Tag Archives: Hong Kong

The Great Laksa Debate

After staying inside for the past 2 days due to Hurricane Irene and having gone through my food rations for the weekend, I found myself fighting back a strong craving for…laksa.  To the uninitiated, it might be quite a random dish to crave, especially in the middle of a tropical storm.   But for those who have tasted this heavenly Southeast Asian concoction of rich coconut curry broth, noodles, and seafood, then you’ll understand my addiction.

I was fortunate to try several varieties of laksa while in Hong Kong.  Here are my top 4, an attempt to settle the great laksa debate:

Malaymama

My love affair with laksa began at Malaymama in Sheung Wan.  With a cute logo and clean storefront, this tiny Malaysian spot usually has a long line outside at lunch, with diners eager to try the restaurant’s famed laksa and prawn mee (another famous Southeast Asian noodle dish).  Malaymama uses a mild, slightly sweet curry coconut milk broth in its laksa (photographed above) that is deceptively flavorful.  Served with fried tofu, shrimp, eggplant, and a mix of egg and rice noodles, this is a solid version that will appeal to laksa newbies and pros alike.  (Tip: Malaymama offers a teatime/dinner special.  $120 HKD for 2 people: each guest has choice of drink, laksa or prawn mee, and kaya toast.  Call restaurant for specific times.)

Shop 11A, Mercer Street, Sheung Wan
2542-4111

Katong Laksa Prawn Mee

Located directly across the street from Malaymama, Katong Laksa may seem very similar to its counterpart at first glance.  However, there is a world of difference between the two, especially in their laksas.  While Malaymama serves the Malaysian nyonya laksa, Katong Laksa specializes in the Singaporean version, which is most famous in the Katong region.  Though both versions are coconut milk-based, the noodles in katong laksa are often cut into smaller pieces.  I found Katong Laksa‘s version to be satisfactory.  I liked the addition of fish balls, which added a nice chewiness.  The broth, however, was a bit on the salty side for me.  Other standouts at Katong Laksa include prawn mee and mee siam, a sweet and sour noodle soup dish.

G/F, 8 Mercer St., Sheung Wan
2543-4008

Yeoh’s Bah Kut Teh 

My favorite of the four, though I think it may be the least traditional and heaviest on the coconut milk.  Yeoh’s Bah Kut Teh is a Chinese-Malaysian restaurant also located in Sheung Wan.  Though most famous for its claypot bah kut teh, Yeoh’s also serves a sinfully rich, artery-clogging laksa.  The broth was thick, creamy, and full of coconut milk, with both a sweet and savory flavor.  And as if the broth were not doing enough damage to your arteries already, the laksa is topped with a whole prawn, hard boiled egg, dried shrimps, and fried tofu puffs.

Shop G61-62, G/F, Midland Centre, 328 Queens Road, Sheung Wan
2543-2181

King Laksa 

Tucked into a nondescript alley in Central, King Laksa wins for the best toppings.  King Laksa serves an Indonesian version, featuring a savory yellow curry broth that is slightly lighter than the others.  I ordered their deluxe or supreme laksa, which came with fish balls, imitation crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and a hard boiled egg.  The bowl was swimming in seafood!  King Laksa’s noodle selection also sets it apart.  I ordered mine with the silver needle noodles, which were delightfully chewy and complimented the broth well.

G/F, 20 Gilman’s Bazaar, Central
2581-1871

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Best Hong Kong Style Dessert Shops

In addition to cheap dim sum, cha chaan tengs, and awesome Malaysian food, one of the things I miss most about Hong Kong is the plethora of Cantonese dessert shops.  While I love ice cream, cakes, and pies, I have found that American desserts tend to be heavy on the sugar and carbs, which can be unpleasant in this summer heat.  In contrast, Cantonese desserts are light and refreshing–the perfect ending to a hot summer night.

So where can you find the best mango sago and sweet tofu (豆腐花; doufu hua) in Hong Kong?  Here are my top 3 favorites.

Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品)

With several locations around HK, Honeymoon Dessert might win (only by a slight margin) as my favorite dessert shop in the city.  While the menu features many traditional Canto desserts, it also offers modern twists on the classics.  My friends and I decided to go wild on our last visit, and ordered watermelon doufu hua, tang yuan in almond milk, and coconut mango sago with pomelo (pictured at the top, from right to left).

The watermelon tofu was a perfect summer dessert–cool silken tofu topped with a refreshing, not-too-sweet watermelon puree.  Tang yuan in almond milk, in contrast, was served warm.  A classic Chinese dessert, tang yuan are sweet glutinous rice dumplings filed with either black sesame or peanuts and sugar.  We chose the peanut variety.  Each bite was pleasantly chewy, with the sweetness tempered by a sip of almond milk.

The best dessert at Honeymoon, one that I ordered everytime, was the coconut mango sago with pomelo.  For those unfamiliar with this dessert, sago is a type of starch very similar to tapioca–almost like mini boba, but less chewy.  Served in a cool mango and coconut concoction with slices of tart pomelo interspersed, this dessert was addictively fruity and fresh.

With all of the desserts at Honeymoon priced below $40, it’s no wonder there is always a line out the door.  For modern takes on classic Canto sweets, head to a Honeymoon Dessert near you.

Shop 303, Podium 3, World Trade Centre
280 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
2852-2606

Hui Lau Shan (許留山)

Arguably the most famous dessert chain in Hong Kong, Hui Lau Shan is best known for its plethora of mango offerings.  From drinks to soups to puddings, Hui Lau Shan is a mango lover’s dream.  More grab-and-go friendly than Honeymoon, Hui Lau Shan has take-away service for its drinks, which range from $28-34 HKD.  For those eating in, my favorite was the mango puree and coconut milk over purple sticky rice (pictured above).  And for those less adventurous eaters, beware of another of HLS’ most popular desserts: snow frog spawn and birds nest, served in a coconut (snow frog spawn and bird’s nest are supposed to be good for the skin, making it popular with the ladies).

Hui Lau Shan has several locations throughout Hong Kong, but my favorite was in Mong Kok:

58-60 Sai Yeung Choi Street, Mong Kok
2871-1626

Wu Dai Tong Tang (五代同糖)

Wu Dai Tong Tang definitely wins for presentation.  Its desserts are whimsical and light-hearted, with some offering a Cantonese take on Western classics.   Huge sugar-dusted souffles are popular here, along with Asian-style panna cotta and molten chocolate cakes.

My friend and I shared a taro ice with grass jelly and red bean and an egg custard.  In addition to incredibly herbaceous grass jelly, the taro ice was served with corn flakes on the side.  I’m still a bit confused by this and am not sure all of the flavors worked together in the dish, but the corn flakes did add an unexpected crunch.  I much preferred the egg custard, served in the most adorable and apropos dish ever.  If you’re looking for more out-of-the-ordinary HK style desserts, Wu Dai Tong Tang is the place to go.

Shop G11, Elizabeth House
250-254 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
3486-8528
(Note: The building it is housed in is on Gloucester Road, but Wu Dai Tong Tang is actually in the back entrance.)

A Transcendent Bowl of Beef Noodles

Although I returned to the US last week, there are still lots of meals in Hong Kong that stick out in my mind and deserve a mention on this blog.  One such meal was the beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) at Qinghai Beef Noodles, a.k.a. Beef Noodle Box (according to HK Magazine), a shoebox of a restaurant located near the North Point MTR station.

I’ve had many versions of beef noodle soup and I am usually not a fan because the broth is much too greasy and the meat much too fatty and boney for my taste.  But Qinghai Beef Noodles is nothing like these other versions and puts them to shame both in terms of flavor and quality.

Topped with verdant green cilantro and scallions, the noodles arrived steaming hot at the table.  The herbs added freshness to the heavy, but heavenly rich beef broth.  According to HK Magazine, owner Jeff Wong slowly simmers beef bones and over 20 different Chinese herbs to make the broth each day.  The result is a masterpiece–fragrant, aromatic, and earthy, each sip reveals a new layer of flavors.

While the broth itself is a major feat, I was also impressed with the quality of the noodles and beef.  Diners can choose from la mian (ramen) or knife cut noodles.  I ordered the la mian, and loved how the noodles slowly soaked up the broth.  I also enjoyed the beef, which was much leaner and more thinly sliced than other versions I’ve had.  For $39 HKD at lunch and $42 HKD at dinner, these noodles are a steal.

When I look back over my time in Hong Kong, Qinghai Beef Noodles certainly stands out as one of several truly fantastic meals.  It’s not the type of meal where diners wolf down and slurp up their bowls; rather, the soup is meant to be slowly sipped and savored for its soothing and soulful flavor.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy a truly transcendent bowl of beef noodles.

Qinghai Beef Noodles

G/F, 27A Kam Ping Street, North Point
北角錦屏街27A號地舖

852 2151 0506

The Curious Case of the Cha Chaan Teng

I’ve noticed some curious things about Hong Kong after being here for one month, like the affinity for queuing, plethora of herbal tea and jelly shops, and constant shopping and eating.  Most curious of all, though, is the cha chaan teng, a Hong Kong culinary institution adored by locals and foreigners alike.

Cha chaan tengs are to Hong Kongers what diners are to Americans (aptly noted in this excellent NYT article).  They are nostalgic, no-frills establishments serving comfort food harkening back to the days of British rule.  But you won’t find tea and crumpets at cha chaan tengs; like everything else in Hong Kong, a distinct culture and taste pervades the cuisine.  They serve a variety of dishes, with the most popular being crispy buns with condensed milk, thick french toast slathered in kaya (coconut egg jam) and butter, instant noodles with a variety of MSG-filled toppings, pork chop buns, beef egg macaroni soup, and egg sandwiches.

One item available at every cha chaan teng is milk tea, the quintessential drink of Hong Kong.  It is said the best milk tea is the silk stocking variety, brewed in–you guessed it!–a silk stocking.  Made with several varieties of black tea and evaporated milk, this rich velvety beverage is not for the faint of heart–or the lactose intolerant for that matter.

I headed to two of Hong Kong’s most famous cha chaan tengs: Lan Fong Yuen and Tsui Wah.  Though both are classic cha chaan tengs, they could not be more different from one another, showcasing the diversity and evolution of this long-standing Hong Kong tradition.

Lan Fong Yuen is arguably one of the most famous cha chaan tengs in Hong Kong, garnering nearly 500 reviews on Open Rice.  Tucked in a tiny shack underneath the Mid-Levels escalator, the no-frills interior belies some tasty, albeit greasy, cha chaan teng fare.

I ordered their famous iced milk tea (dong nai cha 冻奶茶), pork chop bun (zhu pa bao 豬排飽), and kaya french toast (jiayang xiduoshi 咖央西多士), which came to a total of $44 HKD ($5.65 USD).  Lan Fong Yuen is most famous for its stocking milk tea, which I thought was good, but not life-changing.  Perhaps I will order the hot version next time, as the tea quickly became diluted due to the melting ice.  (Ironically, even the diluted version may have been too rich for me, as I felt sick after!)

The pork chop bun and french toast were tasty, but greasy.  Thin pork chops marinated in soy sauce were nestled into a toasted hamburger bun, slathered with mayo.  Slices of tomato balanced out the greasiness.  The kaya french toast was covered in butter and artery-clogging kaya egg jam, but that may have added to its appeal.  This is definitely a dish that I could get used to on a lazy, hung-over Sunday morning.  (It was so good that I started eating it before I remembered to take a photo!)

For an authentic cha chaan teng experience, head to Lan Fong Yuen–but make sure it is before 6:00pm, as it closes early.  (Also closed on Sundays.)

In contrast to the cramped quarters at Lan Fong Yuen, Tsui Wah offers a bigger, glitzier space–3 stories to be exact.  With locations across Hong Kong and Kowloon open 7 days a week 24 hours a day, it is definitely one of the most convenient cha chaan tengs around.  And while some locals will turn up their noses to Tsui Wah, I thought the food was consistently good.

I have eaten at Tsui Wah on two occasions.  The first time, I ordered the Chiu Chow fish ball noodle soup and condensed milk bun (about HKD $44).  I really enjoyed the fish ball noodles.  The broth was soothing and satisfying, and surprisingly not fishy at all.  The fish balls were pleasantly chewy and a nice interlude in between slurping up the rice noodles.

I’m not an expert on milk buns, so I can’t tell you if this was a particularly good one.  What I can tell you is this was not bad–how could anyone go wrong with a crispy bun slathered in butter and sweet condensed milk?  Though at first I thought I was too full to eat the whole thing, it somehow disappeared a few minutes later.

For my second meal at Tsui Wah, I ordered the Hainanese chicken and rice ($55 HKD, or $7 USD).  Hainanese chicken is popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, in addition to its country of origin, China.  It involves poaching a while chicken and cooking the rice in chicken broth.

Tsui Wah’s version was surprisingly good.  I appreciated that they deboned the chicken, as most restaurants serve it with the bone-in.  Both the chicken and rice were flavorful and not too oily, even more delicious when dipped in the accompanying sauces (one was a watered down sweet oyster sauce and the other was a slightly spicy peanut fish sauce).  Broth and pickled vegetables came on the side, rounding out a hearty meal.

From old-school to ultra-modern, Hong Kong has tons of cha chaan tengs to choose from.  If you’re in the SAR, make sure to try what is definitely one of Hong Kong’s most interesting and retro culinary traditions.

Lan Fong Yuen 

2 Gage Street

Central, Hong Kong

(852) 2544 3895

Tsui Wah 

G/F-2/F 15-19 Wellington St.

Central, Hong Kong

(852) 2525 6338

Delirious for Dumplings

Since arriving in Hong Kong, I’ve been surprised by the relative lack of regional Chinese restaurants.  While Hong Kong and Guangdong style cuisine reigns supreme, there are noticeably few Sichuan, Shanghai, and Northern-style Chinese establishments.  I might even venture so far to say that Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants outnumber their Mainland counterparts.

As a result, I was pleasantly surprised when my co-worker suggested that we try a Beijing-style dumpling place for lunch.  The meal brought back pleasant memories of my 6-month stint in Beijing, in which jiaozi were an integral part of my diet.

The restaurant is located in the Queen Street Cooked Food Centre, in the Sheung Wan District.  For those unfamiliar with Hong Kong’s cooked food centres, they are basically a large room filled with hawker stands, each serving a different type of food.  Though not always the cleanest option, cooked food centres are a wonderful way to become acquainted with local Hong Kong dining.  Authentic home-cooked fare makes braving the loud, crowded, no-frills setting worth it.

The meal started off with a complimentary bowl of soup.  Fresh cilantro, tomato, and egg accentuated a simple broth.  In contrast to most Chinese starter soups, which consist of random vegetables and leftover bones, this soup was clean and composed.

The main attraction of the meal was the dumplings.  I ordered pork and dou miao (Chinese pea shoots) dumplings.  The dou miao added a nice crunch and freshness to the pork filling, while the jiaozi pi (or wrapper) held together well.  Doused in vinegar and chili oil, these dumplings were satisfying and soothing–just like a Chinese grandma made them.   At $30 HKD (a mere $3.85) for a plate of 12 dumplings and a bowl of soup, this was certainly a bargain for lunch.

Even though we gorged ourselves on dumplings, my co-worker and I still managed to save room for a traditional Cantonese dessert, purchased from the stand next door for HKD $3.  I apologize for not knowing the name of the dessert, but it is similar to Japanese manju–a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweet mashed taro.

For deliriously delicious dumplings and much more (like this Mediterranean full-service restaurant), head to Queen Street Cooked Food Centre when you are in Hong Kong!

Lao Beifang Jiaozi Guan
Food Market, 1 Queen Street , Sheung Wan
上環皇后街1號皇后街熟食市場

Classic Dim Sum at Maxim’s Palace City Hall

I’ve eaten a lot of dim sum in my lifetime, having grown up in Los Angeles.  Monterey Park, Alhambra, and LA’s very own Chinatown are known for having some of the best dim sum in California and my family and I have tried many of them over the years.  As a result, I am somewhat of a dim sum fanatic and am absolutely thrilled to be in Hong Kong–a city (in)famous for its dim sum culture.

My first dim sum experience in Hong Kong was at Maxim’s Palace City Hall, a Hong Kong institution.  The Maxim’s Group, founded in 1956, owns hundreds of restaurants all over Hong Kong, ranging from traditional Cantonese restaurants to Western cafes to bakeries.  Maxim’s City Hall, one of the oldest locations, is renowned for its classic dim sum and elegant harbor views.  Tourists, locals, and food bloggers alike crowd into the huge banquet-style dining room, peering into each of the steaming carts that pass by.  (And non-Canto speakers–don’t worry! Each cart has signs with English translations of the dishes they are carrying.)

My friends and I started out with the shrimp and corn egg rolls and steamed beef balls.  While the steamed beef balls are a traditional dish, the shrimp and corn egg rolls were anything but–especially since they were served with mayo.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the combination.  The steamed beef balls, however, were fragrant and flavorful.


Siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), char siu bau (steamed pork buns), and cheung fan (steamed rice noodle roll) are all classic dim sum fare.  Maxim’s versions were excellent, as expected.  The siu mai, served steaming hot, were plump and juicy, while the char sui bau were fluffy and light as can be.  Cheung fancan be filled with either shrimp, pork, or beef, and are topped with a sweet soy sauce.  We opted for the barbecued pork version, which added a nice sweetness to the dish.

Sadly, we missed out on the har gau (steamed shrimp dumplings) and dan tat (egg tarts), but I will definitely be back another time.  Most dim sum dishes were around HKD $30-60, and I think the quality of the ingredients and the elegant atmosphere are worth the pricetag.  In sum, Maxim’s Palace City Hall is a wonderful introduction to Hong Kong’s dim sum culture, which I’m sure I will be intimately familiar with by the end of the summer.

Maxim’s Palace City Hall 
2/F, Low Block, City Hall
Central, Hong Kong
2521-1303

Going Global

Hello, readers! After a hectic 2-month hiatus filled with final exams, I’m thrilled that summer has (finally) begun and that I can devote more time to blogging.  I have lots of updates since my last post, and am happy to be able to share them with all of you.

I’ve been traveling quite a lot since leaving the city of brotherly love.  After enjoying the perfect beach weather in Los Angeles for a couple weeks, I headed up to San Francisco to begin an internship.  From carbonara pizza at Delfina, to New Orleans iced coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee, to awesome chicken mole tamales at the Heart of the City Farmers Market, I can definitely say that San Francisco lived up to its foodie reputation.

Seven thousand miles across the Pacific, my journey continues in the truly amazing city of Hong Kong, where I will be staying for the next six weeks.  I’ve been here for 4 days now and can already say that I am falling in love with this city.  Its kinetic energy, ultra modern skyscrapers, lush parks, and of course,  fabulous food culture, make it worthwhile to brave the heat and humidity and explore the city.

My first meals in Hong Kong were simple and classic.  After wandering through Central District’s many office buildings and shopping malls, I stumbled across Can-teen, a local chain serving modern takes on traditional Hong Kong style dishes.  I ordered char siu over rice (HKD $38), which was excellent.  The char siu pork had just the right amount of fat and meat, making each bite rich and flavorful.

For dinner, I chose Tsim Chai Kee (沾仔記), a noodle shop that was mentioned in both my guidebook and Open Rice (Hong Kong’s version of Yelp).  Tsim Chai Kee has three locations in Hong Kong, two of which are in Central.  I ordered the prawn wonton noodle soup, which was a steal for HKD $19.  The egg noodles were perfectly al dente, while the wontons were savory and soothing.

After these first couple of meals, I could already tell that Hong Kong is a food paradise.  I’ll be sharing the rest of my eating expeditions, along with any adventures that happen along the way, right here for the next 6 weeks.