Budget Hong Kong: The Best Cheap Eats For Under US$5 A Bite

Tourists come to Hong Kong for a number of reasons: business, shopping, sightseeing.

Me? I came to eat.

I have long heard about Hong Kong’s famed cuisine, with its unique blend of Chinese, Western, Japanese, Southeast Asian and international influences. The city is home to dozens of celebrity chefs and boasts 62 Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s regularly called the culinary capital of Asia, if not the world.

I wasn’t interested in Hong Kong’s chichi gourmet restaurant scene, nor did I have the budget for it. Rather, I was intent on sampling the city’s dizzying array of cheap eats. Dim sum. Wonton. Noodles. Tea with medicinal properties. Bakery tarts that melt in your mouth. My mouth waters just thinking of it.

Here are some of the highlights of my Hong Kong eating extravaganza, each costing less than US$5 a serving.

%Gallery-173830%Pork Siu Mai with Quail Egg at DimDimSum Dim Sum Specialty Store
Four steaming pork dumplings, each topped with a small, perfectly boiled quail egg. It’s no wonder The Daily Beast named this small dim sum chain one of the 101 Best Places to Eat – in the world.
Cost: HK$18 (US$2.32 at US$0.13 to HK$1)
7 Tin Lok Lane, Causeway Bay

King Prawn Wonton Noodle at Tsim Chai Kee Noodle
The wontons at this Central District noodle shop contain succulent pieces of juicy king prawn. Select the yellow noodle option and spice to your heart’s content.
Cost: HK$22 (US$2.84)
98 Wellington Street, Central

Vermicelli Roll Stuffed with BBQ Pork at Tim Ho Wan
The wait at the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant is worth it: simple, home-style dim sum classics like the BBQ pork-filled vermicelli roll, prepared to perfection and drizzled in soy sauce. Though I didn’t try them, the pork buns are also said to be excellent.
Cost: HK$18 (US$2.32)
2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok

Aloo Paratha at Waka Sweets in the Chungking Mansions
Hankering for curry? Look no further than the ground floor of the Chungking Mansions, which is filled with South Asian specialties like curries and sweets. The aloo paratha at Waka Sweets is greasy, but it hit the spot.
Cost: HK$8 (US$1.03)
Ground floor, past the first staircase on the right, Chungking Mansions, 36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Coconut Sago at Ying Heong Yuen
This coconut milk drink with tiny tapioca beads is the perfect way to beat the Hong Kong heat. It’s available for a pittance at most street stalls, but the version at Ying Heong Yuen in Causeway Bay is particularly good.
Cost: HK$8 (US$1.03)
3-7 Cannon Street, Causeway Bay

Chrysanthemum Tea at Good Spring Company Limited
The herbal teas doled out at century-old Good Spring Company Limited are said to provide energy, eliminate bodily toxins and promote general health. The chrysanthemum tea is mildly sweet and refreshing.
Cost: HK$7 (US$0.90)
8 Cochrane Street, Central

Milk Tea at Tsui Wah Restaurant
A legacy of British colonialism, milk tea is a must-drink in Hong Kong. Tsui Wah’s is smoother than most versions and pairs well with the home-style diner’s sweet toasted bun.
Cost: HK$16 (US$2.06)
15-19 Wellington Street, Central

Egg Tart at Tai Cheong Bakery
Bakeries around the city vie for the title of best egg tart. By many accounts, including that of former British governor Chris Patten, Tai Cheong takes the cake. The secret is in the buttery cookie crust, honed over more than six decades of operation.
Cost: HK$6 (US$0.80)
35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central

Steamed Milk with Ginger Juice at Yee Shun Milk Company
This dessert, ordered hot with ginger juice, has a consistency somewhere between warm milk and pudding. The ginger adds a spicy kick to the sweetness. It is, quite simply, one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, with a taste that stays with you long after you leave. Though there were tons of cheap eats to try, I ended up returning for seconds.
Cost: HK$26 (US$3.35)
506 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Budget Hong Kong” chronicles one writer’s efforts to authentically experience one of the world’s most expensive cities, while traveling on a shoestring. Read the whole series here.

Dim Sum Dialogues: Chinese Tea

One of my only objectives this weekend was to write an article about traditional Chinese tea. I had been entertaining visions of myself walking down a dark side street in Central and discovering an old wooden tea house guarded by an ancient man with a long wispy beard. I would then bow with respect or give him a secret handshake that would allow me inside access to a tea that the man had just spent hours brewing – and I imagine that it would be the most fragrant and refreshing tea I’ve ever tasted.

So I asked some of my local friends where I could go to get some proper tea, and the most popular response was “well…there’s a tea museum in Central park”…but the recommendations for drinking tea in a traditional tea-house were few & far between. I ended up going to the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware (which is now undergoing renovations) to find out more. Although they had a nice collection of 17th century utensils, the overall exhibit was more disappointing than the realization that my vision of ancient men brewing special recipes from long expired dynasties would not materialize.
And I suppose that this is the story of Hong Kong. The practices of conventional Chinese culture have in many ways been paved over by a hybrid east-meets-west society that bears a significant amount of influence from western nations. Sure, the streets of Kowloon and Sheung Wan are still home to the conventional wet markets and local men that sit in the vast recreational parks playing mahjong with their shirts off. It will be generations before this Hong Kong disappears. But simple things like food, fashion sense, and popular culture are a sort of mash-up, resulting in a product that is perhaps unique to Hong Kong.

The formalities of ancient tea preparation have been forgotten for the more relaxed and casual style found in dim-sum restaurants. The term Yum cha (飲茶), or “drinking tea” in Cantonese is primarily used as a verb to describe the act of going out to eat dim sum, showing just how closely tied the act of drinking tea has become to this style of food. In many of these restaurants it’s possible to be served teas like jasmine, chrysantheumum, and oolong – but the preparation is no special ritual. It would be uncommon for people in Hong Kong to only go out for tea, and instead most people would go out for “one bowl of tea – and two pieces of dim sum” (盅兩件) .

One of the most interesting traditions of tea that has evolved in Hong Kong is “milk-tea”. The British colonists that ruled Hong Kong for over 150 years brought with them the age-old habit of afternoon black tea, served with milk. If you’ve ever spent an extensive amount of time in England, then you know that a good cup of tea with milk is the lifeblood of the English. This tradition caught on, and evaporated milk began to replace the regular milk customarily mixed with several black teas at once, giving the tea a rich and creamy taste.

In modern Hong Kong, people drink milk tea with breakfast, lunch, or dinner – and take it hot when the weather favors it, or with ice cubes when the humidity of the summer is unbearable. The signs of a good cup of milk tea are found in how smooth and full-bodied it is, or if it leaves a white residue on the lip of the cup after a sip has been drunk. This is probably the most common type of tea that you’ll find across restaurants in Hong Kong, and definitely worth a try.

If I didn’t know the history behind things like milk-tea, it would be easy to assume that it grew out of a Chinese practice. But the more I try to dissect what makes Hong Kong special, I’m beginning to see just how many cultures have contributed to make this city a multi-cultural melting pot (or rice cooker) that’s slowly developing an identity of it’s own.