Hongkongers attach importance to foods, especially street food. There is a long history of street food in Hong Kong, starting from the 19th century. It appeared as a means of earning a living and to provide affordable food for people of lower social classes.
However, roadside stalls rose and flourished through 1950 to 1960, and the diverse and cheap snacks were well-received. Starting from 1970, roadside stalls gradually disappeared due to hygiene issues, which forced many stalls to close. Nowadays, it is rare for roadside stalls to be faced with hygiene issues.
There is a wide variety of street food in Hong Kong – they are fascinating, fresh, and delightful. Even looking at the photos will make your mouth water.
Hong Kong possesses diverse cuisine, but it still has unique local food. Street food is the most popular locally and internationally.
Cable News Network (CNN) created a new English term for Hong Kong’s street food, called ‘sou gaai’. Based on local lingo, the word means street-sweeping and scouring the whole locality for street food.
If you travel to Hong Kong, these are some popular street foods you should try.
According to the Hong Kong statistics of 2002, Hong Kongers eat 4 million fish balls every year. Fish balls, as the name suggest, are manufactured compressed fish-meat. A throwback to the 50s, itinerant hawkers use stale and cheap shark fish meat to knead balls and fry them to a golden colour. It became fish balls and is favoured by the public. In the flourishing Hong Kong, at least two or more street snacks stores sell fish balls. Especially in Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay, there are countless street snacks stores.
The changing times means that there are several methods of eating the springy textured and crispy fish balls. The traditional one is dipping into rich curry sauce. The curry sauce uses spices such as chilli and turmeric which will enhance the taste of fish and sauce.
Another way is to mix chilli sauce. There are a few levels of chilli you can select – not spicy, less spicy, moderately spicy and super spicy. The different degree of spiciness, combined with the curry, will give you that exciting taste. Your eyes will become watery because of the spiciness and your body will sweat because of the hotness.
Pineapple bun is a kind of the sweet bread predominantly popular and common in HK. In the 60s, Hongkongers were unsatisfied with the dull flavour of bread. After innovation, they made a similar puff pastry which consists of sugar, eggs, flour and lard. It is called pineapple bun, but it does not contain pineapples. Actually, the top of the pineapple bun looks golden and bumpy after processed baking, which resembles a pineapple.
The sweet and crunchy top of the bun, combined with softer bread dough underneath, makes it perfect. Almost every bakery sells pineapple buns, and many tea restaurants also have it, usually as a snack for afternoon tea and breakfast.
The origin of the egg tart is from English egg custard. However, due to expensive ingredients, commoners couldn’t enjoy English eggs. So, the chefs in Guangzhou, with the hope of providing food to everyone, changed the recipe. They replaced ingredients such as milk with water, minus cream and vanilla and so on. However, it still tastes richly of eggs – smooth and sweet.
In the 40s, egg tarts spread into HK from Guangzhou. Hong Kong chefs changed the type of crusts for pie crust or puff pastry and it became the HK style-egg tart. Pie crust egg tarts use butter and tastes like cookies, to imitate the English style; puff pastry egg tarts use lard and are crunchy: this type is popular with the locals. The egg tarts are commonly available at places which sell the pineapple buns.
Egg waffles allegedly originated in the 50s, when grocery store owners did not want to waste broken eggs. They tried to add sugar, butter, and flour, which resulted in an egg batter which was then baked in a beehive mould. Egg waffles used to be baked on the coal fire, but nowadays, electric pans are used instead to save cost and for safety reasons.
Egg waffles are crispy outside and chewy inside. This small and convenient snack is popular among women. In HK, some hawkers on the street, who used to sell only egg tarts, have started selling egg waffles recently. New waffle varieties are constantly devised too.
Faux Shark’s Fin Soup
Faux shark’s fin soup is an imitation shark’s fin soup, make by cheap glass noodles instead of expensive shark’s fin. Faux shark’s fin soup also helps prevent the slaughter of sharks and protect marine life. As environmentalists advocate people to stop eating shark’s fin, faux shark’s fin shop became the masses’ substitute. Glass noodles are the main material, with Chinese mushroom, chicken and Chinese condiments added. Based on personal preferences, seasonings such as vinegar, pepper, sesame oil and so on, can be added. Faux Shark’s Fin Soup is dark brown, taste rich and smell good, and the mushrooms are chewy. It is usually sold in street stalls.
Bean Curd pudding
Bean curd pudding is a Chinese dessert made of soya milk and gelatine – it is like pudding and jelly, but, it is softer. Bean curd puddings goes way back and can be traced to the Han dynasty. Bean Curd pudding can be eaten as a frozen food in summer, or a hot food in winter. Just sprinkle brown sugar and syrup to make it taste better. Bean curd pudding in a wooden bucket is popular among locals, and it is a traditional way to serve it. The wooden bucket offers thermal insulation and ensure it solidifies better. You can find it in canton dessert places and herbal tea shops or tofu speciality stores.
Put Chai Ko
Put Chai Ko is palm sized and developed from traditional Cantonese sweet cake. It is put into a small tile bowl and steamed. Popular in the Guangdong area in the 80’s, it then spread into Hong Kong. There are 2 traditional flavours, brown sugar and white sugar. Red beans were then introduced, which gave it a local special flavour. Use two skewers to dig from the small tile bowl when eating Put Chai Ko. You can eat it in two ways: eat it while it’s still hot and it will taste soft and slippery with a strong rice smell; eat it while it’s cold and it will taste flexible. Nowadays, it is hard to find traditional Put Chai Ko stalls, but it can still be found.
Three Stuffed Treasures
You could spend five dollars and choose three random pieces from a pile of fried food in the past, but following the price of inflation, it has increased to ten dollars or higher. The mashed dace meat is put on eggplants, green peppers, tofu, sliced red sausages, Chinese mushrooms and so on. It is then put into a deep fryer. After that, dip it into some soy sauce to make it even more savoury. It is sold in general street food stores.
Silk Stocking Milk Tea／Coffee with tea
Silk stocking milk tea is a Hong Kong-style milk tea and is available at all tea houses. During the British colonial rule period, the English brought Ceylon black tea into Hong Kong. Hongkongers improved it by using a white sackcloth bag to filter the tea, then added sugar and milk to make it more unique and smooth. The colour and shape of the sackcloth changes after that, making it like a silk stocking, which is where the name came from.
In HK, condensed milk is also used instead of evaporated milk, and this special milk makes it even tastier. Generally, if you would like to order this kind of milk tea, you need to say ‘Cha Chow’, which is local lingo. Another variety was also developed, which is called ‘Yuenyeung’ in Cantonese, which means a mixture of milk tea and coffee. Another type is milk coffee with condensed milk instead of evaporated milk, called ‘Yeung Chow’.
Steamed rice-flour roll
The rice-flour roll originated from Guangdong in the 1930’s. It was then brought into HK during the 1990’s. The rice product is placed on a steamed fabric and steamed, then rolled up into a rice-flour strip. Street side steamed rice-flour rolls are plain and made without fillings. A thin roll of rice flour is usually steamed and served with soy sauce, white sesame, sweet sauce, spicy sauce and sesame sauce. It can be a breakfast or a snack. Snowy rice-flour roll, delicate and smooth and chewy, it is unforgettable. Normally, it is sold in the street side food store.