The edible landscape in Hong Kong is akin to a jigsaw puzzle.
For people who are not familiar with the country’s food culture, it is typically a haphazard navigation through extreme price points meshed with a salad bowl of options. The best part of being in a country where food reigns as king is that an abundance of choice is offered around the clock, non-stop, like a machine geared to produce treats that will tantalise even the most stubborn of connoisseurs.
Very frequently, the question that pops up is, “Where is cheap and good to eat in Hong Kong?” If compared to Singapore’s kopitiam prices, then Hong Kong’s prices easily double what people are used to paying for a simple plate of fried rice. A good gauge of a full meal (a bowl of noodles and a drink) will probably set one back about $30 to $40HKD ($5 to $7SGD).
Street restaurants may not necessarily be cheaper or better, and while their menus have more options, they are also more likely to inflate their prices for tourist groups. In the local university canteens, one main dish will usually go from $20HKD onwards.
There are cheaper options like McDonalds, which offers all-day value burgers at $11HKD each (barely $2), with familiar options like the Sausage McMuffin with Egg or Filet-O-Fish. So the question really is, how many burgers does it take for one to realise that eating should never be pared down to the absorption of nutriment?
How To Eat Cheaper In Hong Kong:
The cheapest times to eat are breakfast and afternoon tea.
Most Hong Kong establishments have multiple set menus, so make the time to peruse through the different menus if you know you’ll be returning another day. If timing is not an issue, try to plan your meals between 2pm to 4.30pm because afternoon tea sets are routinely priced lower as the restaurants are less crowded.
Afternoon tea menus do not strictly adhere to their British namesake, but instead, borrow the concept of eating between meals. While some places focus on uniquely local tea-time treats, such as red bean ice or thick buttered toasts, most diners will offer the same dishes at a lower price to boost the non-peak period.
Supermarkets and chain restaurants are worth checking out.
If you are backpacking and looking for long-term options to ease up on your budget, then consider stepping into the local supermarkets and chain “fast-food” restaurants. Even if cooking is not something that you want to consider, there are several options for ready-made and packed meals in the large supermarkets, such as Park n Shop and Wellcome.
Most supermarkets have their own bakeries, deli counters, and even roast meat sections where you can buy boxes of rice topped with charsiew, roasted pork, and even braised innards. Fancier chains such as Jason’s Marketplace and Taste also have vegetarian options and cooked-to-order Japanese dishes like takoyaki and seared fishes.
Chain restaurants in Hong Kong are also another affordable option without compromising on quality. The three most commonly seen are probably Fairwood, Maxim, and Cafe de Coral. Their logos are in variations of red and orange, very much like our fast-food joints, but that’s where the resemblance stops. These restaurants primarily serve Asian meals in a brisk manner, with the customers ordering, collecting, and bringing the food to their tables by themselves.
Taste-wise, it is better than cafeteria standard and definitely healthier than fast food. They do up to four different rotations of their menu options every day, depending on the time, and can open till quite late. On the menu are local favourites like pork chop baked rice, duck noodles, congee, and even hot pot during the colder months.
When possible, try to BYOD – Bring Your Own Drink.
Most people don’t really feel the pinch until they realise that a small cup of drink will cost anywhere from $16 to $25HKD ($3 onwards) in a humble cha chan teng. It is not common practice to serve free water in Hong Kong, and the cups of tea that are left on the table are conventionally for washing utensils.
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Drink options in Hong Kong are relatively simple, from coffee to milk tea to ying yang (a mix of both coffee and tea), but also means that they can get repetitive. Too much dairy can also cause constipation. A much better option is to carry a bottle of water around and skip ordering drinks altogether.
Where To Eat At In Hong Kong:
Ma Sa Restaurant (孖沙茶餐廳)
Tucked in the alleyways of Sheung Wan, the highlight of this cha chan teng only sounds deceptively-simple: charsiew rice. When it is served up, the barbequed meat can hardly be seen because everything is covered over with three drippy orbs of golden yolks and a dash of their special dark soya sauce.
The rice mountain that holds everything together is the equivalent of two plate’s portions, and the char siew chunks are tender and lean. It is not only aesthetically pleasing but also very hearty and satisfying for $33HKD ($5.80). All the flavours, meat, egg, and sauce, are undemanding and unpretentious, allowing each bite to be simple enough to keep you going until the plate is clean.
Where? G/F, 23 Hiller Street, Sheung Wan
Closest metro? Sheung Wan Station
In Sham Shui Po, it seems like everyone grew up eating their beef and egg sandwich and cannot get enough of it. Renowned for their make-to-order sandwiches and pig trotters noodles, this establishment serves up food 24 hours a day, every day. Priced at $20HKD ($3.50), the beef and egg sandwich consists of a thick omelette made with fresh beef pieces between two pieces of white bread, buttered and toasted to order.
The beef is flavorful and the egg is seasoned to perfection — trust us, one sandwich is not going to be enough. Also recommended is their pig trotters noodles ($23HKD / $4), which is just a steaming bowl of bouncy egg noodles, tender trotters, and a delectable soup base that escapes the mistake of being too greasy or rich.
Where? G/F, 38 Kweilin Street, Sham Shui Po
Closest metro? Sham Shui Po Station
One Dim Sum (一點心)
The many traditions associated with dim sum as cuisine can be credited to Hong Kong. The practice of drinking tea (yum cha) or allowing food to touch the heart (dim sum) really expanded over the last few decades to spearhead itself into a driving identifier of Hong Kong’s culture. This is not to say that all dim sum in Hong Kong is good. That would be akin to saying that all pizzas in Italy are good.
One Dim Sum has a special spot because it hits the right mark between price and quality. The prices here are almost halved of what you will find in other dim sum restaurants, and the quality easily surpasses the majority of them.
Some of the dishes that are really good here are the hargaos, chicken claws, pan fried radish cake, and baked charsiew baos. The last is a fluffy dream of what a bun aspire to be when chefs are having their good days — golden glazed pillows filled with generous sweet and savoury pork fillings.
Another must order is their Four Treasures, which is a steamed dish of four different components wrapped in a beancurd sheet. The beancurd and yam chunk absorbs the flavorful juices from the soft chicken, salty ham, and earthy mushroom, transforming this dish into one of the unique dim sum offerings.
Where? Shop 1 & 2, G/F, Kenwood Mansion, 15 Playing Field Road, Prince Edward
Closest metro? Prince Edward Station
Si Sun Fast Food (時新快餐店)
On some days, a mysterious craving for burgers will arise. If you are not willing to splurge on a gourmet burger but still want something less processed, then opt for this hole-in-the-wall burger joint. Frequented by university students around the Whampoa area, the diner gives off a distinctly old school vibe.
The indoor area is small, with seating options that appear to be procured straight out of an elementary school, but the burgers are divine. The Double Burger option, which has egg, cheese, and double beef patties, is $24HKD ($4) without drinks or fries, but that can be added on for under $2 each. The burgers come piping hot with their special sauce and caramelised onions, and it is a gloriously messy affair from the first to the last bite.
Where? G/F, 1A Whampoa Street, Hung Hom
Closest metro? Hung Hom Station
In addition to being very budget-friendly, this Japanese restaurant was recently named Hong Kong’s top choice in unagi don. For $88HKD ($15), you get a huge unagi rice bowl and miso soup — the real deal with chunks of ingredients and seaweed.
Their serving of unagi is apparently the biggest portion in Hong Kong at that price point, which makes the entire deal pretty sweet. It really is just a bowl of satisfying grilled eel with glinting sweet caramelised sauce and steaming hot rice. It is wildly popular with locals and Japanese expats, so be prepared to queue during the peak hours.
Where? Shop D, G/F, Lux Theatre, 14 Ming On Street, Hung Hom
Closest metro? Whampoa Station
All images from Cally Cheung / Popspoken
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