In the past year, Hong Kong's street food has enjoyed an explosion of interest in the culinary world, thanks to a groundbreaking mention in the Michelin Guide. However, any true local will be quick to point out that things aren't what they used to be: the real golden age of the city's street dining culture was the '70s and '80s, when government licensing was lenient and people were hungry for cheap-and-easy ways to fill up. Food back then was peddled on the streets by vendors with pushcarts. Nowadays, it would be nearly impossible to happen upon an old lady selling homemade pastries next to a zebra crossing. The government simply wouldn't stand for it.
A handful of vendors have since relocated to brick-and-mortar stores, with a high concentration around the Sham Shui Po and Mongkok areas. Despite the setbacks, street food is still very much thriving: People are still yearning for a cheap snack on the go, whether in a brown paper bag or on skewer. Here are the tasty (and at times, absolutely weird) classics to look for on your next street food crawl.
You can't say you've been to Hong Kong without having tried fish balls. These chewy golden spheres have been a staple of the local food culture for decades. Apparently only 20% fish, this delicacy is never seen without its perfect partner: curry sauce. Boiled in a sweet curry broth for hours on end, Tung Tat's fish balls (pictured) are full-bodied and flavorful. The nearby Chan Kee sells a hotter version, though the curry sauce is only dripped over the skewer upon serving. Non-spicy alternatives are available, but skip those—they are usually inferior. Tung Tat — 48 Pitt Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Chan Kee — 38 Pitt Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
These sticky rice puddings are oh-so-filling and incredibly cheap. Served on toothpicks in the olden days, the pastries come in two flavors: Brown and white sugar. Red beans are typically added for texture. Kwan Kee's generously sized put chai kos are all prepared in the old-fashioned way: Steamed in earthen bowls and air cooled. Ask for skewer sticks instead of plastic bag packaging for an extra kick of nostalgia. Kwan Kee — 115-117 Fuk Wa Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Hard on the outside and supple within, these coin-shaped pancakes are best enjoyed hot. The yummy treat is created by pouring egg batter into a griddle and flipping it over every few seconds. The wildly popular Lee Keung Kee (pictured above) is a solid option for the classic flavor. Adventurous types will love Oddies Foodies, a dessert shop that frequently experiments with unexpected egg waffle tastes, from miso to Chinese sausage. Lee Keung Kee — 492 King's Road, North Point, Hong Kong. Oddies Foodies — 149 Wan Chai Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong.
Perfecting the taste of these seemingly uncomplicated sponge cakes is no easy feat. Since the fermentation process is involved, the cake can easily end up overly sour. San Lung Cakeshop, a veteran in the business, gets the flavor right by using traditional prep procedures. San Lung Cakeshop — 68 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Hong Kongers are big on making culinary treats out of internal organs. Besides playing a heavy part in congee, offal also tastes delicious as a snack. Locals queue up for hours for the lo mei (brined tripe skewers) at Fei Jie, which come doused in mustard and various secret sauces. A "signature Fei Jie combo" will leave you with sticks of chilled duck liver, pig intestine and squid tentacles. Trust us, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Fei Jie — Shop 4A, 55 Dundas Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
The three "treasures" in question are the chunks of fried pepper, eggplant and tofu that make up this delicacy. Stuffed with minced dace meat, these bits and pieces are then deep fried on a hot iron plate and served with a touch of soy sauce and chili oil. Kai Kei is one of the few vendors that keep both taste and pricing consistent through the years. Kai Kei — 41 Dundas Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
These hand-pulled stubs may look a bit plain in appearance, but their texture is anything but: The rolls are made by steaming rice milk into translucent sheets. Pulling these delicate layers into the desired shape—without breaking them—requires decades of practice. Shrimp and minced pork are popular fillings, but Hop Yik Tai serves an excellent plain version that lets you savor the silky smooth texture in all its glory. Don't miss out on the variety of sweet and spicy sauces available, as they are the heart and soul of the dish. Also sprinkle on some sesame seeds while you're at it. Hop Yik Tai — 121 Kweilin Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Don't panic—no sharks were harmed in the process of making this hearty soup. A concoction of bean starch vermicelli, mushrooms, eggs, and sliced pork loin, the dish started out as the working-class interpretation of shark's fin soup, as they could not afford the real deal. The most classic version of this winter comfort food can be found at Ming Fat (pictured) and is best enjoyed with a pinch of ground white pepper. Block 18's Doggy Noodles serves a smokier alternative, using slow-cooked duck instead of pork. Ming Fat — 261 Ki Lung Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Block 18's Doggy Noodles — 27A Ning Po Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong.