Chinese people like food, Cantonese people like food even more, but Hong Kong people are the most crazy about food. They talk about food from dawn til dusk, they show pictures of food from their Facebook to food review websites, they pick food as if picking their spouse. So What’s the food culture in Hong Kong? How will you choose the right food from the thousands of Retractable Banner Stands in the food courts?
1. Extremely Picky
No kidding, Hong Kong people are very fastidious about food. Let’s take a normal iced lemon tea as an example, it’s very common for restaurant-goers to order it with the following requirements:
- More / less / no sugar (多糖 / 少糖 / 走糖)
- More / less/ no ice (多冰 / 少冰 / 走冰)
- Stronger / lighter tea (濃茶 / 淡茶)
- Serve the lemons separately (檸檬另上)
Note that it’s very rare to have more sugar (because you will get fat) or more ice (because you will be drinking water rather than the lemon tea itself)
Even a small drink like lemon tea can involve such a lot of requirements, maybe’s that’s the reason most restaurants charge customer HKD2 more for a iced lemon tea rather than a hot one. (of course it’s also because of the extra cost of ice).
2. Versatile and Precise
Food in Hong Kong can be categorized in a very precise way, a division of food can further derive some even smaller divisions. For example, you know what is dim sum right? (It’s a type of small food served in a steamer basket or on a small plate) Take one of the most popular dim sum dishes, Shao Mai (in Cantonese, Siu Maai / 燒賣) as an example, normally Shao Mai is a steamed dumplings made of pork and shrimp which are wrapped around by a thin wheat flour layer.
However, there are also Shao Mai made of purple rice, or Shao Mai with quail’s eggs as toppings (this one is very traditional, it’s getting extinct in Hong Kong).
3. Mix of Eastern and Western Style
Being a British colony until 1997, Hong Kong’s food culture has been greatly westernized as a result. Hong Kong people use chopsticks for dining normally, but it’s very common for them to use western-style utensils like fork and knife too. They can have Chinese-style food like congee, streamed bun or dim sum as breakfast, and also the western ones like sausage, fried eggs and toast. Because different cuisines require the use of different utensils, nowadays a lot of small local restaurants have installed a small drawer below the dining table and filled it with both Chinese and western utensils so as to cut the labor cost of delivering different utensils for different dishes. There is also a obsession with having knives sharp, you can see people using their knife sharpener on the street and in restaurants all the time.
Who can ever think of mixing coffee with milk tea together? Hong Kong people can. Mixing 70% of coffee and 30% of milk tea together creates Yuan Yang (in Cantonese, Jin Jyun / 鴛鴦). The extra work of making a Yuan Yang normally costs you at least HKD4 more (compared with HKD2 more for a cold drink rather than hot drink). There are so many ways to prepare and make these hot bevereages, see different blends of green tea at monicashealthmag.com if you are more on the green side of these beverages.
Another great wonder of Hong Kong drinks is the “Iced Shaking Milk Tea” (冰震奶茶) which was created by a restaurant in Hong Kong. What it basically means is that the ice is separately put in a bowl and the milk tea is placed in the middle of the ice. As the ice is separately served, the real flavor of the milk tea can be kept and it won’t become watery as compared with ice being put inside the drink. Of course, people do it to serve a bowl of beer, but remember, this is just a 400ml drink but serving it like this occupies 30% of the dinning table surface in a small local restaurant. Again, it reflects that Hong Kong people are very dainty about food and drinks, and that having gimmicks is very important for restaurants to survive in Hong Kong.
5. No Fixed Schedule of Eating
Hong Kong people can eat anytime and have a lot of meals every day, because as I said, eating is very important. They always:
- Eat very late (or very early)
Hong Kong people are renowned for being hard-working and always working overtime. They get off from work late, so they have dinner late. They can have dinner at 10 (it’s very normal) and have late dinner at 1am again. There are also some certain types of Cantonese restaurants (like the Teo Chow style ones) that are only open from the start of evening to 5am in the next morning but never open during the day. Those kinds of restaurant serve breakfast at 2am (Hong Kong people call it “early tea” 早茶).
- Have a lot of meals every day
Apart from the normal 3 meals per day, Hong Kong people also have late breakfast at 10-11pm after morning breakfast, afternoon tea at 3-4pm and late dinner at midnight. Among all of them, afternoon tea is of the most common, it’s probably inherited from the British afternoon tea culture. Hong Kong people always say “3:15, afternoon tea time” (3點3, 下午茶).
6. Anything is Edible
To economically utilize the livestock in making food, not only do Hong Kong people eat the meat, but also the offal. Soup noodles with beef offal, normally intestines (牛什麵) is very popular all over Hong Kong. People also eat goose intestines as a cold dish and put pork intestines into congee. Don’t ask me why it’s always intestines, this is also a myth to me.
7. Ostentation is Important
In Hong Kong, the food might not look delicate in small details, but the whole big picture of the food must be extravagant enough for the price you pay. If you order a dish of streamed fish, the fish has to be the biggest with colorful seasonings; same as if you do a hot pot, you have to order a full table of raw food and you feel abundant and plenteous. That’s why hot pot restaurants are doing better if they offer customers an all-you-can-eat price because Hong Kong people enjoy the ego of having lots of food on the table and share it with friends.
8. Queuing for Food
Restaurants are extremely hard to survive more than 3 months in Hong Kong because of the absurd property rents and rising food prices. Restaurant owners have to do well in their marketing, otherwise customers will be lured away from other competitors with higher creativity on menus and decorations. Now, having customers lining up outside the restaurants has almost become the most important signs in determining a restaurant’s life and death, as long queues means higher popularity which is easier to attract press inquiries and get the restaurant listed as a “recommended restaurant” in food magazines or openrice.com (the most popular food review website in Hong Kong).
9. Washing Utensils
It’s not that the utensils are dirty, but Hong Kong people place high demands on the quality of dining so they just have to do a little washing before eating, at least it makes them feel better. For example, even if you go to a small local restaurant, each customer would be given a cup of hot tea for free, of course you should drink it, but most Hong Kong people would just put the chopsticks, fork and knives inside to clean them. I told you, Hong Kong people are very high-standard. In a dim sum restaurants, the staff would even provide you with a bowl to pour the residual tea after you finish cleaning the utensils.
Indeed, Hong Kong has long been criticized for not having any culture, known as a culture desert. But the food culture in Hong Kong is very diverse and rich. As the economy keep develops, restaurants will come up with more ideas and dishes, and the culture will keep growing richer. So which part you like (or hate) the most about Hong Kong food culture?
If you’re curious, you can read about what Hong Kongers love to do as well. But don’t take it too seriously.
Except for the above images starred (sources listed below), all the other pictures are owned by the author of this blog.