Hong Kong Culinary Tour
Hong Kong people love good food. There is a saying that the Cantonese will "eat anything with four legs except a table, and anything that flies except an aeroplane", and it's true that many of the menu items in Hong Kong (such as chicken feet, pigs ears and jellyfish) are unusual by Western tastes. But keep an open mind and you'll find some of the best food and some of the most enticing flavours anywhere in the world.
At the geographical centre of Asia, it's not just Chinese cuisine that thrives in Hong Kong. Japanese, Korean, and even Indian food is available throughout the town and less adventurous international dishes, such as pizza and burgers, are also in abundance.
This itinerary assumes you're already in Hong Kong, and you won't need anything other than a credit card (for the upmarket places), some cash (for the street side food) and an empty stomach. Guide prices are given below as of the time of writing (2007).
The main restaurants listed below are good ones at a convenient location for an itinerary, but alternatives are given which can be just as good (or better) if you happen to be searching for a bite to eat in a different part of town.
Whilst most places will speak enough English to understand your order, the following rough Cantonese phrases might help out in the more local spots: eat = "sick", fish = "yew", chicken = "guy", beef = "ngau" (rhymes with cow), rice = "farn", noodles = "meen", drink = "yum", beer = "bear-jau".
Get in, out and around
Almost all the locations mentioned here are around central Hong Kong island and are within easy reach of each other by public transport or taxi. If you're unsure of location you can use Centamap to find and print street maps. You can also pick and choose your itinerary to fit in with other travel plans.
Hong Kong is a very safe city, so you shouldn't find any trouble. However in crowded areas such as markets you should keep an eye on your posessions. Also bear in mind that while the restaurants listed below are well established, quality can quickly change and standards can go up and down.
Day 1: Causeway Bay
Times Square is a popular shopping spot, and one of the landmarks in Causeway Bay. This itinerary begins with lunch (you'll need to hit the first restaurant before 2:00pm), and goes through to dinner (though you'll probably want to mix in some other activities in the afternoon).
Cantonese dim sum lunch
Forget Chicken Chow Mein and Chop Suey, the first Chinese meal you should head for is Dim Sum, served for lunch at restaurants throughout the territory.
A meal consists of a number of small dishes, often including steamed buns, dumplings or small deep-fried items. For the dumplings, rice flour is used as a base for creating a dough, which is stretched thin to make the skin of the dumpling. A mixture of chopped meat, vegetables and seasoning is then placed inside, and the dumpling sealed and steamed for about 10 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Standard dishes include Char Siu Bau (BBQ pork bun), Har Gow (shrimp dumpling), Siu Long Bau (pork dumpling) and for the more adventurous, Chickens feet and jellyfish in sesame oil. Each dish is normally 20-30 HKD per dish, and for two people, you will want to order 6-8 dishes.
Bowrington Road market
A short walk from Times Square (turn left from the main entrance to Times Square and walk under the underpass) is this small fresh market, where you'll see many of the ingredients used in your lunch. Most Cantonese food uses light flavours and emphasise freshness (particularly in the seafood). You'll see live fish, crabs and shrimps sold here by the catty, with vendors using an intriguing rod and weight scale for the larger items. Further along the street you will also find some shops selling dried seafood such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. Of course, since the invention of the refrigerator nobody really needs to use dried seafood, but many locals continue to use the ingredients particularly for traditional dishes - often at a large markup from fresh ones!
Japanese sushi for snack/dinner
Sushi and sashimi offer a delicious and light meal. Carefully prepared slices of fresh uncooked fish filet are either eaten alone (sashimi) or combined with rice (sushi), and washed down with Japanese green tea. For the best quality, avoid the local chains "Genki" and "Go Sushi" which are crowded, noisy and the food (which has been sat out on a conveyer belt for most of the day) is not that fresh. Instead, go for a restaurant where the food is freshly prepared. A "sampler" platter of around 10 pieces of mixed sushi (usually including salmon, tuna, squid, snapper and prawns) will give you a variety of items to try, but top quality sushi is expensive (150-300 HKD for this type of dish). If you're still peckish, you may want to follow up with something cheaper and more filling such as a Ramen (noodle soup).
Bee Cheng Hiang barbeque beef snack
Head from Times Square towards the SOGO department store, which is also within walking distance of Times Square (turn right from the Times Square main entrance and follow the crowds). On the way you'll pass Bee Cheng Hiang at Lee Garden Road, which sells a variety of local barbequeued meat snacks including pork and beef. Although the meat can taste a little artificial, it's strangely addictive (particularly the spicy ones). They are also happy to offer a free taste, which is probably a good idea if you want to sample the food without risking a chemical aftershock.
Local street food snacks
Opposite SOGO, at the major pedestrian crossing in Causeway Bay is a popular snack shop. Hot snacks such as fish balls, sui mai, octopus legs, offal and soup are skewered and boiled away in vats and smothered in spicy sauces. Each skewer costs around 10 HKD, so if in doubt just point at what you want and hand over a 20 HKD bill.
SOGO Japanese supermarket
The basement supermarket in SOGO is a mecca for Hong Kong foodies. The shelves are packed with the unusual, from boil-in-the-bag sweet fungus soup through to Japanese green tea powder, and you might even see the fishmongers carving up a fresh tuna. Throughout the store there are also plenty of tasters on offer, from chinese soup to dried squid, as well as some stations selling freshly cooked snacks.
While you're here, you might as well hit the fruit section for some Durian (which naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace said was "worth a voyage to the East to experience"). Whilst it's popular amongst the locals, many people dislike the strong smell and different taste. However, you may like it. It is banned on public transport for its smell alone.
Japanese Teppanyaki dinner
A short taxi ride from SOGO, the Rennaisance Hotel offers Teppanyaki, or Japanese grill, is a style of food that you won't see much outside Japan. It consist of grilled meat and seafood that is cooked directly in front of you by your own chef. A great experience, and one to try if the thought of eating raw fish puts you off the sushi option above. Although there are normally a-la-carte menus, it makes more sense to plump for one of the sets (usually including a seafood and steak course as well as miso soup, fried rice, vegetables and desert), which go for around 400 HKD per head. Wash it down with some house sake (hot or cold) or Japanese beer (Sapporo or Asahi).
Day 2: Further afield
A country whose national dish is fermented vegetables might not strike you as a major culinary treat (particularly compared to the heavy hitters of the Asian food scene), but Korea sports some excellent dishes. Try Barbequed Short Ribs, Ginseng Chicken Soup, Stone Pot Rice and of course the ubiquitous Kimchi. Dishes are around 100 HKD each, and each meal will be accompanied by a selection of half a dozen small cold dishes including Kimchi, and a variety of vegetables.
While Hong Kong is best known for its Cantonese fare, the Teochews also have a significant presence and there is no shortage of good Teochew restaurants in Hong Kong. However, if ordering exotic dishes, be prepared to pay quite a fair bit.