Everything I Ate in Hong Kong

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I just visited Hong Kong for the first time and even before I’d left, people were already asking me for food recommendations. After sending my haphazard Simplenote notes to a handful of people, I decided it made sense to clean them up and write a blog post.

One thing that surprised me when visiting Hong Kong was how not English-friendly it was, despite how recently Hong Kong was a British colony. I remember watching the handover ceremony on TV as a kid. There are probably plenty of modern, tourist-friendly places to eat where English speakers would not have any problems, but most of the places on my itinerary were about seeking out foods and experiences I couldn’t get at home in San Francisco (despite its large Cantonese population), so I had to rely on my sub-par Cantonese a lot when communicating in Hong Kong. Growing up, Cantonese was probably the most common language my parents spoke to each other but because they grew up in Malaysia and went to either public or English schools, they never learned to write Chinese. My vocabulary is limited to simple conversations we would have as a family and I don’t know a lot of specific food words outside of dim sum. I probably would have had a very different eating experience if I’d either known less or more Cantonese, and to some extent I think I get unduly embarrassed whenever I travel to a foreign place and don’t know the local language…which is why I am rambling on and on about language accessibility and include notes about it for all the places below.

66 Hot Pot, Mong Kok

Interesting style of hot pot. First you eat a pot of saucy chicken mixed with Szechuan aromatics. They really expect you to eat all the chicken before moving on to the next step—my spouse and I were gently scolded to eat more of the chicken first when we requested the broth too early. After eating the chicken they fill your pot with broth for a normal hot pot and you can order sliced meats, dumplings, veggies, etc to cook in it.

Verdict: Tasty but not mind-blowing. It’s on the pricey side. Hot pot ingredients are a la carte, but if you order the signature chicken pot, the broth top-ups are included.
English speakers?: No
English menu?: Yes, you order everything on an iPad.
Google Maps Link

Sun Hing, Kennedy Town

dim sum at Sun Hing

dim sum at Sun Hing

This is a really old school dim sum shop where I believe they make everything in-house. They only have the classics and you can just go grab them at the front yourself and have them mark what you chose on your tab. Very fresh. They open at 2am.

Verdict: Great for the first “morning” after you land if you’re awake and hungry at a strange hour and want to be immediately thrown into a chaotic Hong Kong style eatery. Expect simple, tasty food but not the best dim sum of your life.
English speakers?: No
English menu?: Technically yes, there was one on the wall, but it’s completely useless because you can only order what’s out on display unless you speak Cantonese.
Google Maps Link

Yee Shun Milk Company, multiple locations

cold double film milk pudding at Yee Shun Milk Company

cold double film milk pudding at Yee Shun Milk Company

Get their famous double film milk pudding. So simple, yet so good that I went twice during my trip. 

Verdict: Go there.
English speakers?: No
English menu?: Yes, with pictures of their most popular items.
Google Maps Link

Tiger Sugar / The Alley, multiple locations

These two popular chains are both famous for their versions of the brown sugar pearl/boba/bubble fresh milk drink. (Don’t call it boba in HK though, that means big boobs.)  I didn’t find either version to be particularly amazing but I did prefer Tiger Sugar (Taiwan-based) over The Alley (HK-based). Check out my Instagram post for a more in-depth review.

Verdict: Not bad; not as good as ones I had in Taipei.
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: Yes

Hot Star, multiple locations

This Taipei-based chain is famous for their XXL breaded and deep fried chicken cutlet, likely to be bigger than the size of your face. Read my Instagram post for a more in-depth review. 

Verdict: Loved it!
English speakers?: Most likely yes
English menu?: Yes

Mammy Pancake, multiple locations

Believe it or not, these egg waffles / eggettes are Michelin Guide recommended. There are lots of flavors to choose from, both sweet and savory. I got the squid ink salted yolk flavor, and could very subtly taste both elements. They were perfectly crisp outside and had a nice chew inside. 

Verdict: These probably are legitimately the best egg waffles out there. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way for them but if you love this type of snack you should totally go. 
English speakers?: Not sure because I ordered in Cantonese, but the staff were young.
English menu?: Yes

Yuen Kee, Sham Shui Po

There are other businesses with the same name but I’m writing about the dai pai dong—a licensed open-air food stall. These eateries are known for stir fried dishes celebrating wok hei, the flavor that comes from cooking in a wok over extremely hot flames (or some think of it as the energy/breath from the wok). These are sadly a dying food genre in HK because the licenses cannot be transferred even within the family, so definitely do some research around what dai pai dong suits you, if not this one, and go while you still can. We got a sizzling plate of fatty pork, black bean sauce clams, and Chinese leeks with dried fish, squid, and cashews, all based on the photos on the wall. Everything was a little on the salty side but also immensely flavorful and perfectly cooked—clearly meant to be eaten with rice to dilute the saltiness. This was my overall fave meal of HK.

Verdict: Definitely recommend, but you may need to be amazing at charades if you don’t speak Cantonese.
English speakers?: Hard no. My Cantonese was good enough to let our waitress know we wanted to order dishes off the pictures on the wall plus two bowls of rice and a large beer.
English menu?: No, our waitress was not pleased when I asked for one! But ~15 dishes are pictured on the wall.
Google Maps Link

Kam Wah Cafe, Mong Kok:

bo lo yau and milk tea at Kam Wah Cafe

bo lo yau and milk tea at Kam Wah Cafe

This place is known for their bo lo bao / pineapple buns and they totally lived up to the hype!!! Ask for a bo lo yau if you want that iconic slab of butter stuffed inside (I did!). My spouse enjoyed a HK style French toast with peanut butter stuffed inside. The milk tea tasted way too tannin-y or over-steeped to me, though I have been told that is part of the HK style milk tea. This is a cute little cha chaan teng (Hong Kong style tea cafe) but you can also buy their famous pineapple buns to-go from a little counter at the shopfront.

Verdict: This is where you should go to try pineapple buns.
English speakers?: They might understand you? At least they were friendly.
English menu?: Yes, though I believe it is not their full menu.
Google Maps Link

Yum Cha, multiple locations

Very cute but slightly expensive dim sum. Detailed review in my Instagram post.

Verdict: Go if you’re in it for the ‘gram.
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: Yes; order by marking things off on your paper menu.

Tai Cheong Bakery, Central:

Best daan tat / egg tart of my life! Insanely flakey and buttery crust. More detailed review on Instagram.

Verdict: Yessss so good!
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: It’s a bakery, so you can scope out what they have in the pastry case.
Google Maps Link

Lan Fong Yuen, Central:

Famous for inventing HK stocking milk tea—stockings on handles are used to keep the tea leaves separate as the tea brews, and then it is sweetened with condensed milk. Perfect to accompany the egg tarts as they are very close to each other. However, as I mentioned before, I personally didn’t love the over-steeped taste of this style of tea in HK, even though I get HK milk tea at bubble tea shops in the States. There is a full cha chaan teng, but there’s also a little shed in front where you can just order the milk tea to-go.

Verdict: Only if you’re in the area, to pair with the daan tats above.
English speakers?: I don’t think so, but if you order from the front, the only things you can order are hot milk tea (yeet lai cha) or cold/iced milk tea (dong lai cha).
English menu?: Not sure about the cha chaan teng inside but the front stall had all sorts of signs in Chinese only so I have no clue what info I was missing out on. I definitely tried to order from the wrong window at first.
Google Maps Link

Yat Lok, Central

This is one of the places that always shows up on lists about contention for best roast goose in HK, and I opted to go here because a friend recommended it. Roast goose was so damn good. I made the mistake of ordering a combo plate with BBQ pork cuz I wanted variety but really should have just ordered more roast goose.

Verdict: Order the roast goose, don’t bother with other things.
English speakers?: No
English menu?: Yes
Google Maps Link

Shake Shack, Central

We just stumbled upon this when we wanted dessert. Worth noting that there’s an HK themed dessert menu.

Verdict: If you’re in the area and want an ice cream based dessert, then maybe? You can see the Kowloon side’s light show across the harbor (the crappier side) but it will be set to the playlist I made in the early 2000s (a.k.a. the Shake Shack soundtrack blasting through their outdoor speakers).
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: Yes, obvi
Google Maps Link

Tsui Wah, multiple locations

This was like the HK equivalent of Denny’s, open 24 hours. All the HK cafe / cha chaan teng options you can imagine, including all the wacky fusion dishes. Nice service. We got ox tongue on mushroom sauce spaghetti and it was good like how Denny’s is good but not really good at all.  

Verdict: Go if you are literally on a bus from the ferry port back to your hotel and realize you are hungry but don’t know what else to Google to look for food.
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: Yes

Yummy Cart Noodles, Sham Shui Po

my creation at Yummy Cart Noodles

my creation at Yummy Cart Noodles

Really wanted to try cart noodles and I could see from pics online that this menu had English and pictures so that’s how I ended up here. Meant to go to Man Kee but chickened out cuz the order card is all just Chinese text. My soup was a bit bland here but all my selected ingredients were great and there were condiments to add. Service was the friendliest of the trip.  

Verdict: Go if you want cart noodles but can’t read Chinese and are looking for a very pleasant noodle eating experience even if it’s not the tastiest one ever.
English speakers?: They try!
English menu?: Yes, with pictures. You mark what you want on a laminated card.
Google Maps Link

Sheung Hei (a.k.a. Good Taste Clay Pot), Kennedy Town

clay pot rice at sheung hei

clay pot rice at sheung hei

Michelin Bib Gourmand clay pot rice. I thought it was meh. I think it’s very hit or miss depending on what you get; the strangers we sat next to liked theirs and it looked hella good. I ordered one with various preserved meats plus duck, and the duck was the tiniest, boniest pieces imaginable with what little meat available clinging in a rubbery fashion to said bones.

Verdict: Ask the locals next to you what to order or skip this one.
English speakers?: Nope.
English menu?: Yes, but you have to ask for it in Cantonese and then your friendly local table mate might have to remind them you asked for it.
Google Maps Link

Charles Tea Bar, multiple locations

The Mong Kok location is a cool little bubble tea stand. Had lots of interesting options that aren’t at bubble tea shops at home. I got papaya milk with mini taro and sweet potato balls and enjoyed it.

Verdict: Yes, if you are looking for some unique bubble tea options.
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: Yes

Australia Dairy Company, Jordan

Simple but freaking good!!! They are known for their rude service but to be honest I felt it to be simply efficient, quite cordial, and less rude than other places I’d been to in HK. Due to the presence of my gwai lo spouse, we were handed an English menu upon being seated without having to ask for it. Yes, it is quite cramped and, as expected, we had to share a tiny table with strangers (who turned out to be a sweet old couple living in the San Francisco Bay Area who were making their annual trip back to their hometown!). We went at breakfast time when literally everyone else was ordering their set breakfast meal, so spouse’s French toast took a bit to arrive but was totally worth the wait. If you like scrambled eggs, this is a must.

Verdict: Go there for a new appreciation of scrambled eggs and plain white bread.
English speakers?: No
English menu?: Yes
Google Maps Link

ComeBuy Tea, Mong Kok

The fanciest bubble tea shop I’ve seen, in terms of their drink making process. They have these shiny machines that spurt steam out the tops and I am not exactly sure what they do but they made me feel like I was getting a high end bubble tea experience.

Verdict: Not a destination unless you are extremely fascinated with tea making technology but if you are in the area and want some legit tea, you could stop by.
English speakers?: Yes
English menu?: Yes
Google Maps Link

Long Jin Mei Shi, Mong Kok

skewers and curry fish balls at a random street food stall in mong kok

skewers and curry fish balls at a random street food stall in mong kok

To be honest I just picked a skewer stall that looked like it had a lot of variety on my last morning in Hong Kong, and this one had a LOT of variety. (I subsequently had to find a picture of the stall and ask a friend for help reading the name so I could include it here.) This stall had all sorts of street snacks from curry fish balls to hash browns shaped like the ones at McDonald’s. I got a small bowl of curry fish balls, a squid skewer, a skewer with mini cheese-filled sausages, and a skewer with mixed beef offal. The beef offal one was amazing, stewed until suuuuuper tender and very flavorful! The sausages were also yummy. My gwai lo liked the squid one the best because it was the most bland and he likes bland things.

Verdict: There’s something for everyone here, whether you like bland things or super interesting animal parts!
English speakers?: No
English menu?: No, but just point at everything that looks interesting and give it a try! This was a great final stop before leaving Hong Kong.
Google Maps Link

Toasts From My Childhood

For National Toast Day, I want to talk about some toasts from my childhood. But first, here’s my reimagining of those childhood flavors as an adult.

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As a kid, these probably would have all been on pre-sliced white bread. I don’t think my mom would have even gone for the Wonder Bread name brand; we probably got the generic supermarket brand white bread. But for this dressed-up adult version, and because I worked damn hard in life and now I can, I went for one of the most luxurious (but still square-shaped) breads available at my local vegetarian grocery co-op: the Josey Baker Bread Adventure Bread. Here’s what you’re looking at (clockwise from top-left):

Whipped buttercream and brown sugar. Inspired by my memories of having toast slathered with margarine (from the plastic tub) and a scoop of sugar sprinkled over. I don’t know why my mom thought this was a legitimate thing to serve a child, but in fairness I never had any energy and was scared of playing outside, so sugar intake was not an issue.

Creamy peanut butter and apricot preserves. Because yes, even as an Asian kid, I had peanut butter and jam. I never liked grape jelly.

Condensed milk. I think everyone knows about condensed milk toast now. I made my own condensed milk for this because I didn’t want to open up a whole can just to smear a little bit on a tiny piece of bread for a photo. (So I made a whole jar of it by laboriously stirring for 45 minutes over the stove instead? Adult Lily logic.)

Pandan kaya jam. Yes, I’ve been having this ever since I was a child even though you may have just learned about it from seeing someone post about it on Instagram. This is really what I wanted to talk about.

Kaya toast is having a moment right now here in San Francisco. Thanks to the popularity of Bread Belly’s version, with a bright green pandan kaya piped diagonally across the surface of the bread, kaya toast is showing up on my Instagram feed more often that the ubiquitous avocado toast these days. I haven’t made my way across town to try it just yet, but they seem to be a great little local business and I am happy for their success over presenting Asian-inspired flavors in high-quality baked goods. Seeing kaya toast blow up this way is a little weird for me, though. You see, Bread Belly did not invent kaya toast, nor do they make any claims that they did, and I have been eating kaya toast since I was a little kid. It’s a flavor I associate with visiting my family in Malaysia, when—even though I wasn’t considered a picky eater as a kid—my aunties were kind enough to give me toast and cereal for breakfast because they knew I wasn’t used to having curry or nasi lemak in the mornings. I associate it with avoiding eye contact with tiny lizards on the walls and the rotting-fruit smell of ripe durian caught in the humid air as I made my way down the stairs in their homes. I do not associate it with eating for the ‘Gram.

This must be what it was like for Japanese people when all of a sudden everyone started losing their shit over ramen that didn’t come out of a styrofoam cup or for Danish folks when everyone suddenly realized that putting stuff on bread looks more aesthetic when served open-faced. I’m excited that a food so Malaysian/Singaporean in origin is rising in popularity but part of me feels strangely worried that almost none of the people flocking to it know where it came from. Do they know that you can get a jar of kaya (a jam made of coconut milk, sugar, and eggs—pandan optional) from the Southeast Asian section of the Asian supermarket for less than $4? Because that’s the kaya I’m familiar with: not the nice, handcrafted, vibrant looking stuff that makes toast pretty, but rather the fresh-from-the-jar gooey stuff, as everyday as the processed peanut butter I used in this photo. Should I care about whether or not people know this?

I never bought it before in the States because I wanted to preserve that specialness that I associated between visiting Malaysia and the flavor of kaya but now I’ve gone and purchased it for $3.19 at Pacific Supermarket right here in San Francisco for purposes of this photo and the story I wanted to tell with it. I wanted to do my part to share with people where kaya came from and try to describe how weird it is to suddenly see everyone getting excited about it. I’ve always loved it and it’s always been exciting to me. I’m glad you like it, too.

My First YouTube Video

I started a YouTube channel!

For a while now, I have been wanting to brush up on my video editing and have wanted to start a channel where I do mini mukbangs. If you are unfamiliar with what a mukbang () is, this is a Korean term joining the words “eating” and “broadcast”. People record themselves eating large amounts of food and usually address their viewers directly or talk about the food whilst doing so.

I think the phenomenon of mukbang popularity is very interesting. From what I understand, many enjoy watching them either to feel like they are enjoying the food vicariously through the people in the video/broadcast or to have something to watch while they are eating as well. As someone who eats alone at home often, I always like having some kind of video or background noise on when I am eating. However, I personally do not enjoy seeing excessive amounts of food all together. I can understand how it is fun and indulgent for others, but for myself, I almost feel a little unsettled watching things like speed eating contests where people are really stuffing their faces. Am I the only one?

I’ve always wondered if there are others out there like me, who like seeing videos about experiencing food, but who want to put on something shorter in duration, involving a smaller portion of food. I think of this concept as being a SNACKBANG: a snack-sized mukbang.

I was recently challenged to try the ultra spicy SamYang 2x HOT Chicken Flavor Ramen and decided to record my experience while I was eating it—and thus filmed my first snackbang!

I’m not sure how often I will do these but it was fun for me to film and edit. If you enjoyed it, please give the above video a thumbs up and subscribe to my YouTube channel!