Food of the Fragrant Harbor Part 1: Earth & Sea

44 comments
Asia, Hong Kong
Hong Kong's Irresistible Roast Duck

Hong Kong’s Irresistible Roast Duck

Hong Kong is known among Asian visitors as a gastronomers’ paradise. Apart from its world-renowned dim sum, countless local dishes await to be discovered and devoured beneath the endless skyscrapers – reason enough for me to go back after two visits to the city.

From protein-based delicacies to fresh seafood platters, from one of the strangest-looking dishes on the planet to sweet buns and desserts, Hong Kong’s culinary scene has been shaped for over 150 years thanks to its strategic location on the main trade route between China and Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Cantonese, Chinese, British and Western cultures left their traces in Hong Kong cuisine, giving it a distinctive sweet and savory taste unlike in any other dishes I have tried before.

For me, the undisputable king of Hong Kong’s local dishes is siu ap, roast duck with the skin glistening like olives and the meat so succulent, tender and fragrant. From fancy restaurants to streetside food vendors, siu ap is a common sight in Hong Kong, but some are better than others. Noticing my deep fondness of the irresistible duck, James’ mother made sure that I always had it every other day, for the entire two weeks I was there.

Ngor ho chung yi sik siu ap,” I said to James’ grandmother on a family lunch during the Chinese New Year, an expression I had learned long before coming to Hong Kong, which translates into: “I really like to eat siu ap.” She then took a napkin and grabbed a very big duck thigh before handing it to me with a big smile.

On a different day when we went to Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung, home to Hong Kong’s best beaches and some of its most beautiful hiking trails, we had lunch at an unassuming beachside restaurant. Thanks to an old local deliveryman that day we were introduced to the erroneously named but surprisingly addictive Singapore noodles. Orinally a Cantonese dish, it might be named after the Southeast Asian country for the exotic ingredients used to create the yellow spice-seasoned dish, thus the more appealing name.

Surrounded by sea, it is natural for Hong Kongers to have fresh seafood on their plates, at home and at restaurants all over the territory. Using fresh fish and lemon among other ingredients, the delicious sweet and sour fish was freshness and simplicity at its best, as was the salt and pepper squid we had in Ham Tin Wan. However a wider selection of fresh fish and fruits de mer is available on Lamma Island, a small crooked island in the South China Sea dotted with decent seafood restaurants serving everything from the ubiquitous squids and prawns to the more upscale scallops, all at reasonable prices.

Going to Hong Kong’s countryside is not the only way to find the best dishes the city has to offer. After watching the spectacular fireworks show at Victoria Harbor, we walked all the way from Admiralty to Causeway Bay to dine in a local noodles joint. A bowl of beef brisket with flat rice noodles – hor fun – and chopped spring onions in rich beef broth was not only a perfect hot meal for the cold night, but also proved how good food could be found at modest places.

But even after trying all those different dishes, one might not be prepared to have a dark, slimy and seemingly rotten duck egg on his plate. The century egg, also known as pidan, was a strange creation when food invention went beyond imagination. Made from duck eggs wrapped in rice hulls, clay, ash, salt and quicklime, it takes weeks to months for the process to eventually change the eggs’ colors. People usually cut them in small pieces and put them in congee where the eggs’ rich and savory flavor complements the subtle taste of the light broth used in the congee.

Those who have a sweet tooth will also find Hong Kong a very pleasant place to be as sweet treats are not something the city is lacking in. Pineapple bun is one of the most common, and a good way to start getting acquainted with Hong Kong’s sweet food. While golden cake brought me back to Indonesia due to its similar flavor, color and texture with Bika Ambon, a famous cake from Medan in North Sumatra. Possibly it was the Hokkien people from southern China who brought along the recipe of the cake when they came to Sumatra many decades ago and introduced it to the locals until it gained popularity across the nation.

However no culinary adventure in Hong Kong would be complete without trying the dim sum, and it is so special that it deserves its own post.

Singapore Noodles, Tai Long Wan

Singapore Noodles, Tai Long Wan

Salt and Pepper Squid, Tai Long Wan

Salt and Pepper Squid, Tai Long Wan

Sweet and Sour Fish, Tai Long Wan

Sweet and Sour Fish, Tai Long Wan

Salted Duck Eggs Drying under the Sun, Tai O

Salted Duck Eggs Drying under the Sun, Tai O

Squid Fried Rice, Tai O

Squid Fried Rice, Tai O

Beef Brisket Noodles, Causeway Bay

Beef Brisket Noodles, Causeway Bay

Century Egg,

Century Egg, Kwun Tong

Hong Kong Curry,

Hong Kong Curry, Sai Ying Pun

Fried Kway Teow,

Fried Kway Teow, Sai Ying Pun

Fried Squid, Lamma Island

Fried Squid, Lamma Island

Garlic Prawns, Lamma Island

Garlic Prawns, Lamma Island

Snail Soup, Lamma Island

Snail Soup, Lamma Island

Scallop Steamed with Rice Vermicelli, Garlic and Spring Onion, Lamma Island

Scallop Steamed with Rice Vermicelli, Garlic and Spring Onion, Lamma Island

...., Homemade

Abalone Slices with Tofu Sheet and Chinese Mushroom, Homemade

Pineapple Bun, ...

Pineapple Bun, Everywhere

Honeycomb Cake, ...

Golden Cake

...

Steamed Dessert with Lotus Paste Filling

More Siu Ap

More Siu Ap

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

44 thoughts on “Food of the Fragrant Harbor Part 1: Earth & Sea”

  1. The dishes look delicious but I must tell you the first photo of the ‘irresistible’ ducks make them quite resist able for me. 🙂

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    • Ahh it works differently to different people I suppose. 🙂 So if you go to Hong Kong and want to try the roast duck, make sure you have it like on my last photo.

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  2. Dang, boy! This post makes me missing HK so much.
    Yes, the food in HK is just amazing and that’s the reason why I always fly to HK every year. Just to savour their delicacies 🙂
    Did you taste their suckling pig and honey roasted pigeon too?

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    • So you’re one of those people who come to HK frequently to eat! 🙂 Now I can see why. I love how they mix sweet and savory flavors in almost every dish.
      Actually I didn’t. What do you think of it compared to the one in Bali (Handayani)?

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  3. Even on a full stomach, these photos are tempting, Bama! I’m glad you stayed longer this second time so you could sample more local dishes. Now you know where my penchant for mixing sweet and savoury comes from. 🙂 Did we treat you to other regional Chinese cuisines like Shanghainese as well? I can’t quite remember…

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    • And I’m glad your mother gave me siu ap every other day! 🙂 Sometimes I can still picture it in my mouth, so succulent and tender. Being accustomed to spicy dishes, at first I had to adjust my palate a little bit to HK’s sweet and savory flavors. But it didn’t take me long to love HK food, even pidan! Actually you did treat me Shanghainese and Sichuan dishes. I remember that stuffed duck (duck again!) we had in a Shanghainese restaurant with your family friends, that was really good. And also the sweet and fragrant osmanthus dessert. I would love to try all of that again in a heartbeat.

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    • Gurih dan legit. Biasanya setelah dijemur jadi agak mengeras, kemudian dipotong memanjang. Saya waktu itu nyoba telur itu di tumisan sayuran dan telur bebeknya sekilas seperti wortel karena warnanya mirip.

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  4. Halim Santoso says:

    Pernah nyobain Scallop Steam dan memang bikin nagih tapi tetep nahan diri karena hargnya muahal hehe… Telur bitan banyak dijumpai di restoran dimsum Indonesia, tapi Salted Duck Eggs kok baru kali ini lihat, serasa macam kuning telur asin kah?

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    • Nah yang di HK ini (khususnya yang di Pulau Lamma) harganya wajar kok. Salted duck eggs itu rasanya memang mirip kuning telur asin, tapi lebih padat dan gak benyek. Paling pas dicampur di tumis sayuran.

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  5. Packing my Suitcase says:

    Ohhhh you just made me really hungry!! This dessert looks great, I would love to try one 😃

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    • Oops, sorry for that. 🙂 HK dishes, including the desserts, are really worth sampling.

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      • Packing my Suitcase says:

        I can imagine 😃 they look delicious!!

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  6. Awwww delicious food Bama!
    Cukup menikmati fotonya Sudah gembira luar biasa. Wait for me Indonesia! I will going to there next month. Eat eat and eat!😁

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    • They were indeed delicious! I’m glad you enjoyed my photos, tapi ini makanan yang saya coba di Hong Kong. Makanan Indonesia ada di post lain. 🙂 Tapi memang benar sih, pas saya satu bulan di Eropa begitu ketemu telur balado rasanya surga banget. Kebayang kalo udah tinggal lama di sana kangennya kayak apa sama makanan Indonesia.

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  7. I have heard of the century eggs. I am intrigued and amazed all at once. Your photos are beautifully taken especially with food which can be tricky to give it the beauty it deserves.

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    • Century eggs actually tasted more ‘normal’ compared to balut in the Philippines. Put chopped century eggs in chicken or turkey congee, and they will add up the flavors. Thank you for your kind words! The trickiest part of taking food photos is making sure the food gets enough light.

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  8. Great article, I need to try more of this Hong Kong food. Is HK cuisine classified as Cantonese? Or does it actually have its own identity?

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    • Yes, HK food is more than just dim sum. Even the Singapore noodles were very tasty and became one of the highlights of that day. I have tried Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou, and as far as I remember it was quite different from HK cuisine.

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  9. Pingback: The Madness of Hong Kong’s Markets | backpackerlee

    • Hi Sharon. I understand your decision and the reason behind it, as you said about a year ago in one of my earlier food posts that you detested animal consumption by human. However people have their own system of values, which in turn determines their own limits and lines which they will never cross. For you the line is food from animals, while for me it’s food from endangered animals, and for others it’s something else. I respect you, and I thank you for having been following me all these years and reblogging some of my posts. I truly appreciate that. All the best.

      Like

    • Appearance doesn’t deceive you this time, Mark. HK dishes, especially siu ap, are amazing and I can see why some people are willing to go back to the city again and again just to have those dishes.

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  10. Hi Bama, thank God we saw this post after dinner. Keith loved your very first photo. He said the looked like ducks in military formation:) He loves ducks himself and, therefore, would like to meet James’s grandmother as well. I agree that HK culinary experience is not the same without experiencing dim sum. Keith’s aunt and uncle took us to a dimsum place that you won’t find unless you’re a local. And oh my, everything was so fresh that they melted in my mouth. Truly divine food. Okay, now you’re making us want to go back to HK soon just to eat!

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    • Hi Marisol. I’m glad you did. I guess when I go to NY one day and meet up with both of you we should order duck. 🙂 Dim sum is very special in HK that I decided to dedicate a post on its own. Soon on that. 🙂 Having James to take me around also enabled me to dine in places most tourists wouldn’t even know. There was a time when we went to a restaurant where everything was written in Cantonese, down to the menu. There was also a small dim sum joint in Kowloon where we went to, and everything there was so good and fresh. I, too, had some which melted in my mouth. Heaven indeed.

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    • Thanks Debbie! HK, despite being a melting pot in Asia, retains its food culture. For its size, it surely has a wide variety of cuisines.

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  11. Oh my! Another of your fabulous food posts Bama!! Dimsums never taste the same anywhere else do they? I just couldn’t bring myself to taste century eggs on my last visit, shall have to take your word and try it out on my next 🙂

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    • Thank you, Madhu! I couldn’t agree more with you. I’ve tried dim sum in Jakarta and Taiwan, but nothing beats what HK has. Plus I had the luxury to have James ordering the best and most interesting dim sum for me to sample. That century egg… you have to give it a try, indeed. 🙂 Put it in chicken congee or something similar because I’m afraid if you eat it on its own the taste would be overpowering.

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  12. These photos are simply gorgeous, and making my stomach rumble even at 1am! I’ve tried a few of the mentioned dishes here in London’s Chinatown, but I imagine they aren’t a patch on the real deal! The siu ap and salt & pepper squid in particular look delicious!

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    • Oops, sorry for that! 🙂 The thing about Asian dishes in Europe is that they’re often tuned down to suit European palates better. The next time you crave for Asian food, come to Asia and experience the real thing. Oh siu ap, even thinking of it makes my stomach rumble now. 🙂

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  13. Pingback: A Boat Away, A World Away | What an Amazing World!

  14. Imagineth says:

    interesting, although I don’t know if I would try everything. Once I’ve tried sesame ice-cream in Indonesia and totally fell in love with it! I think they might have it in other parts of Asia too!

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    • It’s funny that I myself haven’t tried that sesame ice cream despite the fact that I live in Indonesia. In which city/restaurant did you have it? One ice cream I found really interesting was garlic ice cream which I had at a restaurant in a mall here in Jakarta.

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      • Imagineth says:

        I tried it in the Sheraton buffet, the one which is near the airport in Jacarta! It was amazing, I’m usually not an ice cream person, but that was amazing! I heard about garlic one, uuuu, don’t know what to say, but would try if i hv a possibility!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Those were huge slices of abalone. Are they not endangered species in that part of the world?

    It’s VERY difficult to get abalone in Vancouver.

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    • Hi Jean. As far as I know, abalone is not that easy either to get in the part of the world, hence the price. But I’ve read somewhere that farmed abalone now makes up most of the supplies for the animal in the market.

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  16. justinlarissa says:

    Paraaahh makanannya gak kuat keliatan lezat lezat semuaaa! Tahun depan saya ke Hongkong, semoga bisa cicip banyak makanan diatas 😀 Mas Bama berapa lama di Hongkong kmrn?

    Like

    • Hehe, semoga eksplorasi kulinernya di Hong Kong bisa puas ya.. Saya sebetulnya udah beberapa kali ke Hong Kong, dan saya ambil foto-foto di postingan ini waktu trip saya kedua ke sana. Waktu itu kurang lebih dua minggu di sananya.

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