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January 26, 2011

China: Hong Kong Island, the Food

Filed under: China, Food, Hong Kong, The List, Travel — anotherheader @ 11:24 pm

Crabs in the street market

It is true.  Our primary motivation for visiting Hong Kong was the food.  Some lists rank Hong Kong as one of the best cities in the world for food.  Who knows how those list things work really, but there was little doubt that we would eat well in Hong Kong.  And indeed we did.  Our favorites from the trip are listed below.

Wing Wah, 89 Hennessey Road on Hong Kong Island

King Ping Dragon Fruit

How can a place that serves noodles made by a guy in his underwear be bad?  I guess that’s the type of question that is best not to ask.  But indeed the wonton noodles and the soup at Wing Wah are excellent.

For the noodles, it’s all about the texture.  Whatever happens in the tiny room between the slight man in his underwear and his precious thin noodles brings out the best consistency.  The gluten is well developed; cooked noodles have a distinctive bite, al dente to an Italian.  This texture is unusually perfected in Wing Wah’s fresh noodles.  Toss in some chunks excellent barbeque pork that fumes five spice and a rich broth and you have the complete meal.  To boot, this place is cheap.  The two of us ate for well less than $10 US.

This is not a high-end dinning establishment.  Not even close.  Shared tables are the rule in the packed, small dive.  And, like many places in Hong Kong, don’t expect to see a restaurant-supplied napkin at your table no matter how messy the meal is.  Hong Kong locals know to bring their own napkins to clear the soup splashes away from their faces.  You’ll definitely want to do this also.

Making Milk Tea at Lan Fong Yuen

Lan Fong Yuen, 2 Gage Street Central

Near the Graham Street markets we happened by the place that claims to have invented Hong Kong-style milk tea.  Inside a small character-ridden den that long ago saw its last coat of fresh paint you are treated to small plates accompanied by the milk tea.  Becky had a perfectly crispy piece of fried fish accompanied by a fried egg.  I had a simple and tasty Pork Chop Bun, a crispy cutlet of pork sandwiched in a hamburger bun and topped with a sweet mayonnaise type substance.  Milk Tea or silk stocking milk tea to the locals accompanied both of our dishes.

The “silk stocking” refers to the process used to make the tea.  In a small alcove at the front of the shop, a man continuously brews the tea and filters it through a muslin bag.  With the passage of countless gallons of tea, the bag turns brown and takes on the appearance of a silk stocking.  OK, maybe it’s not the most appetizing image, but the tea and food are good and cheap.  Again both of us left after paying a tab of less that $10 US.  The portions are small but that worked perfectly for us.

Ho Hung Kee, Sharp St East in Causeway Bay

A noodle and congee shop in Hong Kong has a Michelin star?  The concept seems so unlikely.  Michelin is famous for anointing stars with a disturbing preference to high-end French-centric restaurants.  Somehow these rules don’t apply in Hong Kong.  Indeed, Ho Hung Kee, a restaurant that serves noodles and congee (a rice gruel) warrants a coveted star, according to Michelin.

A line of people waiting for the noodles and congee at Ho Hung Kee

Let’s forget about Michelin, for the time being.  Ho Hung Kee does serve excellent food.  We ordered the noodles with shrimp wontons for Becky and with beef brisket for myself.  The steaming bowls arrived quickly at the table.  For sure, with the broth and everything, the food is comforting.  The noodles are produced using strong basic lye that is noticeable in both the texture and the slight soapy flavor.  (You can find more about the history and science of Asian noodles here. )

At our small four-seat shared table, a gentleman businessman advised us to add vinegar to the broth.

“It’s just chemistry,” he explained.

A pot of congee waits at Ho Hung Kee

And he is correct.  The acetic acid in the vinegar neutralizes the base released by the noodles.  Yes, the noodles are better with a healthy dose of the pale red vinegar slopped on the top.  Still, even with the vinegar, the slightly rubbery noodles still retain the distinctive lingering flavor of the base.  I’d be happy with these noodles anytime.  For sure, we’d never get so a simple dish so well perfected at home.

Even better, the meal was cheap even if our gentleman businessman co-diner mused that the 20-minute meal was expensive “for Hong Kong.”  Indeed, for us, our dinner for two was less than $10 US.  But in the businessman’s statement was the rub.  Hong Kong has some many restaurants in this category that it is hard to differentiate amongst them.  Assigning a Michelin star to just a few of the restaurants is arbitrary.  What exactly is the Michelin standard in Hong Kong?

In the end, though, you cannot hold the Michelin star against Ho Hung Kee.  They don’t write the Michelin Guide.  All they do is what they do so well—make some of the best wonton noodles and congee (we imagine) anywhere.  I’d love to have Ho Hung Kee just down the street.

Bee Cheng Hiang, Shop 1, G/F, Ying Kong Mansion, 2- 6 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay

Yes, I’d love to have Ho Hung Kee, Wing Wah, or Lan Fong Yuen nearby home and available for quick visits.  For the next place, Bee Cheng Hiang, let’s just say that it would be just as well that it isn’t right down the street.  In fact, I’m not certain that South East Asia is far enough away to keep us from these treats.  And Bee Cheng Hiang is not even a restaurant.  What they sell is bakkwa or what amounts to barbecued meats.  In reality, it is an insidious cross between jerky and candy.  These truly addictive pieces of cured thin sliced meat are destined to send your cholesterol soaring and make your cardiologist very, very unhappy.

Dishing out the meat candy at Bee Cheng Hiang

The small stall-like stores offer multiple options of cured meat, from beef to pork to mutton, with various flavorings.  Our favorite is the curry mutton bakkwa with just the right combination of spicy curry, sweetness, and gamy mutton.  Bee Chen Hiang’s sales people always get you to purchase twice as much as you requested.  And off course, once you get the bag of cured meat, it is gone too fast.  You just can’t keep your fingers off of it.  (Or it off of your fingers as they also do not offer no napkins.)  Bee Chen Hiang’s bakkwa is as addictive as crack cocaine.

Chilli Fagara, Shop E, G/F, 51A Graham Street, SoHo, Central, Hong Kong

It was bound to happen.  For the first time during our Hong Kong visit, we would have a meal for two in Hong Kong that cost more $10 US.  In fact, a single dish at the Michelin-starred Chilli Fagara doubled the total of what we had paid, to this point, for food in Hong Kong.  And since Chilli Fagara serves thermonuclear hot Szechuan-style food there would be a price to be paid later.  (Insert your refrain of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire here.)

Fortunately, we suffered and paid for a good cause.  Our meal a Chilli Fagara is the best Szechuan-style meal we’ve ever had.  (Admittedly, the list of Szechuan restaurants we’ve visited is relatively short.)  And really, the meal comes down to one dish for us.  Sure we liked the small tasters offered at the beginning of dinner and both the dry cooked green beans and the tofu and spinach were excellent.  But it the end, the Crab  Chilli Fagara Style stole the show.

We didn’t set out to order Chilli Fagara Style Crab.  We ordered the soft-shelled crab version of the same dish but were advised by our waitress that the hard-shell crabs that weren’t on the menu were fresh and would be a better choice.  In the end, I trust the server’s input that the fresh crab version of the dish is better.

Chilli Fagara Style Crab is apparently prepared by coating the crustacean with a fine spicy breading and then frying it to exquisite goodness.  The result was both crispy and complex spicy.  The crab itself is meaty and mild.  In our opinion, the dish would have been even better if they had access to the sweet and more strongly flavored early season Dungeness crab that we have back home.  Would it really be asking too much for them to share the recipe?

The restaurant’s décor reflects the spicy foods.  Chili peppers hang from the ceiling; flame themes mark the walls.  There’s a reason.  Some of the food at Chilli Fagara is blazing hot, on the Western standard.  Even the jet engine sound of the kitchen’s wok blazing at warp 9 behind a door adds spice to the experience.

I’m not certain that Chilli Fagara is reason enough to return to Hong Kong, but it is close.  Unfortunately this, like all great spicy meals, ends with the burning reminder of the next day.  There was more than one price to pay for this meal.  But this time, the pleasure of the meal was definitely worth the next day’s pain.

Egg tarts at Tai Cheong Bakery

Tai Cheong Bakery, 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central and other locations

Tai Cheong Bakery offers a variety of tasty treats but it seems that there’s one item that really keeps people coming back, the egg tarts.  Sure you’ve had these tasty custard mini-pies many times before, but have you had one this good?  The flaky crust and the egg filling with just the right amount of sweetness keep the customers queued up in front.  In fact former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten liked these little beauties so much that they are now referred to, by some, as “Fat Patten’s egg tarts.”  Perhaps this story is should serve as a personal warning.  Do you really want your name and “fat” associated with any food item?  I know I don’t.  But I can certainly see the slippery slope created by these little pastry devils.  They might even be worth a personal name change.

The collected pictures are on Picasa.


  1. […] the frequent shops selling Macau’s famous pressed meats.  We figured the meats must be like Bee Cheng Hiang’s highly addictive bakkwa that induced withdrawal cravings in Hong Kong.  It was a sketchy act of self-control to pass the […]

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