There are more blog recommendations to good food in Hong Kong than there are words in this sentence, and here I am, contributing to the chatter even though I am no food connoisseur. The fact is that it is always a matter of personal taste and preferences, but it is also a fact that there are many blog recommendations made by locals and non-locals alike, just because someone else on the Internet already recommended it. Something must be good if there are so many people queueing for and writing about it; long queue always means good stuff… Right? Unfortunately, I am not a fan of bad service in exchange for mediocre-but-somehow-highly-recommended food no matter how cheap it is, so some of the highly recommended cafes did not make it into my list. This list will be written sans superlatives as much as possible, in order to manage your expectations so that you will be pleasantly surprised if they turn out to be better than your expectations. And instead of just telling you what’s good to eat in Hong Kong, I decided to also talk about how to find good food in Hong Kong. After all, all reviews—including this—should be taken with a pinch of salt, and what is good and recommended may turn out to disappoint.
Yee Shun Milk Company (港澳義順牛奶公司)
There are divided opinions on Australian Dairy Company and Yee Shun Milk Company, and having been to both multiple times over many years, I am still biased towards the latter simply because of the fact that I have never felt unwelcomed or that I have to finish my meal and leave in ten minutes. But I am always only at Yee Shun for their steamed milk pudding, and never anything else so I cannot vouch for the quality of their cafe food. As Yee Shun Milk Company has Macau origins, pork chop bun (豬扒包)—what Macau is famous for—is also in their menu. But for everything else, no one is stopping you from heading to its competitor with long queues, questionable service and supposedly better food.
Capital Cafe (華星冰室)
If you value the atmosphere as much as the quality of your food, Capital Cafe is likely the only place that will fulfil both conditions. This cafe took a leaf out of Australian Dairy Company’s book, so what you can find in the latter, you should be able to find here especially the creamy scrambled eggs (炒蛋) that everyone raves about.
I have been to the branch at Wan Chai, as well as the one at Mongkok—also known as Chrisly Cafe, for reasons I do not know—and both times the food and service did not disappoint. I even chanced upon the boss, who is a celebrity and who was friendly enough to say hello… even though I had no idea he was the boss until I googled.
Kuen Kee Cafe Company (權記粉麵茶餐廳)
After leaving a cafe that is said to have the “best polo bun” and feeling disappointed by the food and horrible service, we went on to have beef brisket and tendon noodles just a few streets away. The change in atmosphere and service attitude was a great relief for the both of us, and thankfully the noodles did not disappoint. It was salty and full of MSG as with most Hong Kong food, but what I liked was how soft the beef brisket and tendons were, compared to some of the other cafes where it felt like I was chewing on erasers (not that I have ever done that). I also liked how the noodles did not taste of lye water, which means the noodles taste great even without red vinegar.
Tim Ho Wan (添好運)
Tim Ho Wan earned itself the title of being the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant, but the only reason I included it on this list was because of its char siu bao (pork buns) which has a crispy glaze just like pineapple buns/波羅包 (which despite its name, do not contain pineapples). There are many branches, but the branch at IFC Mall is the most convenient to get to and has a takeaway counter as well.
Street Food at Mong Kok (旺角)
Deep fried intestines and braised organs might be too exotic for some, but that does not mean you have to give up trying street food in Hong Kong. Along Tung Choi Street, there are two street food stalls that have won the hearts of many locals. If intestines are your thing, crispy fried pig intestine (香脆炸大腸) should be on your list of street food to try. Don’t forget to add a lot of sweet or spicy sauce on it. And if you find it too oily, you could probably ask for another paper bag to soak up the oil.
Egglets (雞蛋仔)—or egg waffles, egg puff, pancake balls, whatever you call it—is my favourite Hong Kong street snack and while it is traditionally eaten plain, you can now also get it in flavours such as Russian borscht, chocolate and pandan. My favourite branch is on the second floor of Argyle Centre (旺角中心), where you can also do some window shopping in an air-conditioned environment.
How to Find Good Food
I learnt that to find good food in anywhere in the world, you neither have to travel far and wide for it nor have to depend only on blog reviews. These days, you can search for your location on Google Map, zoom in and check out the restaurants in your area. And as a bonus, most of them actually have reviews and pictures that you can peruse and then decide if it is worth the try.
In Hong Kong, you can also use the website OpenRice, which is one of the most comprehensive dining guide used by most locals. You can search, for example, for restaurants in Central, and then you will see a list of cafes and restaurants in the area as well as reviews by patrons. There are critics of the site, but if you are just using it as a guide to discover new food, I don’t see the need to be so critical about it, especially when you are not paying thousands for the food.
Below is an example of a stall that surprised me with its Hong Kong vibes and traditional flavours.
Hong Kong Steamed Roll (香港腸粉皇)
This tiny and modest stall hidden in a small corner of To Kwa Wan may not impress anyone with its exterior, nor does it have bloggers fussing over it, but it certainly left me thinking that the steamed rice rolls and turnip cakes taste better than the mushy ones we had at Tim Ho Wan just a couple of days before. J, my travel companion and a non-local, was also impressed by the mushroom chicken rice (草菇滑鸡饭), while I enjoyed my bowl of classic century egg and pork congee (皮蛋瘦肉粥).
Sometimes it takes a foreigner to realise subtle differences that a half-local like me take for granted; the two times we had steamed rice rolls—the first time being at Tim Ho Wan—J noticed that they were served without soy sauce and that we had to pour some over the steamed rice rolls by ourselves. It never occured to me that they are always served with soy sauce in Singapore, but traditionally, at congee shops, steamed rice rolls come without soy sauce so they don’t turn soggy too quickly.
Ultimately, I think reviews and guides direct you to food you could try, but the most enjoyable way to find good food is still to wander around and give whatever impresses your sense of smell a try, because when the food does impress, it will leave you with a sweet sense of victory having found a hidden gem.