Planning a trip to Hong Kong is always a massive headache for me.
My travel itineraries are first and foremost always drafted with my stomach in mind. The sights and touristy activities are an afterthought — and can easily be dropped from the plan — but it pains me to leave any plate untouched.
My last visit, a quick three-day getaway, was packed with at least 15 eateries to check out. That worked out to about five meals a day, barring further eating detours while there.
It is hard to stop when the food, as well as the price, is good.
We are, after all, talking about the city said to have the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, hole-in-the-wall dim sum shop Tim Ho Wan, which now boasts six outlets in Singapore.
When I dined at its IFC Mall branch — a proper restaurant, unlike the humble original one that was relocated from Mong Kok to Olympian City — with friends, we enjoyed a spread of about eight dishes, and it cost only about HK$80 (S$15) per person.
That is quality fare at a steal, something you will easily find in this densely populated metropolis.
Three square meals
Another well-known place for a dim sum fix is DimDimSum Dim Sum Specialty Store, with four outlets throughout Hong Kong.
Its Mong Kok location, which closes at 2am, is probably your best bet if, after a full day of shopping and munching, you need some nosh to recharge your batteries.
There are three things I usually order at this homely gem, first introduced to me by a close friend who is based in Hong Kong.
The pineapple buns with pineapple custard filling (HK$19 for three pieces) are a unique find, and a satisfying alternative to its plain polo bun relative.
The cute piggy custard buns (HK$20 for a trio) house a molten middle of warm salted egg custard. This is one of the signature dishes at DimDimSum Dim Sum Specialty Store.
But my favourite dish here is the crispy rice flour rolls with shrimp (HK$29 for two rolls).
DimDimSum’s take on zha leung, or chee cheong fun wrapped around fried dough sticks, is oily but texturally fascinating. It is pliant, crunchy and juicy all at once, and is especially tasty when swished in the light soya sauce dip.
Those following the liu sha, or molten salted egg yolk, craze on social media might have seen photos of Chau Kee’s version of French toast (HK$25) oozing with tantalising golden “lava”.
Now run by proprietress Riko Chow and her boyfriend-cum-chef Ken Lau, Chau Kee’s other French toast variants include matcha with red bean and the soon-to-be launched creamed corn.
Served piping hot to the table, each fried parcel bound by crisp egg wash is mesmerising to cut into and observe. The sweet and savoury flavours pair well with the eatery’s robust and creamy milk tea that is served in a bottle.
The five-year-old family business is a 10-minute stroll from either the Sai Ying Pun or Hong Kong University MTR stations.
I alighted from the former and encountered heritage shops selling speciality shrimp roe noodles, umami XO sauces and handcrafted bamboo steamer baskets en route.
Another hearty lunch outing is Kam’s Roast Goose.
Awarded one Michelin star in 2015, Kam’s is owned by Hardy Kam, grandson of Kam Shui Fai, the late founder of Hong Kong roast goose institution Yung Kee, which is set to close following a dispute.
The birds are carefully cleaned, marinated, air-dried and finally roasted for that moreish char.
A goose leg is priced at HK$135, but as I was in a hurry, I opted for the takeaway roast goose and roast pork rice set (HK$55).
Consumed only hours later in my hotel room, the meat was still succulent and some parts of the skin remained crisp.
I could only imagine how marvellous it tastes when paired, fresh, with the piquant plum sauce.
Lesson learnt: I will definitely opt to dine in when a Singapore outpost opens this year.
After a short pilgrimage to the Tian Tan Buddha statue on Lantau Island, I tucked into a bowl of soya bean curd from Tak Kee Tofu Fa.
The stall claims its sweet dessert is made with stoneground soya beans and “water from the hill”.
It is not the best out there, but what I like about Hong Kong’s version of tau huay is the use of brown sugar syrup — instead of white sugar — that adds dimension to the smooth pudding.
Fans of Macau’s Lord Stow’s Bakery will be familiar with its unbeatable Portuguese egg tarts. The sweet custard is perfectly caramelised on top and the savoury, flaky pastry is buttery yet light.
In Hong Kong, they are available at The Excelsior Hong Kong’s EXpresso café, where they are baked fresh thrice daily — at 11am, 2pm and 4pm.
They are slightly pricier than those in Macau, but the convenience saves you half a day and the cost of a ferry ticket.
Fellow green tea dessert aficionados, join the queue at Via Tokyo at Leighton Road. I had the Uji matcha smoothie to go, and my greatest regret is that I had ordered only one.
If the green tea purist in you will not settle for houjicha or flavours, avoid the shop on Reverse Wednesdays, when the store will serve anything but matcha.
My foodie sources tell me the stall now offers Uji matcha espuma kakigori (think Japanese ice kachang topped with green tea foam), and that a second, Kyoto-styled outlet has opened at Tsim Sha Tsui.
With so many wallet-friendly options available within arm’s reach at the Fragrant Harbour, it is no surprise that many Singaporeans make repeat visits just to shop and eat, rinse and repeat.
I flew on Scoot, which takes about four hours. From the airport, the city is easily accessible via the airport express train, taxi, hotel shuttle or bus.
- When on a food adventure, it is always a good idea to have eating companions so that you can try a larger variety of dishes.
- It is useful to come armed with a smattering of Cantonese, especially numbers. It is especially useful at local F&B establishments that shout your queue number in the dialect.
This story was originally published on 25 February 2016, in The Straits Times.