to black and the yolk a creamy dark green. They are eaten uncooked with soy sauce and minced ginger, or served with breakfast congee.

Street Food (Dai Pai Dongs)

Street food is an important part of Chinese culture with outside stalls selling deep fried food from their carts. Some of the most common and popular street food includes beef balls, fishballs (siu mai), deep-fried tofu and beef or pork intestines. Others are octopus, beef or minced pork balls, chicken wings, pig's blood and skin, pork belly, fish dumplings, pork dumplings and mock shark's fin soup. These are often served with a choice of rice or noodles.

Revered throughout South East Asia as the "King of Fruit", durian is available at many street stalls. It is distinctive for its large size, thorn-covered husk and pungent smell. The fruit is banned in some public spaces because of its strong, unpleasant aroma.

Food and Symbolism

Avoid sticking chopsticks vertically into rice, as it resembles an offering made at a funeral. Instead, place them across a dish or bowl.

Food and luckLei, or pig's tongue, sounds like the Cantonese word for "profit", so is considered especially lucky for those starting up in business; fat choi, used to garnish green vegetables, sounds the same as the words for "to make wealth", so is popular during Chinese New Year, when eating auspicious-sounding food is thought to bode well for the future.