Around the World: How to Feast in Hong Kong
HONG KONG – For savvy travelers, Hong Kong is gourmet heaven, a place where you’ll never have to hanker long for a top quality repast. Restaurants abound, and they serve an awesome variety of Chinese regional cuisines and a smorgasbord of other traditional and innovative cooking styles.
Even for tourists with strict dietary restrictions or preferences, the culinary arts in Hong Kong are among the city’s top attractions and dining around delivers some marvelously memorable adventures.
Designated by brilliantly colored neon signs, Hong Kong’s eateries are door to door at street level, tucked in to shopping centers and on the upper floors of towering office buildings and hotels, where the views are as appealing as the comestibles.
Just how many restaurants are there to choose from? Certifiable statistics are hard to come by, but estimates from various government agencies and tourism websites set the range from 15,000 to 60,000. At either end of that spectrum, the numbers are mind-boggling. You could dine out in Hong Kong for a decade and never eat in the same place twice! While there’ no official tally, authorities say that there are about 22 restaurants for every 10,000 Hong Kong residents, and you can assume that every one of those residents probably has a favorite restaurant.
Whether the selected setting is an elegant white linen restaurant , a mid-range bistro or a crowded but enticing open air stall, eating is a favorite pastime for Hong Kong residents as well as for tourists
Hong Kong’s love affair with great food is year round. You’ll find that most Hong Kongers enjoy talking about food almost as much as they love eating it. Start a food chat with anyone you happen to meet in the streets, hotel lobbies, shopping centers or just about anyplace else, and they’ll be happy to recommend fine food emporia where you can have exceptional dining experiences.
Many of the city’s Chinese eateries offer seasonal cuisine, so always ask waiters about special menus that change with the four seasons and/or may be offered to celebrate special events and holidays. Sample all of them.
Hong Kong’s international cuisine is also superbly satisfying. You can find perfectly prepared lasagna or Salade Nicoise, delectable steak tartare or a satisfying cassoulet and all of your other favorite dishes in dining establishments throughout the city.
But Hong Kong’s population is 90 percent Chinese, and regional Chinese cuisine dominates the food scene. Best advice is to sample as many regional styles as possible. To do so, you’ll want to know approximately what to expect when you walk into a restaurant that specializes in a particular regional cuisine. Here’s a very basic list that should help:
CANTONESE cuisine, featuring steamed fish and crisp vegetables, is light and delicately flavored, and very healthful.
CHIU CHOW style, from the Swatow port area in Canton province, specializes in sea foods, especially shark’s fin, as well as dumplings and goose.
Hearty HAKKA cuisine uses salt-preserved chicken and fish, as well as tofu and vegetables.
BEIJING is famous for Peking duck, pan-fried onion cakes and barbecued meats flavored with garlic and chili sauce.
SHANGHAI style uses noodles and is known for vegetarian dishes and cold dishes, often made with fresh-water fish and a typical soy-based brown sauce.
SZECHUAN cooking is spicy, with dick, chicken, fish and vegetables, especially eggplant, prepared with hot chili and garlic sauce.
DIM SUM is the dumplings cuisine, offering delicious savory morsels of meat, seafood and vegetables wrapped in pastry and steamed or fried, as well as sweet buns and other pastry-wrapped tidbits.
If you want recommendations for restaurants that specialize in any of these styles, ask your hotel concierge or, as previously suggested, start up a food conversation with a local taxi driver or shop keeper.
Another good source for recommendations is OpenRice.com, a website that’s roughly the equivalent of Yelp for Chinese food in Hong Kong. The listings are comprehensive. You’ll get tips for dining in tourist areas and in neighborhoods that are off the beaten tourist track. The site is massive, so take some time with it, and always make sure any given listing is current before heading out to the location.
Also check with the Hong Kong Tourism Board for special local food events and tours with itineraries that include dining, cooking and market experiences. You can book evening dinner cruises that offer a combination of fabulous food and views, learn how to cook shrimp with lobster sauce, or sign up for a walking tour to sample delicious exotic fruits and buy rare spices in street markets. To find out what’s being offered during the dates of your trip, visit the Hong Kong Touism Board at http://www.discoverhongkong.com.
The point is that when you’re heading to Hong Kong, Include food as a focal point in your itinerary. Plan to sample something of everything. And, one thing that is essential if you plan to eat your way around Hong Kong: pack loose-fitting clothes! You’re likely to put on a few pounds, and you want to be comfortable!
Bon voyage and bon appetit! Or, perhaps more appropriately, guanyu weikou!