While I, along with the majority of people in the world, usually spend the holidays resting at home, the restless New Yorker in me decided to make this year’s vacation eventful and productive. Instead of relaxing in the suburbs over holiday break (it only leads me to feel restless and helpless within the first few days of January) I spent three weeks studying and exploring one of the most culturally and gastronomically diverse cities in the world — Hong Kong.
Since I was young, I had dreamt of going to Hong Kong and other parts of Asia (particularly Japan, Singapore, India and Thailand), and now that my college career has hit the halfway mark, it was time to start checking these destinations off my travel bucket list. Luckily I didn’t have to look far to find a reason to go to Hong Kong when the stars aligned and the perfect study abroad opportunity fell in my lap: NYU’s two week J-term global food studies course in Hong Kong. This was literally the ideal class for me considering I love culinary and cultural exploration and the course fell within one of my two majors at NYU. After a few months of going through the application and preparation process, my spot in the program was confirmed and I planned my journey leaving one week to explore and the other two for class and research.
Considering Hong Kong is home to people from a variety of different cultures, it comes to no surprise that the dining scene there is just as eclectic and interesting as New York’s. However, its complex history and cultural diversity also make it particularly difficult to define what unique aspects make up “Hong Kong cuisine.” This question is almost impossible to answer, but it is definitely an interesting topic that I considered during my trip. For those who follow me on Instagram, you probably have already seen some of the cool dishes I tried while abroad. However, those sporadic photo updates do not fully capture my experience, so I decided to put together an overview of the foods I enjoyed and the experiences I had while in Hong Kong.
Cantonese Dim Sum
Dim sum is one of the most prominent meals in Hong Kong’s dining scene and a noteworthy staple to what people consider to be “Hong Kong” cuisine. I was lucky enough to embark on two different dim sum journeys: Sunday dim sum lunch and an early dim sum breakfast.
Sunday dim sum, Restaurant Peony, Discovery Bay, Hong Kong
This was my first dim sum experience complete with dishes such as steamed dumplings, “siu mai,” chicken’s feet, pork buns, rice noodle rolls, honey chicken wings, har gow and deep fried squid.
Breakfast dim sum, Paramount Banquet Hall, Kowloon City, Hong Kong
This early morning dim sum breakfast was the kick off experience to the NYU program. Many of the dishes were the same as the ones from the traditional Sunday dim sum lunch with the addition of radish cakes, a sweet sponge bread and vegetarian rice noodles and dumplings.
Steamed Pork Buns
Fluffy, soft steamed buns stuffed with cantonese barbecue pork. Basically where baby angels come from.
There are several wet markets in Hong Kong, but I only had the chance to see two in Kowloon. As can be predicted, the meat sections of the wet markets were pretty morbid with different animal body parts dangling on hooks and bloody animal meat being chopped up.
Temple Street Night Market
Located in Kowloon, the Temple Street night market is Hong Kong’s largest night market featuring vendors selling all kinds of merchandise, fortune tellers on almost every corner, and most importantly, a variety of food centers, Dai Pai Dongs and interesting foods.
Vegetarian Lunch at the Po Lin Monastery
The vegetarian lunch at Po Lin Monastery was served at a communal dim sum style table with dishes such as mixed mushroom soup, fried spring rolls, deep fried bean curd sheets in a sweet lemon sauce, mushrooms and vegetables, lotus and potato paste, and of course, tea and white rice. To read more about the vegetarian lunch at Po Lin, there is more information on Serious Eats.
Jumbo Floating Restaurant
Jumbo is essentially a floating tourist trap but I really wanted to go. The menu is extremely long and complicated with an array of Asian-inspired dishes and unique ingredient pairings. We ended up ordering fried rice with egg whites and foie gras, goose liver puff pastries and braised shark’s fin soup — a Chinese delicacy that I felt very guilty trying due to the moral issues surrounding shark finning, but I also wanted to taste as an attempt to understand the phenomenon.
The Principal is an upscale western restaurant located in Wan Chai. After many Chinese meals, my friends and I decided to splurge and try some “Western” cuisine in Hong Kong to see if it was any different than “new American” cuisine in the States. Surprisingly, there was no real difference between the Western food at the Principal than food that could be found at a local upscale New York restaurant (or any new American restaurant for that matter).
The News Room
The second Western restaurant I went to was The News Room in Quarry Bay. This eatery was very busy and much more casual than the Principal with similar western dishes that could be found in the States.
While this post doesn’t even begin to cover all of the food I consumed during my three week dining adventure, I hope it highlights the presence of Cantonese and Western cuisine in the city and sheds light on the importance of markets (wet, dry, day and night) in the culinary scene. In addition to eating all the foods listed above, I also had the chance to explore Hong Kong’s night life (it’s pretty awesome), eat some duck’s tongue, accidentally stumble into a Chinese product expo, dine at several Dai Pai Dongs, enjoy Langar at a Sikh temple, flee to Macau for an unreal Saturday night, and make new friends who are all interested in the wonders of food and culture.