Going out in Hong Kong
Hungry and in Hong Kong for Art Basel? No idea where to go after another exhausting day at the booth? We feel you. Let our friend Eugenia Lai take you on a culinary journey of HK, from hole-in-the-wall cha chaang tengs to fancy dives where taitais (hk's ladies of leisure) go for their leisurely lunch to the best seafood restaurants where tycoons close their business deals. After filling up your tummies, unwind on one HK's many beaches and outlying islands or get a massage at Eugenia's favorite massage joint and end the evening in style at one of many HK's glamorous cocktail bars.
A former British Crown colony and Asia's financial hub, Hong Kong is a city of contrasts that seduces like no other metropolis in the world - a harmonious mix of East and West and of the old and the new. Futuristic skyscrapers set against a glistening harbour; chimes of the 100 year-old double decker trams steadily gliding through the Mercedes-filled traffic; smell of Chinese herbal tonic from centuries-old recipes wafting pass luxury boutiques; hustle and bustle of wet markets and neon-lit food stalls amidst the soaring hi-rises covered in bamboo scaffolding, hole-in-the-wall cha chaan tengs jam-packed with tycoons, salarymen and blue-collar workers slurping HK-style milk tea: Hong Kong is where Britain and China fused into something unique, where finance and Feng Shui co-exist seamlessly.
Hong Kong also happens to be one the culinary capitals of the world and a good way to get a taste of Hong Kong's culture and history is actually by eating your way through this metropolis. Hong Kong offers a multitude of venues and cuisines that keep foodies busy – from traditional dim sum to creative concepts in which East meets West. It is the ultimate food lover's paradise.
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A meal at a cha chaan teng is the quintessential Hong Kong experience and it is my favorite kind of breakfast. The name cha chaan teng literally means “tea restaurant.” A unique and enduring symbol of the city's food culture, these eateries rose to popularity after WWII, bringing western-style cuisine with a Cantonese twist to the Hong Kong public on the cheap, resulting in an idiosyncratic comfort food cuisine. Many eclectic cha chaan teng dishes—ranging from breakfast items like condensed milk toast and pineapple bun, to savory dishes like baked pork chop rice, and drinks like the iconic HK style milk tea and yin yang (half coffee half tea with milk) - are now considered staples of local cuisine. In fact, cha chaan tengs play such an important role in Hong Kong society that a local politician suggested in 2007 that they be listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Australia Dairy Company
47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan, Kowloon (closed Thursday)
This is the undisputed king of cha chaan teng in Hong Kong. Their signature dish is scrambled egg and corn beef sandwich on untoasted fluffy white bread (蛋牛治 - 不烘). It is divine! If you don't like corn beef, just get it without the corn beef (蛋治 - 不烘) which is just as delicious. Also try the toast with butter and condensed milk (奶油多). For your caffeine fix, order a HK style milk tea or yin yang (half tea half coffee with milk). These are all quintessential cha chaan teng breakfast classics. Don't leave Hong Kong without frequenting this institution.
Another local institution known for its excellent HK style milk tea and pineapple bun (a brioche topped with a sweet, crusty pastry that takes its namesake from its resemblance to a pineapple). It is steps away from the Wanchai street market which makes for a nice stroll after breakfast.
Sing Heung Yuen
2 Mei Lun Street, Central, Hong Kong
Not exactly a cha chaan teng but a dai pai dong, an open-air food stall that serves similar fares as cha chaan tengs. Sing Heung Yuen is Hong Kong's most famous dai pai dong and their signature items are their tomato and beef with instant noodles (yes, hongkongers eat that for breakfast!) and their toasted buns with butter and condensed milk (奶油脆脆). Of course, a HK style milk tea is a must.
A cha chaan teng institution so beloved by locals that it now has branches all over the city including the airport and is even listed on the HK stock exchange. Their menu is broader than your average cha chaan teng. They make one of the best Hainanese chicken rice in the city. Their rice noodles with fish balls and fish cakes, Malaysian beef brisket curry with rice and their beef tongue curry are also to die for.
For Kee Restaurant
200 Hollywood Rd, Shop J-K, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
(official address is on Hollywood road but the restaurant is located along Pound Lane, a small road off Hollywood Road)
Fanatics cross town to this hidden gem for its famous pork chop and HK style milk tea. Get the pork chop fried rice with vegetables and fried egg, the golden medal pork chop rice and satay beef toasted sandwich and enjoy the view of the incense-wreathed temple across the street while you eat the best pork chop you have ever tasted in your life.
21 Gough St, Central, Hong Kong
Kau Kee has been around for nearly a century and it is a beef brisket legend. They are most famous for two items – beef brisket with noodles in clear broth and their curry beef brisket noodles.
77 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
You don't know what wonton noodles are until you have tasted the ones at Mak's. This famous wonton noodle joint has been in the same family for generations and is a slice of Hong Kong heritage.
My favorite restaurant for dim sum. Everything they make is delicious but their stir-fried flat noodles with beef and their crusty pork buns are to die for.
Another wonderful restaurant for dim sum but this establishment specializes in food from the Chiu Chow province.
11 Lan Fong Rd, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Mr. Blissful is one of my favorite spots for congee and noodles. Get the congee with pork and preserved eggs and the stir-fried flat rice rolls with XO sauce. They also serve excellent noodles with dumplings and wontons.
25/F Prince's Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong
With an impeccable panoramic view overlooking the heart of Central, this elegant and chic restaurant is a favorite among taitais aka ladies who lunch. The menu is inspired by Hong Kong’s fusion of cultures. I love their Wagyu Beef Cheek and Ox Tongue Pot Pie with Porcini Fries and their famous caramel crunch cake.
Shop B G/F 1-, 3 Moon St, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
A quaint and modern Vietnamese noodle spot serving the most authentic pho in town. They only serve 120 bowls a day.
Le Garcon Saigon
G/F, 12-18 Wing Fung Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
A trendy spot that serves delicious modern Southern Vietnamese cuisine.
Sang Kee Restaurant
2-3/F, 107-115, Hennessy Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
One of the best Cantonese home-style cooking (with an emphasis on seafood) restaurants in Hong Kong. Their fried salt and pepper squid is the best I have ever tasted in my life. Other signature dishes are stir-fried plum crabs, fried lotus root patties, salt-baked chicken, stir-fried noodles with soy sauce and scallions, and congee with rabbit fish.
A retro-chic cosy 35-seater serving flavorful Thai street classics.
Liu Yuan Pavilion
54-62 Lockhart Road 3rd floor, Wanchai, Hong Kong
A favorite among the local Shanghainese community serving authentic and delicious Shanghainese classics. I am addicted to their smoked duck eggs and crispy rice crackers covered with salty egg yolk. Other favorites are their drunken steamed chicken, sauteed small prawns, smoked crispy fish, crispy eel, steamed pork dumplings with crab roe, sauteed crabs with preserved duck egg, braised pork belly, roasted duck with special sauce, and for dessert, their eight-treasure rice.
Ho Lee Fok
1-5 Elgin Street, SoHo, Hong Kong
Ho Lee Fook, which means 'good fortune for your mouth" in Cantonese is a modern Chinese restaurant that reinvents classic Chinese favorites into unconventional surprising dishes. Try their prawn toast served with shaved cabbage, stir-fried garlic chive blossoms tossed with dried shrimp and spicy chorizo, scallops with sumac and finger lime dumplings, and their wagyu short ribs.
Kau U Fong 18, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
The Chairman uses mostly organic ingredients from a network local fishermen and farmers. Try their famous steamed fresh flowery crab with aged Shaoxing wine, braised spare ribs with preserved plums and caramelised black vinegar, soy sauce chicken, and smoked baby pigeon with Longjing tea and chrysanthemum.
Stylish beak-to-tail yakitori restaurant that specializes in chicken on skewers grilled over traditional Binchotan charcoal. Apart from the yakitoris, their appetizers are also delicious. Their KFC (Korean fried cauliflower), brussel sprouts with black garlic and sweet corn tempura are also massively popular.
A mix between an art club and fine dining boasting a spacious terrace and elegant interiors that serves Chinese-inspired cocktails at their trendy ‘Salon’ bar. It is the gathering spot of choice of the beau monde in Hong Kong.
A speakeasy hidden behind a fake umbrella shop that's inspired by the classic British gentleman from the 1950s, Foxglove's oozes old-school luxury and charm. It features secret private rooms, a menu of prohibition cocktails and a decadent European-style menu.
Dr Fern’s Gin Parlour
Shop B31A, First Basement Floor, Landmark Atrium, 15 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong
Landmark’s hidden gin palace boasts over 250 types of gin and serves cocktails . If you’re having trouble locating it, look for the facade made to mimic that of a doctor’s clinic. A handsome and intimate space decorated to look like a vintage apothecary.
6 Pound Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
The bar is disguised as a traditional stamp store in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan antique district in true speakeasy style. The boldly colored space brings to mind the retro-futuristic style of Wong Kar Wai’s cult film classics and serves an eclectic selection of liquor, beer and wines.
Café Gray Deluxe at the Upper House
Pacific Place, 88, Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Chic bar on the 49th floor of the Upper House with a sensational view of the Victoria Harbour.
Nature and massage:
Most visitors are unaware of the fact this vibrant cosmopolis is actually an archipelago made up of 236 islands and islets and that parks and preserves make up 40% of the cityscape. Beyond the urban cacophony and accelerated tempo, Hong Kong has no shortage of quiet beaches and scenic nature trails within a short distance to the city center, offering respite to locals and visitors from the hectic urban chaos. Take a pause from looking at art and explore an outlying island, take a hike on one the many scenic nature trails or simply unwind on one of the many pristine beaches.
Short of time?
Take the 10-minute Star Ferry ride from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui during sunset to breathe in the sea breeze and soak in the spectacular view of Hong Kong’s skyline.
Or……simply get a massage.
8F Regent Center, 88 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong
When overcome with fair fatigue, head to Foot HK to get your sole-weary feet massaged and kneaded for a lot less than what you would pay in other cities in the world. Apart from their reflexology treatments, their full body massages are also excellent. Private rooms are available for small groups. Opened until 1am.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, EUGENIA LAI is a former associate director at David Zwirner, NY and an editor at Screenslate.com.