The A-Z of Hong Kong Street Food

A is for…

Airplane olives (fei gei lam)
Hongkonger Kwok Kam-kei gave these preserved olives their name: “Uncle Kei” would throw bags of the olives straight into homes of customers. As tastes change, these salty-sour-sweet snacks are getting hard to find. These days they’re mostly sold in preserved sweet shops, but Uncle Kei’s widow occasionally sells the originals from the same battered green olive-shaped tin.
Get it here: Outside Public Bank, 15 Nga Tsin Wai Rd., Kowloon City.

B is for…

Bowl pudding (put chai gou)
The perfect on-the-go dessert, bowl puddings are sugary, wobbly, gelatinous carbs studded with red beans and served either in a porcelain bowl or held up with two bamboo sticks. They’re best when they’re warm, soft and sticky, so look for a vendor with a traditional wooden box.
Get it here: Kwan Kee Store, Shop 10, 115-117 Fuk Wah St., Sham Shui Po, 2360-0328.
Buns, big ones from steamers (bao)
Does anything beat the inevitably oversized, inevitably understuffed buns you buy from outdoor steaming racks? Yes, the dough is never as delicate as it is in a restaurant. Yes, it rapidly begins to sweat into the plastic bag it’s thrown into. But for a cheap, fluffy taste of heaven, there’s nothing better.

C is for…

Cheung fun
You know the dim sum version of these thin rice noodle sheets, filled with shrimp, beef, or char siu. But take it to the streets, and these bad boys are rolled up plain, cut into bite-sized pieces, and served in a heap sprinkled with sesame seeds, soy sauce, and plenty of sweet and peanut sauces. They’re even better with a squirt of chili.
Get it here: Fat Kee, 67 Kin Yip St., Yuen Long, 2474-2201.
Cha yeep daan (tea eggs)
It’s always that savory, spicy, earthy scent that lures you to a pot of boiling, brownish, cracked “tea eggs.” They steep slowly in a brew of tea and spices, soaking it all up under the shell. Peel one whole in search of that unmistakable marbling, and then bite down. A winter hack: tea eggs are served boiling hot—the perfect hand-warmer that you can eat afterwards.
Chongqing hot & sour noodles (shuen laat fun)
Slippery potato noodles drowned in an angry red spicy and sour soup, covered with fresh coriander. Do not wear white and eat these unless you’re looking for a cheap and easy tie-die.
Get it here: Dang Wong, 72 Bute St., Mong Kok.

D is for…

Dragon’s beard candy (lung so tong)
This traditional Chinese sweet melts on your tongue like cotton candy. Sugar is stretched over and over again to make fine strands wrapped around a chewy and crunchy filling of chopped peanuts, coconut and sesame seeds.
Get it here: 42-44 Sai Yeung Choi St. South, Mong Kok, 9880-2187.
Dumplings, fried chive (gau choi gau)
They’re hot, greasy, sticky, hard to eat and they’ll ruin your breath for the rest of the day, but you should never pass up on these fragrant parcels. Brush with far too much chili sauce, bite down, then hit up Mannings for some mouthwash.

E is for…

Egg puffs (gai dan zai)
These iconic Hong Kong-style waffles are made in a dimpled, double-sided griddle, resulting in hollow, circular “egg puffs”—hence the name gai dan zai, or “little eggs.” It’s the hollowness that’s key, delivering a crispy exterior while the insides are soft and chewy. In recent years, creative flavors have been popping up: chocolate, taro, green tea and even nutella-filled varieties. In Tai O, they still cook them the traditional way, over charcoal stoves for an extra punch of flavor. You should only ever eat them piping hot and freshly made.
Egg tarts (dan taat)
Buttery dough and a creamy rich custard, barely set: egg tarts are a thing of beauty. Whether you prefer the caramelized Macanese variety (po taat) or the Hong Kong version—with shortcrust or flaky pastry—an occasional egg tart is a surefire way to true happiness and a larger waistline. Get them warm and eat them immediately.

F is for…

Fish balls, curry (ga lei yu daan)
The holy grail of Hong Kong street snacks. Fish balls rose to popularity in the 1950s: this hawker food was made from corn starch and lower-quality fish, then deep-fried—giving each fish ball that distinct golden color. Drizzled in curry sauce, they make for cheap, tasty treats that are oh-so-moreish. Hong Kong’s mobile hawkers are mostly a thing of the past, but thankfully squeezy, just-this-right-side-of-rubbery fish balls have survived them.
Fried chicken leg (za gai bei)
Sometimes, Korean Fried Chicken (read on) doesn’t cut it. Sometimes you need a crispy, moist, oily, salty leg of chicken stuffed into a brown paper bag and eaten with guilt and joy in equal measure. Bring something to clean your fingers afterwards.
Get it here: Danish Bakery, G/F, Leishun Court, 106 Leighton Rd., Causeway Bay, 2576-7353.

G is for…

Grilled squid tentacles (hau yau yu)
Forget the luminescent orange variety. Truly, properly delicious grilled squid bits are fresh, juicy and charred. Brush with a generous dose of honey and let them make your day.
Glutinous rice rolls (ci faan)
Sticky rice is wrapped around a yau za gwai donut (read on), pork floss and pickle, rolled tightly and served piping hot. Soft, sticky, crunchy, and sour—it’ll burn your fingers and sit heavy in the stomach for hours, but you’ll want another one in minutes.
Get it here: Shanghai Hong Kong Noodle Shop, 29 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay, 2576-1343.
Grass jelly (leung fun)
One reason to look forward to the city’s hot, humid summers is the satisfaction of a bowl of refreshing, cooling grass jelly. Admittedly its amorphous black blobbiness doesn’t make it the most attractive of foods: but when this gently bitter jelly is served with sweetened milk and the fruit of your choice, it’s the perfect antidote to the heat.

H is for…

Haw flakes (saan zaa beng)
In northern China, hawthorn fruits are glazed and sold streetside on long sticks. No such luck in the south, but we can still spare a moment’s thought for the humble haw flake. After all, they’re just so fun to eat. Tearing open that paper packaging to get at each sweet, tart disc: maybe just one more wafer-thin slice?

I is for…

Iced Lemon Tea (dong ling cha)
The best cure for a sweltering summer day? Iced lemon tea. Everything from that refreshing sharpness to the actual act of mashing the lemon into the bottom of the glass—perfect.

J is for…

Juices of all kinds
Forget those trendy juice bars: they’re a waste of time. Head instead to an old-school fruit stall and order yourself a fresh juice squeezed to order, for a third of the price of their fancier cousins.

K is for…

Korean fried chicken
The Korean Wave has hit Hong Kong hard. Part of that obsession with flawless K-pop stars and K-dramas includes the late-night habit of going for fried chicken and beer at a “Hof.” This delicious double-fried poultry goes with almost any tipple, and comes drenched in sweet and/or spicy sauce.
Get it here: Emperor Chicken, 8/F, Dragon Centre, 37 Yen Chow St., Sham Shui Po, 6689-6533.

L is for…

Lor Mai Chi
Old-school style Cantonese glutinous rice balls may not differ hugely from their more famous Japanese cousins, mochi, but a lot of heart goes into making them. You can find every flavor under the sun these days (Durian: Dessert Playground, Shop E, G/F, Rose Mansion, 1 Prat Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2411-1139), but there’s an old couple in Tai O who still handmakes ‘em daily, stuffed with classic flavors such as red bean or Hakka-style peanut and coconut. They’re chewy and gummy but also silky, lightly sweet and wonderful.
Get it here: Choi’s Tea Snacks (茶果財), G/F, 106 Shek Tsai Po St., Tai O.

M is for…

Maltose crackers (mak nga tong)
Back in the day, this was the favorite snack of many a Hong Kong kid. Maltose sugar and flour are mixed with sugarcane juice and left to go all gooey. The sticky, sugary-sweet maltose is then rolled up onto a thin strip of bamboo and squeezed between two crunchy, crisp saltine crackers. Maltose crackers are pretty hard to come by these days, but you can still find them at Chinese New Year flower markets. Alternatively, you could always just make them at home…

N is for…

Nougat (ngau gaat tong)
Feel like you’re going to crack a tooth open every time you bite into a nougat? You haven’t tried the Hong Kong variety, made by local brand Cherikoff. It’s soft, more like a marshmallow than the nougat you’re used to, and the flavor is subtly milky.  At any rate, it’s certainly better for your gums.

O is for…

Offal, braised (ngau zap)
Yes, offal is an acquired taste. If prepared poorly, that taste it acquires is awful. But the real masters get rid of the bad, make the best out of its textures and braise it in an awesome, explosively flavorful soup. Beginners should start with beef stomach (ngau tou), which is pleasantly springy and chewy. Just don’t think of it as “tripe” and you’ll be fine.
Offal, fried (zaa dai cheung)
You’re not truly a Hong Kong street food lover unless you learn to appreciate deep-fried pork intestine slices. It’s hardcore stuff: you get the full cross-section of the intestine. But it’s also crispy, tender in the middle and dipped in a sweet and sour sauce that flawlessly balances out its oiliness. Do it, and thank us later.
Get it here: Delicious Food, Shop 10, G/F, 30-32 Nullah Rd., Prince Edward, 2142-7468.

P is for…

Pork chop bun (zhu par bao)
This Macanese import made its way to our shores in the 90s, and now it’s a Hong Kong staple. It’s nothing fancy, just pure comfort food: a crisp bun, buttered and toasted on the inside, hugging a thin, freshly pan-fried pork chop, juicy and tender. What could be better?
Get it here: Lan Fong Yuen,
G/F, 2 Gage St., Central, 2544-3895.

Q is for…

Quail’s egg (um chun daan)
If you think it’s just a mini chicken egg, you’re wrong. Despite their size, quail’s eggs pack a ton of flavor, and they’re much creamier and “eggier” than their chicken brethren. The salt-baked variety, usually found in carts accompanying roasted chestnuts, is even more addictive.

R is for…

Roasted chestnuts (lut zi)
There’s no sound better in a Hong Kong winter than the one rising from the roasted chestnut trolleys: the roar of the gas burner and the scrape of hawkers shuffling their chestnuts through charcoal. They’ll always burn your fingers—but to catch a December tram down to Western as you crack your way through a bag of chestnuts is a feeling unmatched on this earth.
Red beancurd cookies (ngau yi so)
These striped winter cookies are made with a swirl of fermented red beancurd, making them savory and slightly sweet all at once. The cookies are oily and crunchy, with a texture that’s not unlike a potato chip. They’re known in Cantonese as “cow’s ear cookies,” thanks to their shape.
Get it here: Chan Yee Jai, G/F, 176B Queen’s Rd. Central, 2543-8414.

S is for…

Stinky tofu (chau dau fu)
Don’t be fooled by the rotten smell—stinky tofu, a deep-fried fermented beancurd, actually has an anticlimactically subtle taste. It’s easy to get addicted to the salty, slightly pungent flavor, but it’s even easier to fall for the crunchy outside and soft interior. Pile on the sweet chili sauce and feel bad you ever doubted.
Spiral potato chips
Why have regular potato chips when you could crunch on a salty, spiral tower? Eat ‘em plain, doused in pepper, or with whatever toppings they’ve got lying around—what trip to Cheung Chau would be complete without one?
Get it here: Island Brewery, 16 Tung Wan Rd., Cheung Chau, 9281-7755.
Spring onion cakes (chong yau beng)
There are thinner fried and thicker baked versions of this bread, and they both have two things in common: lots of spring onion, and lots of oil. Salty, rich and crisp, you’ll want something to cut through the grease. Maybe another slice?

T is for…

“Three of a Kind” (jeen yeung saam bo)
Fry everything! Despite the name, “Three of a Kind” actually refers to an assortment of fried or pan-fried vegetables, jumbo sausages, beancurd and fish balls, widely available in many street food stalls. The most iconic are the green peppers and eggplant, stuffed with minced fish paste. With a touch of char and an explosion of textures, three is never enough.
Takoyaki Balls
A popular Japanese import, Takoyaki—grilled batter stuffed with octopus—originated from Osaka. The key lies in the rotation while grilling the batter, so that the whole ball is evenly golden brown. It’s all topped off with a tart sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise, and plenty of floaty bonito flakes.
Get it here: Japan Boat, Shop 5, 579 Nathan Rd., Yau Ma Tei.
Tofu fa
Tofu fa pudding is the La Perla of soybean desserts: Smooth, soft, sweet and barely there. A good, cold tofu fa can win round even the most strident soy-loather—especially when it’s doused in red sugar and ginger syrup.
Get it here: Kin Hing Ah Por Tofu Dessert, 1 Yung Shue Wan, Lamma.

U is for…

Udon in a bag
This relatively new street food takes customization to the next level: choose your noodle and then pick from rows and rows of condiments and ingredients—from squid and seaweed to mushrooms and pig’s ear—and then the staff will mix it all together with soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil, served in a convenient clear plastic bag. Ask for extra garlic and spicy sauce.
Get it here: Bak Mei Sik Bun (百味食品), 3/F, New Town Mall, 688 Nathan Rd., Mong Kok.

V is for…

Vanilla ice cream (suet go)
Are Hong Kong’s Mister Softee ice cream trucks the best deal in the SAR? Just $8 gets you a creamy dose of waffle cone goodness that’s a nostalgic bullet to the brain. Just follow the “Blue Danube” jingle, and don’t stop to wonder how the driver manages to listen to it all day, every day. Forever. That’ll be $8, please.

W is for…

Waffles, egg (gaat zai beng)
When the attraction of egg puffs subsides, be glad the egg waffle is there to pick up the slack. Thin waffles spread with butter, peanut butter, condensed
milk and sugar: It’s a race against time to eat the thing before all the goodness seeps out the bottom. It’s a race we’ve never won.

X is for…

Xiaolongbao (siu long bao)
The venerable xiaolongbao is one of those foods that brings people together. There’s just something about the combo of the chunky pork, savory broth and that hit of ginger and vinegar—whether you’re eating your first or your 1,000th soup dumpling, they always go down easy and never get old.

Y is for…

Yau za gwai (fried bread stick)
It’s amazing that something so delicious can come out of hate. These sticks were originally effigies of a Song Dynasty official and his wife, deep-fried out of anger after the couple framed national hero Yue Fei. Now, we all love the snack, especially when dipped in breakfast congee, or soaked in sugar water. From hate to love: that’s the power of good food.

Z is for…

A tricky street food, perhaps. But these sticky rice dumplings with their bamboo leaf wrappings have an unbeatable fragrance. The trick to to make sure you get a bit of fatty pork in each and every bite: that satisfying oiliness is second to none. Some prefer to eat it with soy sauce, and some with white sugar. We say: go for both.

# is for…

7-Eleven food
The hot food counter at 7-Eleven is the gift that keeps on giving. Day after day, the hardworking staff behind the counter churn out cheap, hot foods for all. Try the instant noodles (sans soup, just garlic) and the siu mai: they’re devoid of any nutritional value, and extremely tasty nontheless.
Get it here: 7-Eleven, obviously.24 Herbs Tea (ya sei mei)
Herbal teas are traditionally drunk in the southern regions of China thanks to the hot, humid climate, as they’re believed to help cool the body down: 24 herbs is the most famous blend of them all. It’s sharp and pungent with an intensely bitter taste that abruptly hits the back of your throat, then sits and lingers. Still, it’s not all bad—this concoction supposedly cures everything from halitosis to constipation. Can’t quite hack it? Try an iced Five-Flower Tea (ng fa cha), which is considerably more approachable.

* Courtesy HK magazine.


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