Article

Dim sum is Hong Kong's signature dish.

Photograph by Jodi Cobb, National Geographic

Fast Food
Leung says a lot of Hong Kong eateries do not last long. “We also see a lot of restaurants open for one or two years and then just close down,” Leung says. “The major reason behind it is probably that the rent in Hong Kong is very high.” 

By Stuart Thornton

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

There are few people who know Hong Kong’s culinary scene better than Silvana Leung. The operations manager and lead guide for Hong Kong Foodie, Leung gives tours of the bustling city that allow visitors to get a taste of its unique cuisine
 
“Our mission is to help these visitors to go to local restaurants and be able to order food for themselves after taking the tour,” Leung says. “This gives an idea of what Hong Kong’s culinary culture is like.”
 
The Chinese province of Guangdong neighbors Hong Kong, itself a Special Administrative Region on China’s southern coast. Guangdong was formerly known as Canton, and Hong Kong enjoys Cantonese culture. 
 
“Traditional Cantonese cuisine is a lot of stir-fried dishes and steamed dishes,” Leung says.
 
Elsewhere in China, other foods are popular. 
 
“A lot of what defines these regional cuisines has to do with the weather and how people live in this area,” Leung says. “In northern China, they eat a lot of noodles and dumplings, whereas here in the southern part of China, we eat a lot of rice. Also, in colder places like northern China and even inland China, it is known for spicy food.”
 
Dim sum is one Cantonese specialty that has spread around the world. Very popular in Hong Kong, dim sum is a wide assortment of small portions and usually includes steamed or fried dumplings. 
 
“Dim sum in Hong Kong is definitely different,” Leung says. “It is way better than anywhere else you can find dim sum!”
 
Colonial Past
 
One aspect that distinguishes Hong Kong cuisine from other Chinese food is its British influences. Hong Kong was under British rule from 1841 to 1997. 
 
Leung says that in most of China, a typical breakfast consists of rice, noodles, or congee (a rice porridge). In Hong Kong, however, baked goods are popular. She attributes this at least in part to a lingering British influence. 
 
“I think it also has to do with the lifestyle of the Hong Kong people,” Leung says. “Everyone is so hurried every day to go to work or rush somewhere, so we need something that is convenient to eat in the morning. That’s why people can pass by these bakeries, grab a bun and then go back to work and have their breakfast.”
 
Another city staple is Hong Kong-style milk tea, which is sweetened with evaporated or condensed milk.
 
“We got the English breakfast tea, and we turned it into Hong Kong-style milk tea, which is much stronger than English breakfast tea,” Leung says.
 
Hong Kong residents also enjoy an afternoon tea, another remnant of the city’s days as a British colony
 
“If you go to these fast-food places, they will have afternoon tea sets,” Leung says. “From 3 p.m. onwards, they will have these afternoon teas that are toast and a cup of milk tea.” 
 
Leung says the city’s Hong Kong-style French toast is another example. 
 
“They actually make a peanut butter sandwich soaked in eggs,” she says, explaining the recipe. “Then you deep fry it or pan fry it. They add some butter on top—just to melt the butter on the toast—and then we add some honey syrup all over it.”
 
Hong Kong’s colonial past influences more than just what is on the plate. 
 
“Besides food, Hong Kong’s architecture, street names, road signs and judicial system are all English-influenced,” Leung says. “Hong Kong was a British colony for over 150 years. A big part of our history and culture are heavily English-influenced. Our Foodie Tours also discuss some of these influences.”
 
Melting Pot
 
Being a bustling, cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong has more than just English influences in its cuisine. 
 
Japanese ramen restaurants, which sell the namesake noodle dish, have become prevalent throughout Hong Kong. 
 
“Japanese food has been very popular among locals for the past 20 years,” Leung says. “There isn’t a significantly large Japanese population, but the Japanese culture has a significant impact on locals, as people like listening to J-pop, watching Japanese TV series, following the Japanese fashion trends, etc.”
 
Another staple among Hong Kong foodies is Portuguese egg tarts, a pastry. 
 
“Portuguese egg tarts are somewhat popular in Hong Kong, because they are popular in Macau,” Leung says. “Macau and Hong Kong are so close that Hong Kong people like going to Macau. Macau was a Portuguese colony. That is why they are famous for their Portuguese egg tarts. Even when I go to Macau, I still line up for Portuguese egg tarts.”
 
Some culinary fads from other countries can become very popular in Hong Kong—and then disappear quickly. 
 
“Fifteen years ago, we had the Taiwanese bubble tea influence,” Leung says. “But now if you go to Hong Kong, you don’t even see any bubble tea around.”
 
According to Leung, her city is losing a lot of its traditional Cantonese restaurants. 
 
“These restaurants just cannot afford to pay the rent,” she says. “Because what they are selling is just something people eat on a day-to-day basis—not something that is very expensive [such as] seafood dishes or [food from] high-end Chinese restaurants.”
 
In addition, development is transforming Hong Kong’s culinary world. 
 
“Shopping malls charge people high rent, and that is why only these chain stores can survive in these shopping malls,” Leung says. “I would say in general, (in) the food scene in Hong Kong, that we are losing a lot of these individual restaurants, but we are seeing a lot more chain stores around.”
 
Still, Leung is quick to tout the city as having a rich food culture that is definitely worth a taste. 
 
“I think Hong Kong is known not just as a shopping heaven,” she says, “but definitely as a food heaven!”

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

architecture

Noun

style and design of buildings or open spaces.

attribute

Verb

to think to be caused by.

bubble tea

Noun

beverage made with frothy flavored tea served over large gummy "pearls" of tapioca.

bustling

Adjective

busy.

coast

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Encyclopedic Entry: coast

colony

Noun

people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

congee

Noun

type of rice-based porridge popular in many eastern Asian countries.

convenient

Adjective

easy or available.

cosmopolitan

Adjective

familiar or comfortable all over the world, or to people from all over the world.

cuisine

Noun

a style of cooking.

culinary

Adjective

having to do with cooking or food preparation.

culture

Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

development

Noun

construction or preparation of land for housing, industry, or agriculture.

dim sum

Noun

Cantonese (southern Chinese) style of food prepared as individual-sized portions, usually including steamed or fried dumplings.

distinguish

Verb

to differentiate or recognize as different.

English breakfast tea

Noun

blend of black teas, often prepared with milk and sugar.

expensive

Adjective

very costly.

foodie

Noun

person who has an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of food.

inland

Adjective

area not near the ocean.

J-pop

Noun

(Japanese pop) popular music in Japanese or performed by Japanese musicians.

lingering

Adjective

remaining, not going away.

milk tea

Noun

black tea prepared with evaporated or condensed milk.

porridge

Noun

thick, pasty soup made from boiled cereals or beans.

prevalent

Adjective

common or widespread.

province

Noun

division of a country larger than a town or county.

Encyclopedic Entry: province

ramen

Noun

Japanese soup made of clear broth, thick noodles, and toppings such as vegetables and meat.

recipe

Noun

set of instructions for preparing a specific dish of food.

remnant

Noun

something that is left over.

rent

Noun

payment for use of a piece of property for a certain amount of time, usually a month.

seep

Verb

to slowly flow through a border.

tout

Verb

to promote, praise, or describe boastfully.

transform

Verb

to change from one form into another.

unique

Adjective

one of a kind.

weather

Noun

state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

Encyclopedic Entry: weather

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writer

Stuart Thornton

Editors

Jeannie Evers
Kara West

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

User Permissions

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.

If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact natgeocreative@ngs.org for more information and to obtain a license.

If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.

Media

Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner (download) of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.

Interactives

Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.