Two definitions I found in the dictionary sum up the way Western people look at food in Hong Kong:
hek3 bat1 fuk6
To not be accustomed to eating something
Picky with food
As with everything else there is a fear of what you’re not accustomed to however I’ve never noticed this more than with food. It’s probably more that the thing you’re unsure about is going into your mouth and when it is a strange animal which was swimming round in the shop window moments before it has been presented in front of you I do sympathise; I am myself quite a fussy eater.
However, I’ve given it a bash and tried stuff that usually I wouldn’t go near. One thing I noticed is that there is a vast difference in the quality of the sea food in Hong Kong and the UK. The one thing that put me off a large proportion of sea food was the taste, which is probably in part related to the quality and the environment where it comes from, and the length of time between the harvest and serving. In Hong Kong I found that things such as shrimps and crabs taste amazing and fresh, and even tempura prawns which have an external texture of a worm, taste great. It’s clear that my pickiness about food was more a perception based on previous bad experiences and assumptions.
Even sucking the brains out of a prawn head tastes good!
Something’s I forced myself to eat because I thought it was amusing, such as chicken testicles, 雞春子 (gai1 ceon1 zi2), and it turned out that they taste delicious! Like mini chicken sausages! What was odd to me was the sheer size of them!
Some really basic terms are:
daai6 paai4 dong3
Those street style restaurants, more common Kowloon site.
caa4 caan1 teng1
Standard HK cafe style restaurant
Food, 食物 (sik6 mat6)
鳳爪 actually means “phoenix claw” and not “chicken feet”. They’re quite a common 點心 dish but you can also get them in soup, which in my opinion tastes a lot better. They’re basically just skin.
gai1 ceon1 zi2
I’ve only really eaten these whilst having hot pot. They taste just like chicken sausage meat. And the skin is so thin it’s really not noticeable.
ngau4 paak3 jip6
I’ve had this quite a few times. Its really tender due to being over boiled so it makes a nice change to some of the cheap beef you’ll get in Hong Kong.
Strange taste, but the meat is a white meat like chicken. I’ve heard stories of them skinning the snake alive in front of the customer, but I’ve never experienced anything like that.
I’ve only seen this in China as a live specimen on the street, never in Hong Kong.
Thousand-year old egg (skin egg?!)
Fermented until black (I think for a few months), I tend to eat them as 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (pei4 daan6 sau3 juk6 zuk1), pork and egg congee. I’ve heard people mention the smell, but I’ve never had them purely as a single egg so have never noticed.
Again, I’ve only ever seen this in China, and up until now I have been repulsed by it. Looking at a skinned dog on a table isn’t appealing to my stomach – probably more related to the fact that I’m a dog person – I’m sure it tastes lovely!
蝸牛 / 獅子魚
wo1 ngau4 / si1 zi2 jyu4
I’m not sure what kind of snails they are. They look a lot like what sea snails look like, but you can probably eat them both. Usually fried in garlic and probably quite a lot like the French equivalent. Odd that 蝸牛 means “snail cow”.
gwai1 ling4 gou1
Tortoise shell jelly
This is more of a herbal thing and, if you believe all of the stuff people say about it, it basically cures anything, you just need to eat different quantities… at $50 a bowl.
Usually found as dried fish skin. It tastes surprisingly good, like pork scratchings. Alongside this you can get octopus legs and all the usual strange types of sea creature body parts, dried or fried and salty. Recently I had some of the fresh fish skin which is served ice cold and is not crispy. Its ok, but I wouldn’t order it again.
gai1 daan6 zai2
These are called “chicken egg boy” and are actually waffle style snacks. They used to be made by street venders but are now mainly made in snack shops with the exception of here and there. Apparently, back in the day, a guy with a little push cart used to come round kind of like an ice cream man. Its a great shame these kinds of trades die out. Its the same with street food in general in Hong Kong and probably related to food safety standards.
Drinks, 飲品 (jam2 ban2)
A mixture of coffee and tea found in most 茶餐廳。 Most of the time it tastes really good, served hot or cold.
ng5 faa1 caa4
Five flower tea
Herb drink which I think is supposed to be good for your eyes. It can be found at those little venders which have bowls full of brown liquid outside of them and sometimes large clay pots.
jaa6 sei3 mei6
Found at the same place as 五花茶, this can be quite disgusting to drink, but again, like all of these herb drinks, it is supposed to be good for you. I tend to drink it when I feel like I have a cold coming on, I figure that it can’t do me any harm. I’ve been warned about drinking it regularly and also if you have alcohol in your system. However they are only herbs, so what harm can it do?…
Out of all of these, my favourite food which I can’t find back home has to be roast meat:
燒肉 actually refers to roast pork if you ask for it at one of the outlets so make sure you point out what you want – usually you get 2 meats per meal, unless you’re ordering a whole duck or something.
The flavour is totally different to a western style roast and the different sauces are amazing!
One thing I can’t get away with however is octopus and squid. Deep fried tentacles at 點心 are an exception, but in general I can’t accept the rubbery texture. So for now, they will remain largely out of my diet.
I’ll probably do something on 點心 in the future. I need to translate a menu first.