Hong Kong cuisine is mainly influenced by Cantonese cuisine, British Cuisine, other Western Cuisines, non-Cantonese Chinese cuisine (especially Teochew, and Hakka, Hokkien), Japan, and Southeast Asia, due to Hong Kong's past as a British colony and long history of being an international port of commerce. From the roadside stalls to the most upscale restaurants, Hong Kong provides an unlimited variety of food in every class. Complex combinations and international gourmet expertise have given Hong Kong the reputable labels of "Gourmet Paradise" and "World's Fair of Food".
Modern Hong Kong has a predominantly service-based economy, and restaurant businesses serve as a main economic contributor. With the third-densest population per square meters in the world and serving a population of 7 million, Hong Kong is host to a restaurant industry with intense competition. Due to its small geographical size, Hong Kong contains a high number of restaurants per unit area.
With Cantonese ethnicity making up 94% of the resident population, Cantonese cuisine is naturally served at home. A majority of Chinese in Hong Kong are Cantonese in addition to sizable numbers of Hakka, Teochew and Shanghainese people, and home dishes are Cantonese with occasional mixes of the other three types of cuisines. Rice is predominantly the main staple for home meals. Home ingredients are picked up from local grocery stores and independent produce shops, although supermarkets have become progressively more popular.
Hong Kong homes and kitchens tend to be small due to a high population density, and traditional Chinese cuisine often requires the freshest possible ingredients, so food shopping is undertaken frequently and in smaller quantities than is now usual in the West. Take-out and dining out is also very common, since people are often too busy to cook with an average 47-hour work week.
The cuisine of Hong Kong traces its origins to its founding as a British colonial outpost in 1841. Soon after the colony was founded, many British and other Western merchants along with Chinese from nearby Guangzhou flocked there to conduct business. Initially, much of Hong Kong society was segregated into expatriate Westerners, a majority of working class Chinese coolies, Chinese farmers and fishermen, and Chinese merchants. The simple peasant cuisine was rudimentary compared to the cuisine of 19th century Canton (now commonly known as Guangzhou).
As the colony developed, there arose a need for meals to entertain businessmen. Some Chinese restaurants were founded in the late 19th century and early 20th century as branches of renowned restaurants in Canton and offered elaborate meals consisting of traditional Chinese "eight main courses and eight entrees" (八大八小) types of banquets for 2 taels of silver, at the time equal to a clerk's monthly wage. Before 1935 when prostitution was still legal in Hong Kong, female escorts often accompanied diners to restaurant meals, especially those of a business entertainment nature.'Until World War II, opium was also offered. For the majority of Chinese who were not part of the merchant class, dining out in restaurants was non-existent and consisted of simple Cantonese country fares. Meat only appeared in festive occasions and celebrations such as birthdays were often done by catering services who prepared the meals at the celebrant's home. The restaurant scene for Europeans in Hong Kong was segregated from Chinese dining. Elaborate colonial dining existed at the likes of Hongkong Hotel and subsequently Gloucester Hotel.
Hong Kong's dining lagged behind the then-leader of Chinese cuisine, Canton, for a long time and many Hong Kong chefs spent their formative years in Canton. Canton was renowned for its food, and there was a traditional saying of "The food is in Canton" (食在廣州). Cantonese cuisine in Canton reached its peak during the 1920s and was renowned in the care in preparation even for peasant fares such as char siu or boat congee. Dasanyuan was renowned for its braised shark fin dish that charged 60 silver yuan, equivalent to 6 months' wage for a working-class family. The Guandong cooking style eventually trickled down to the culinary scene in Hong Kong.
The victory of Chinese Communists in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 created a wave of refugees into Hong Kong. A sizeable number of refugees were from non-Cantonese speaking parts of China, including the Yangtze River Delta, and introduced Shanghai cuisine to Hong Kong. On the other hand, most renowned chefs of Canton, now known as Guangzhou in pinyin romanisation, settled in Hong Kong to escape from Communist rule in mainland China.
Prostitution and opium had by then long faded from the restaurant scene, and to survive, many restaurants started to tap into winning business from families by offering yum cha and wedding banquets, while on the other hand, the end of strict colonial segregation by the British colonial government and expatriate Westerners after the Second World War opened up Western fare to the Chinese.
Egg tarts and Hong Kong-style milk tea soon became part of Hong Kong's food culture. It could be argued that the seeds of Hong Kong society as understood today were not sown until 1949, and the cuisine of Hong Kong has its direct roots in this period.
By the 1960s, Hong Kong was past the worst of the economic depression, and there was a long and continuous period of relative calm and openness compared to the Communist rule in Mao Zedong-era China and martial law isolation in Taiwan. The Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong had by then surpassed that of Guangzhou, which had witnessed a long period of decline after the Communists came to power. The rising prosperity from the mid-1960s had given birth to increasing demand for quality dining. Many of the chefs, who spent their formative years in pre-Communist Guangzhou and Shanghai, started to bring out the best of fine dining specialties from pre-1949 Guangzhou and Shanghai. Families had largely abandoned catering services and resorted to restaurants for celebratory meals. Seafood started to become specialised delicacies in the 1960s, followed by game in the 1970s.
This wave of prosperity also propelled Hong Kong Chinese's awareness of foreign food trends, and many were willing to try foreign ingredients such as asparagus and crayfish from Australia. Foreign food styles such as Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisine started to influence local food, and the pace of change accelerated during the late 1970s and early 1980s. This gave birth to nouvelle Cantonese cuisine (Chinese: 新派粵菜; Cantonese Yale: Sānpaai Yuhtchoi) that incorporated foreign dishes such as sashimi into Cantonese banquets. For the first time, many Hong Kong Chinese started to have the economic means to visit many Western restaurants of the domain of mainly wealthy expatriate Westerners such as Gaddi's of the Peninsula Hotel. During these years, there was great wealth growth from stock market investments, and one visible manifestation of the resultant nouveau riche mentality in 1970s Hong Kong were sayings such as "mixing shark's fin soup with rice" (Chinese: 魚翅撈飯; Cantonese Yale: Yùhchi Lōufaahn).
China initiated economic reforms when Deng Xiaoping came to power after Mao Zedong died. The opening up of the country gave chefs from Hong Kong chances to reestablish links with chefs from mainland China severed in 1949 and opportunities to gain awareness of various regional Chinese cuisines. Many of these cuisines also contributed to nouvelle Cantonese cuisines in Hong Kong. The lift of martial law in Taiwan in 1987 jump-started Taiwanese links with mainland China and has caused a proliferation of eateries specialising in Taiwanese cuisine in Hong Kong as Taiwanese tourists and businessmen used Hong Kong as a midpoint for visits to mainland China. From 1978 until 1997 there was no dispute Hong Kong was the epicenter of Chinese, not merely Cantonese, cuisine worldwide, with Chinese restaurants in mainland China and Taiwan, and among overseas Chinese communities, racing to employ chefs trained or worked in Hong Kong and emulating dishes improvised or invented in Hong Kong. Hong Kong-style Cantonese cuisine (Cantonese Yale: Góngsīk Yuhtchoi) became a coinword for innovative Chinese cuisine during this period. It was even unofficially rumoured the Chinese government had secretly consulted the head chef for the Peking Garden Restaurant of Hong Kong, part of the Maxim's restaurant and catering conglomerate, to teach chefs back at the renowned Quanjude restaurant in Beijing how to make good Peking duck, Quanjude's signature dish, in the early 1980s as the skills to produce the dish were largely lost during the Cultural Revolution.
After Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the Asian financial crisis and SARS epidemic led to a decade-long depression. The boom in Hong Kong culinary scene came to a halt and many restaurants were shuttered, including a number of renowned eateries such as Sun Tung Lok. It is argued that the catch up in prosperity among populations from coastal regions of China, particularly the nouveau riche (derogatory Chinese: daai foon 大款) and corrupted officials (derogatory Chinese: daai ye 大爺), has driven up the demand of many delicacies such as abalone and grouper, and many celebratory dishes have become outrageously expensive that they are beyond the reach of even many upper-middle class Hong Kong families. At the same time, Hong Kong people's tastes have become cosmopolitan when compared with one generation ago. Many are now able to appreciate specific European cuisines rather than one generic "Western cuisine", and appreciation of other Asian cuisines, especially Japanese cuisine and Thai cuisine has been ever increasing. These have produced a proliferation of many specialist ethnic cuisine restaurants geared towards young middle class couples on one hand, and a consolidation of fine-dining Cantonese restaurants on the other.
As of the early 21st century Hong Kong, notwithstanding the partial recovery of Hong Kong's economy from the slump in 2003 due to the SARS epidemic, many pundits argue that contemporary Hong Kong's economy is heavily skewed towards real estate development and financial services. This provides prosperity to only a select few minority and an uncertain long-term economic fortune vis-a-vis more diversified mega-rich cities in China such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, and the territory therefore no longer possesses the economic base to support mass-level super fine-dining that is required to sustain an active dining culture. A common perception of Hong Kong's current culinary culture is one being in decline and resting on past laurels. For example, culinary magazines such as Eat and Travel Weekly report fewer fundamentally new dishes being invented in Hong Kong post-2000 than the 1980s heyday, and many restaurants tend to resort to popularise haute dishes invented in the 1980s. Modern Hong Kong's labour market has also disrupted the traditional ways of grooming Chinese chefs, which henceforth been trained in a very long and drawn one-to-one practical apprenticeships. Very few chefs are willing to sacrifice their time and effort to produce traditional cooking that discourages cutting corners, and emphasises techniques over ingredients' net economic worth. On the other hand, a minority of optimistic pundits argue Hong Kong may well develop a foodie culture similar to other developed economies and preserve the best of traditional cooking.
Historically, Hong Kong's food source came from a combination of mini stores instead of supermarkets. Some of the stores included: rice dealers (Chinese: 米舖; Cantonese Yale: Máihpou), serving as mini rice storage warehouses; wine shops (Chinese: 辦館; Cantonese Yale: Baahn gún), which offered beverages; convenient stores (Chinese: 士多; Cantonese Yale: Sidō, Cantonese rendering of "store"), which were single convenient stores, most notable for serving fresh baked bread. The main component was wet markets (Chinese: 街市; Cantonese Yale: Gāaisíh) – one of the first market gatherings in Hong Kong was Central Market that began in the 1840s.
The idea of a single facility or supermarket that provided all food ingredients did not take place until the early 1970s when Wellcome, a local grocery chain, changed its format into a supermarket. Air-conditioned supermarkets did not become standardised until the 1980s. The early 21st century Western environmentalism- or sustainability-inspired food trends, such as natural food, organic food, non-genetically modified food, local food, and farmer's markets, have been ignored by a majority of Hong Kong's populations. The Western farmer's market share some similarities with the traditional Chinese wet markets, however support of wet markets is largely based on traditional Chinese cultural preference rather than sustainability, and wet markets contain many features that are condemned by modern Western environmentalists on the grounds of "animal cruelty" (live animals sold for food) and "high food miles" (fruits and seafood from another continent).
Most restaurant serving sizes are considerably small by international standards, especially in comparison to most Western nations like the United States or Canada. The main course is usually accompanied by a generous portion of carbohydrates such as rice or mein (noodles). People generally eat 5 times a day. Dinner is often accompanied with dessert. Snack time also fits anywhere in between meals.
As Hong Kong is Cantonese in origin and most Hong Kong Chinese are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Cantonese-speaking parts of China, the food is a variant of Cantonese cuisine – almost all homecooking and much of the dine-out fares, from restaurant to bakery, are Cantonese or heavily Cantonese-influenced. Most of the celebrated food in Hong Kong such as the wife cake, roast duck, dim sum, herbal tea, shark's fin and abalone cooking, poached chicken, and the mooncake, and others, originated in Guangzhou, and dai pai dong was an institution adopted from the southern Chinese city. As in the parent cuisine, the Hong Kong Cantonese cuisine accepts a wide variety of ingredients, a lighted seasoned taste. Unlike Guangzhou, the uninterrupted contacts Hong Kong has with the West has made it more susceptible to Western influences, and has produced favourites such as egg tarts and Hong Kong-style milk tea.
In addition, other foreign styles of cuisines are also popular in the territory, although almost all offer one of generic Western (authentic, international, or Hong Kong-style), Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Malaysian and Singaporean cuisines.
|Time of Day||Meal|
|morning (until 11am)||Breakfast|
|noon (12-2 pm)||Lunch|
|3 pm||Afternoon Tea|
|10 pm or later||Siu yeh|
Most East Asian cuisines, with the exception of fusion and Thai, are consumed exclusively with chopsticks. The more Western style cuisines favour cutlery. Some meals are more suited for the use of hands. One notable trend in restaurants is the limited number of napkins provided during a meal. Most mid to low-tier restaurants operate under the assumption that customers bring their own napkins or tissue packs when dining.
Similar to Cantonese cuisine elsewhere, Hong Kong's cooking uses a wide variety of ingredients and the common ones include:
|Chinese and other Asian cuisines||Style name||Most popular||Examples|
|Small Shops||Hawker||Snack||Fish balls on a stick, Stinky tofu|
|Dai Pai Dong||Snack||Wonton noodle, Congee|
|Specialty||Snack||Tofu pudding, beef jerky|
|Informal||HK-Style Fast Food||Anytime||Cutlet Porkchop, Vegetable with Oyster sauce|
|Bakery||Chinese Pastry||Snack||Wife Cake, Egg tart, Pineapple Bun|
|Cantonese||Lunch, Dinner||Dim sum (breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea only), Shark's fin, Char siu|
|Buddhist||Lunch, Dinner||Buddha's delight, Mantou|
|Hakka||Lunch, Dinner||Poon choi|
|Beijing||Lunch, Dinner||Peking duck|
|Japanese||Lunch, Dinner||Sushi, Sashimi|
|Indian||Lunch, Dinner||Curry chicken|
|Hot Pot||Dinner||Scallop, Shrimp|
|Drinks||HK-Style Drinks||Anytime||milk tea, Yuanyang|
|Chinese Tea||Anytime||Chrysanthemum tea, Jasmine tea|
|Western Category||Style Name||Most Popular||Examples|
|Small Shops||HK-style western||Brunch||French toast, Instant noodles|
|Informal||Western Fast Food||Anytime||Burger, Hot dog, Club sandwich, French fries|
|Bakery||Western Bakery||Snack||Maxim, Tiramisu, Portuguese egg tart|
|Cuisine||American||Lunch, Dinner||Sirloin steak, Buffalo wings|
|Italian||Lunch, Dinner||Spaghetti with Vienna Sausage, Beef Brisket, Pizza|
|French||Lunch, Dinner||Quiche, Lamb Mignon|
|Drinks||Western Drinks||Anytime||Horlicks, Cola|
|Western Coffee||Anytime||Espresso, Iced coffee, Siphon Coffee|
Non-service-based items are food that do not require cooking or any chef services. They are usually imported, cultivated or produced. It is identical if served outside of Hong Kong.
|Category||Style Name||Most Popular||Examples|
|Alcoholic||Beer||Lunch, Dinner||Tsingtao, Carlsberg, Heineken|
|Wine||Lunch, Dinner||XO cognac|
|Fruits||Pacific Fruits||Anytime||Ya Pear, Durian, Lychee|
These are basically streetside food stalls, operated by usually one or two people pushing a cart. The carts are usually very mobile, allowing the business freedom to sell snacks in whichever area is most populated at a particular point in time. While they have been popular in the 1970s and 1980s, tight health regulations and other forms of lease versus licensed hawker restrictions have put a burden on this mobile food culture. The term Jau Gwei became associated with the hawkers trying to avoid restrictions.
Specialty stores are usually dedicated to selling a certain type of snack or dried goods. If the focus is on beef jerky for example, the store will offer 10 to 20 different types of the highest grade and quality. During holiday times, speciality stores are sometimes the premiere place for purchasing food gift items. Sun-dried goods and Chinese candy are also common merchandise found.
Hong Kong-style fast food is either served in fast-casual restaurants such as Café de Coral, Maxim's and Fairwood or in food courts typically attached to malls or supermarkets such as CitySuper. The food offered is a mix of Canto-Western cuisine (see Hong Kong-style Western cuisine below), Cantonese fares, and increasingly Asian food from outside China.
Hong Kong-style Chinese pastry offers a plethora of choices for the discerning taster. Depending on location, some shops may carry a wider selection than others, and some may bake goods on the premise while others have it delivered from an off-site bakery. Most bakeries carry standard fare such as pineapple buns and egg tarts. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, moon cakes are one of the hottest sellers. Pastries are baked fresh daily (and sometimes throughout the day), and it is said that Hong Kong people have taste buds so sophisticated that they can tell the difference between something baked one hour versus five hours ago.
As the most predominant cultural group in Hong Kong, Cantonese food forms the backbone of homecooking and dine-out scenes. Many early celebrated Cantonese restaurants, including Tai San Yuan, Luk Yu Tea House, were originally Hong Kong branches of the famed Guangzhou-based restaurants, and most chefs in Hong Kong until the 1970s had spent their formative years working in the restaurant industry in Guangzhou. Most of the celebrated dishes in Hong Kong were introduced into the territory through Guangzhou, often refined with awareness of international tastes. Cantonese food prices perhaps cover the widest range, from the small businesses lou mei to the most expensive abalone delicacies, which involve abalone.
One well developed dish in Cantonese cuisine is dim sum. Waiters cart around stacks of steamer baskets or small plates of food for customers to choose. Dim sum includes dishes based on meat, seafood, vegetables, as well as desserts and fruit. The term yum cha (literally "drink tea") is synonymous with eating dim sum for Hong Kong people. It is customary for families to eat dim sum on weekends.
This cuisine is essentially vegetarian specialties using tofu, wheat gluten, mushroom and other non-animal sourced ingredients. Despite the name, the cuisine is enjoyed by many non-Buddhists. Hong Kong's vegetarian dishes, as part of the Cantonese branch of Chinese vegetarian cuisine, puts emphasis on meat analogue substitutes to the point where it can taste and look identical to real meat, often by using deep-fried gluten and tofu to recreate meat-like textures, and heavy-flavoured sauces are prepared for the dishes. Even committed meat-eaters enjoy the cuisine regularly. Unlike western countries, vegetarian diet in Hong Kong is not considered a commitment. This cuisine is also served in some temples and monasteries like the Po Lin Monastery. The vegetarian cuisine served in some Taoist temples or monasteries, such as the Yuen Yuen Institute, can also be classified under this category.
Non-Cantonese Chinese vegetarian cuisine is extremely rare in Hong Kong, although there are some isolated temples and restaurants offering Shanghaiese-style vegetarian cuisine. Compared with Cantonese-style vegetarian cuisine, dishes are less oily and some food items favoured by non-Cantonese Chinese, such as bamboo shoot, picked vegetables, are often used. Meat analogues are prominently featured, albeit expressed in differently manners from Cantonese vegetarian cuisine.
This form of cooking style from the Hakka people originally came from Guangdong and Fujian in southeastern China. The style uses dried and preserved ingredients. Pork is by far the most common meat in the style.
This cuisine has one of the longest histories in terms of style development. The variety and complexity provide a glimpse of what imperial Chinese Emperors might have eaten at one time. Exotic dishes in this category often require a considerable wait time before it is served.
Sushi is the most common association made to Japanese cuisine in Hong Kong. From small café shops to conveyor belt sushi restaurants to restaurants specialising in teppanyaki, Japanese-style cooking is fairly popular. Depending on the locale, many sushi-centric restaurants are designed to mirror close to those in Japan.
Hong Kong has a sizeable South Asian community. Unlike in the Indian subcontinent, where food may separate into regional variants, the Chinese population in Hong Kong overwhelmingly identifies Indian cuisine with curry spices. Because meat is always expected, it can also be said that South Asian cuisine in Hong Kong leans toward Northern Indian and Pakistani styles.
This hot pot cuisine, known as daa bin lou (Chinese: 打邊爐; pinyin: dǎbiānlú; Jyutping: daa2 bin1 lou4) in Cantonese, is unique in the sense that everyone is a chef. A boiling pot of water (soup-based, and customers can choose their preferred soup taste), is placed in the center of the table, and essentially everyone boils their own ingredients in that pot. This is highly popular and is usually accompanied with a bottle of cold beer or soda. This style is common during frigid winter times, since people are essentially huddled around a fire. This format is also considered entertaining.
Non-alcoholic beverages are served at restaurants of all classes, but most notably at Cha chaan teng, a unique kind of restaurants in Hong Kong. Since drink recipes are not franchise based, most drinks can vary depending on the restaurant. Rock sugar and syrup are commonly used to add sweetness.
A large wide variety of tea leaves and combinations are used for Chinese tea. In the 1950s and 1960s, citizens would go to tea houses accompanied by their pet birds locked in a bird cage. Noon tea was an essential break in the middle of the day. Tea nowadays goes along with any meal.
Dishes derived from cuisines of the Western world, but not classified into a particular country, belong in this category. Outside Hong Kong, it is termed Hong Kong-style Western cuisine or Canto-Western cuisine. Small restaurants that offer Sai Chaan are usually cha chaan teng at the popular end or "Sai Chaan Restaurants" at the more upscale range. Restaurants that have come to expect tourists will likely offer both east and west menus. Most dishes are localised with Chinese tastes and contain Chinese and specifically Cantonese influences, such as steak marinated in soy sauce, served in a soy sauce dominated gravy, and with fried rice as on the side, or pasta.
Western style fast food are essentially replicas of US or European franchised fast food restaurant models. McDonald's is likely the most common. Others include KFC, Hardee's (formerly), Pizza Hut and many more.
The general association made is that western pastries are much sweeter and richer in flavour than typical Chinese pastry. Some eastern-style pastries are similar to their western counterpart, while others are modified by reducing the amount of cheese, cream and other western ingredients. Chinese bakery shops often sell both eastern and western goods. Maxim's is one of the most popular franchises, found in nearly every MTR subway stations. Délifrance is another outlet offering western-style sandwiches.
These are standard meals taken from the US, except with a significant reduction in usage of butter. For example, an order of mashed potato in Hong Kong will seem relatively plain and light compared to its US counterpart. Popcorn in Hong Kong is heavily sweetened, more resembling caramelised pre-packaged popcorn, such as Cracker Jacks. Steak can be classified as Sai Chaan (Western cuisine) or American food.
This cuisine is usually considered up-scale, following a three-course antipasto, primo and secondo format. Italian food in Hong Kong is generally considered more Modern Italian, instead of being authentic Traditional Italian (though if one wanted to find a restaurant serving a specific style, such as Venetian, it is possible). Drinks and desserts are often mixed with Chinese options. The main course itself will lean closer to American-Italian. "Fat Angelos" is an example of a Hong Kong-style Italian restaurant.
Common French dishes can be found in Hong Kong along with delicacies. Many of the French desserts like crème brûlée have been modified into some form of pudding (Chinese: 布甸, bou din) to be served with Chinese dishes. So aside from being a standalone style, influence of French cuisine in Asian dishes is apparent.
Beverages from the West have been deeply integrated into the food culture. The line between Eastern and Western drinks are blurred to the point where many Westernised drinks can be found in Chinese style restaurants. Especially in cha chaan teng, they have essentially become just another item on the menu. British malt drinks have become closely associated with breakfast in Hong Kong.
Western drinks include milk, smoothies, berry filled-drinks and so on.
Coffee from the west has become heavily franchised in recent years. The arrival of Pacific Coffee and Starbucks changed the landscape of Western style coffee in Hong Kong. UCC Ueshima Coffee Co. and Pokka Cafe are among the first to introduce siphon coffee to Hong Kong. This brewing method has only become more familiar to the public after the establishment of Xen Coffee, a siphon speciality coffee shop. While independent coffee shops do exist, franchise stores are often situated in favourable locations that cater to foreign workers.
Oyster & Wine bars have been blooming in recent years. Most of those shops are located in Happy Valley and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Major food districts are Causeway Bay, Kowloon City, Lan Kwai Fong, Tsim Sha Tsui and Soho. Stanley, with its expatriate population, has many seaside pubs and European restaurants. Sai Kung, Lamma Island, Lau Fau Shan and Lei Yue Mun serve seafood. Old fishing towns such as Cheung Chau and Tai O also have many original restaurants.
Most pubs and bars are at Lan Kwai Fong, Lockhart Road and Jaffe Road of Wan Chai; Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East; and around Prince Edward MTR station in Mong Kok. Since 1991, Oktoberfest has been held annually on Canton Road.