A snapshot of Hong Kong’s bipolar food culture

More than any other city in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong is a city of contrasts. Traditional Cantonese culture pushes hard against the raging, modern scene, strong scents of the recent British rule are encroached upon by the dominant, Chinese presence, people eat dim sum, seafood, sushi, Mexican, Burger King.

In no place is this contrast more obvious than in the gastronomic scene. Cracking open the Superfuture guide to the city is like opening a Pandora’s box of food delight, with rooftop bars, five star restaurants and haute cuisine leaping forth from every page of the document. Restaurants like The Pawn Shop dish up a dizzying array of delicious western and local food in a setting that’s worth the visit alone, while bars like Wooloomooloo offer a solid steak to accompany a heart-stopping view over Hong Kong Island.

Flip to the other side of the coin and one can find the same spectrum of food in a gritty, salacious setting. Steps from the night markets near Nathan Road, a tented, corner hovel houses two dozen tables circled by a smattering of dirty, uneven chairs. The bathroom, a hole behind a curtain in the back room, is separated from the kitchen by a grease covered piece of corrugated sheet metal and as you pull at the legs on your fresh pepper crab the cockroaches scurry under the corroded circuit breakers next to your table.In the open streets, late night food is a part of the everyday culture, folding tables set up on the streets where efficient, curt waitresses drop off a bucket of dumplings and Stella girls take your order for 22’s of light beer.

Without a doubt, the food and drink is good in either setting. Produce is clean, seafood is beyond fresh and the Chinese have perfected the art of professional eating. In Hong Kong we simply find that the spectrum of options is wider than that in other cities in the far east; in one setting, the true, high end gastronomic can eat foie gras and caviar until the sun comes up, while in another the budget traveler can eat street food and dollar dim sum until his belly fill with happiness.

One should expect nothing less in the spectacular kaleidoscope that we call Hong Kong. Pick up the Lonely Planet World Food Guide (and maybe a roll of Tums) to get your adventure started.