“Hong Kong is a culinary destination, one of the most exciting places to eat in the world. As soon as you arrive, you smell the food,” says Tony Tan, chef and author of Hong Kong Food City.
Boasting one of the highest restaurant densities in the world, the city is renowned for its street food stalls as much as its dim sum joints and high-end venues.
The delicate Cantonese cuisine is what Hong Kong is know for around the world. “If you do some sort of stir-fried fish or some sort of prawn, it's the prawn that's going to be the star. It's really gentle flavours; ginger, spring onion, coriander, that sort of thing. Not really heavy on spices,” explains Flower Drum manager Jason Liu during an episode of Asia Unplated with Diana Chan.
It's really gentle flavours; ginger, spring onion, coriander, that sort of thing. Not really heavy on spices,”
But as an ex-British colony and a major commercial hub, Hong Kong cuisine has also been influenced by the Brits, various Chinese groups, as well as other Asian countries. “It’s fantastic culinary chemistry,” says Tan.
From dim sum favourites to a British-inspired dessert, here are five dishes to devour to start understanding Hong Kong.
1. Radish cake (lo bak go)
“It’s a very popular dish eaten during yum cha, and also made by families during the Chinese New Year season,” says Tan.
Shredded daikon is mixed with rice flour and savoury ingredients. It’s then steamed in a tin and most often cut in slices and pan-fried. On Asia Unplated, Chan’s guest, Karlie Verkerk, mixes the daikon with Chinese sausage, shiitake and dried shrimps, and garnish it with spring onions. Other common ingredients are preserved vegetables, dried scallop and cured meat.
2. White-cut chicken (pak cham kai)
Hong Kong-style white-cut chicken is poached with aromatics like ginger and spring onion. “In Australia and other parts of Western countries, you roast a whole chicken, you use the oven. But in Chinese cooking, we actually do a lot of pot cooking. This is quite a healthy one [too],” says Diana Chan on Asia Unplated.
Tan says that every family has a slightly different way of preparing white cut chicken. “After it’s cooked, some people put the chicken on ice so it forms a beautiful gel between the skin and meat,” he explains.
3. Cantonese steamed fish
“Steaming a fish is a popular way to preserve the freshness and flavours of the particular fish you’re using,” says Tan of the dish popular for everyday meals, as well as weddings. A whole fish, symbolising abundance and longevity, is simply steamed with ginger and soy sauce.
“I love eating the bits of fish that people generally avoid like cheeks which are so beautiful, and tender. I also love eating the area around the wing, just under the belly where the flesh is very sweet and tender,” says Tan.
4. Hakka pork with preserved mustard greens (muy choy kau yuk)
The various Chinese groups present in Hong Kong, like the Hakka people, have contributed to the diverse cuisine of the city. One of their classic recipes consists of steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens.
“You steam the pork belly until it’s beautifully tender and the vegetables have a fantastic flavour. It’s glisteningly beautiful!” says Tan. “Your chopsticks will sink into it into because the meat is so tender. It melts in your mouth.”
5. Mango pudding
Inspired by British desserts, but using Chines ingredients, mango pudding is also a yum cha staple. Ripe mangoes are turned into a pudding thanks to gelatine. Fruits can be used as a garnish, and evaporated or coconut milk as a sauce.
On Asia Unplated, Verkek tops hers with toasted coconut flakes, evaporated milk and mango chunks. “This is natural sweetness, which I love. Flavours of mango, coconut and then that creamy milk, which is like a sauce, really,” approves Chan.
Catch Diana Chan and friends cooking and eating their way across Asia in Australia in the brand-new series, Asia Uplated with Diana Chan. Airs on SBS Food at 8pm Thursdays from 19 December 2019 to 20 February 2020, or catch up on SBS On Demand.