For a Cantonese cha chan teng affair, Hung Hing is an obvious favourite; located opposite the Sai Ying Pun Post Office, it is run by some of the friendliest locals I’ve come across.
The English menu is a very basic list of the more western-friendly dishes. A few staff speak some English and one older gentleman loves to practise his extensive vocabulary and recommend dishes! Failing that, if pointing doesn’t work, what does? Try the steamed fish – a bargain at about $60 including rice, Chinese broth and a plate of simple veggies. The pomfret (chong yue) is good either steamed with ginger and spring onions or with black bean sauce. The scrambled egg with prawns (wak dan ha yan) is another must, and there’re also great dry fried noodles with beef, flat rice noodles (hor fun) and eggplant claypot.
My only warning is that Hung Hing opens and closes early (by 9.15pm), so it’s best to be there by 8.30pm at the latest. To put it simply, eating at Hung Hing is enough to make me feel like I’ve been fed by my beloved grandmother!
Hung Hing 22-32 Pok Fu Lam Road, Sai Ying Pun
Another great local spot is Kwan Kee claypot rice, with an ever-changing layout of tables outside (and freezing air-con inside!). It’s usually very crowded, with queues forming in the street especially during the winter when claypot and hotpot is more popular. It’s sometimes possible to book – and you might still have to wait – but otherwise go early (7pm) or late (9pm or after). Sometimes, requesting outdoors means you’ll get a table faster, but not always.
Kwan Kee might not seem the cleanest of places but it’s been here over 18 years and the obvious love that customers have for the place ensures that food is always fresh and the best. The English menu isn’t that detailed; I recommend you try the chicken and Chinese sausage (lap cheung) claypot – the chicken fat oozes into the rice as it’s cooked, leaving a hearty rich taste. The sausage is perfect, counter-balancing with a totally different rich flavour.
Remember, claypot rice takes time to cook while the rice caramelises, so be sure to order faster dishes so you don’t wait unfed for 45 minutes! Hotpot is a good choice before hunkering down to meat and rice; Kwan Kee offer lamb, which is very rich, or pork, which sometimes contains trotters. Order extra veggies like Chrysanthemum greens (tong ho), a slightly aniseed-tinted winter vegetable and extras like sweetcorn or dried tofu. Other fast dishes include salt and pepper prawns or squid, which come fast and hot, satiating a hungry stomach.
Kwan Kee Shop 1, Wo Yick Mansion, 263 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun
If Chinese-style BBQ is more your thing, then BBQ is the place to go! It stays open very very late and is a good place to drink cheap beer – beware, some options will have sold out if you arrive after ten! The lengthy menu comes on small sheets of paper that you pass to the waitress; you might have to ask for English versions or an English-speaking waitress. BBQ is also good for slightly larger groups and you can sometimes get a private section towards the back.
Options include meat, seafood and vegetables. I love the fish balls with cheese inside – but wait at least five minutes unless you want a scolded mouth! Other delish meat includes beef wrapped around Enoki mushrooms and other forms of barbecued meat including tendon, chicken hearts and chicken wings. Less picky vegetarians can get by here too; there’re a few mushroom dishes including Enoki mushrooms cooked in butter, an eggplant dish and of course, sweet corn.
Each table is given a sauce dish containing two sauces with a spicy kick. I have no idea what is in them, but they taste great!
BBQ Shop B, G/F, 129-133 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun
Yuen Kee Dessert
For traditional Chinese dessert, there can be none other than Yuen Kee! The place is neat and clean but looks like it hasn’t been refurbished since the 60s, adding to its appeal as a local family-run affair that could have come from any era.
Among the local favourites are sweet almond, black sesame or walnut soup, all of which can have added lotus seed or egg white. The window usually displays one of the longest steamed cakes (ma lai goh) I’ve seen, which seems to get replenished throughout the day because it’s so popular.
Like Hung Hing, they have had the same lovely staff forever and their attitudes towards any attempt to tip tend towards shock, refusal, embarrassment and only occasional acceptance… so don’t be surprised if you’re chased down the street trying to give them two dollars!
Yuen Kee Dessert G/F, 32 Centre Street, Western District
For a more modern dessert, nowhere is cuter than Sweet Classroom. The black and yellow dessert shop is decorated school style, with desk-style tables and exercise book menus. The menu ranges between interesting twists on classic Hong Kong desserts and some tasty Western numbers.
For a taste of Hong Kong, the Milk Tea double boiled milk dessert is fantastic (usually, it’s just double-boiled milk), both hot in the winter and cold during summer. For chocoholics, there’re a few to pick from but the molten chocolate cake is a definite must. They also do shaved ice, a local favourite from Taiwan, accompanied with the obligatory sides and toppings – the Yakult balls (or ‘caviar’) pop in the mouth and are really fun to eat.
However, remember that they are closed on Tuesdays… and much to my chagrin, I always crave it on a Tuesday!
Sweet Classroom G/F, 150 Third Street, Sai Ying Pun, Western District
Vickie Chan is a freelance writer, designer and illustrator. Among other publications, she writes regularly for SCMP. Check out her blog Chantown or follow her on Twitter @HKChantown.