Hong Kong was originally a fishing village, and while those days are long gone, the love of fish and seafood lives on in the many eateries specialising in the life aquatic. Dishes such as lobster in superior stock with e-fu noodles (上湯龍蝦伊麵); steamed scallops with garlic & glass noodles (粉絲蒜茸蒸扇貝); chilli salt mantis shrimp (椒鹽攋尿蝦) and typhoon shelter crab (避風塘炒蟹) amongst others are all classics.
Left: lobster noodles, Right: steamed scallops
To spot places that serve seafood, look for the characters: 海鮮酒家, which means seafood restaurant, or if your Chinese is ropey just look for giant fish tanks by the entrance. Hong Kong isn't just urban sprawl so why not take a trip to quieter seaside spots such as Sai Kung or Lamma Island to eat seafood? I can recommend Rainbow Seafood Restaurant (天虹海鮮酒家) on Lamma Island, where I took the photos of the lobster and scallops.
Left: roast goose, Right: braised goose
It breaks my heart that Chinese restaurants in London don't serve goose, which is why when I'm in Hong Kong I eat it like there's no tomorrow. My favourite is Cantonese roast goose (燒鵝), prepared in much the same way as roast duck is, with crispy skin and succulent meat that's served with plum sauce. Whisper it, but such is its richness I prefer my roast goose on a bed of rice rather than noodles. I also love the Teochew/Chiu Chow-style braised goose in master stock (鹵水鵝). I especially adore gnawing on goose wings cooked in this way known as lou sui in Cantonese.
Left: dace fishballs, Right: cuttlefish balls with noodles
By balls I don't mean the testicles of various animals, I mean meatballs and fishballs. Think of balls on sticks, balls in soup noodles, balls in congee, balls as dim sum and so on. When in Hong Kong I like to sample the balls that aren't easily found back home. During this trip I was seduced by dace fishballs (鯪魚球) with their alluring citrusy scent. These fishballs can be deep-fried but I prefer mine boiled. Another favourite of mine is cuttlefish balls (墨魚丸) served in a bowl of soup noodles.
There are excellent dim sum restaurants all around the world but there is something special about eating these tiny morsels of delight in their natural habitat of Hong Kong and southern China. Why? Well, for starters the dim sum masters are continually innovating. A good example of this is the flaky baked cha siu bao (酥皮焗叉燒包) as invented by Mak Kwai Pui, he of Tim Ho Wan (添好運) fame. These buns are always served freshly baked and they are good, damn good although I'm not sure if the rest of Tim Ho Wan's offerings are anything that special based on my visit there.
Left: baked cha siu bao, Right: lau sa bao
Other dim sum that are worth trying include lau sha bao (流沙包), a variant on the more common custard bun known as lai wong bao (奶黃包) - the difference being the former has a molten filling. And in general, I recommend trying dim sum that you haven't come across before. Some of these might be trendy new creations while others might be some old specialities from the dim sum master's ancestral hometown across the border in China. Regardless, you'll be in for a good time.
Left: bolo bao, Right: mango jelly drink
To properly explain the difference between Hong Kong culture and Chinese culture, I might need to do a dissertation. Even Cantonese culture, with which Hong Kong shares a common language, is not quite the same thing. In a food context the bakeries, cake shops and dessert shops found in Hong Kong are very much a local creation due in part to exposure to western ideas. That said, while there are western influences the food has taken on a local flavour. For example, creations such as the pineapple bun (bolo bao 菠蘿包) and egg tarts (daan taat 蛋撻) are very Hong Kong despite utilising western baking techniques. Other stuff that you should try in order to accrue Hongkonger points include a trip to a dessert shop such as Hui Lau Shan (許留山) to try various desserts and drinks like mango jelly drink.
Left: French toast, Right: ham and egg in crispy bun
What do Hongkongers eat for breakfast? There are those that go for traditional Chinese fare such as dim sum or congee, but many people eat a 'western' breakfast in a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) or an 'ice room' (冰室). These places serve a mix of Chinese and Hong Kong-style western food – sometimes on the same plate (macaroni with cha siu in soup, anyone?). Popular breakfast items include HK-style French toast (西多士) and various sandwiches containing ham, SPAM, egg and other things. To drink, coffee, HK-style milk tea, lemon tea as well as the half tea-half coffee drink called 'yin-yang' are all popular. It goes without saying that eating this kind of breakfast results in further Hongkonger points!
Left: sui gow noodles, Right: beef brisket noodles
Oh come on now, you didn't really think I was going to omit noodles from my list? These are the ultimate convenience food, as you are never more than five minutes away from a noodle shop in Hong Kong. My favourite are the various noodle dishes served in soup with stuff like wontons, fishballs and sui gow dumplings. My choice of noodle depends on the topping served, but I tend to plump for the thin fresh noodles commonly served with wontons and sui gow (see photo above left). Over the years I've been ticking off the famous noodle shops of Hong Kong and on this visit I finally got to visit Kau Kee (九記牛腩) famed for its beef brisket noodles. I went for the classic beef brisket noodles in superior stock (上湯牛腩麵) and I also had a taste of brisket and tendon noodles in curry broth – both were excellent!