From char siu to siu mai, Hong Kong has some of the best cuisine in the world. And while just about anything you’ll put in your mouth here is going to be delicious, where do you start if you want to try some of the best local dishes? And what if you’re only here on a short layover, or you can’t read the Chinese filled menus?
I’ve got two words for you: food tour.
Food tours are becoming popular all over the world, so when I searched online to see if there was one in Hong Kong, the name Hong Kong Foodie Tours kept popping up. After browsing their website I learned that they currently have two tasting tours, one that takes you through Central & Sheung Wan and one in Sham Shui Po. Both tours consist of visiting six family-run eateries, all with various Hong Kong specialities.
Seeing as I live within walking distance of Sham Shui Po and often find myself eating similar dishes to what they offer on tour, I decided to take the more classic Central and Sheung Wan tour.
This is solely a walking tour. So put on some comfortable shoes and be sure to pack an umbrella— essential for any Hong Konger!
Central and Sheung Wan are especially hilly, so be prepared for walking up quite the incline at times and also stairs. If walking is at all an issue, you may want to consider doing the flatter Sham Shui Po tour.
Our empty stomachs were filling with anticipation as we met our tour guides on a hot and sunny afternoon. Once everyone had arrived we conducted quick introductions, and before we knew it, we were off to our first tasting.
In what seemed like only a few steps, we had already arrived at our first location. Perfect, because I was ready to eat!
Our first stop was sampling some award-winning wonton noodles. When the bowls were placed in front of us, I was amazed at the size of the wontons. Each wonton contained three whole shrimp inside.
Before attending my foodie tour, I had alerted Cecilia, the Founder and Director, that I had food allergies. Cecilia was extremely understanding and prepared a whole tasting menu specifically to fit the needs of my allergies. So if you have any allergies or any dietary restrictions, do not be discouraged from this tour!
Due to my allergy of shrimp, I was provided a different, shrimp-free tasting. My bowl included the shops delicious, bouncy noodles topped with beef and spices. And let me assure you, these noodles were cooked to perfection!
After filling up on possibly too many noodles, it was time to head to our second stop on the tour for char siu fan, BBQ pork with rice.
The meat, in my opinion, was perfect– not too fatty and sugary sweet. From a local’s perspective though, it was way too lean. Hong Kongers are known for their love of fatty meats, and this char siu just didn’t cut it.
Seeing as this tour seems to mainly cater to tourists, I think this particular char siu shop is the perfect introduction to Hong Kong’s roast meats for Westerners, who often find themselves cutting off all the fat on their meat.
Once everyone had finished their delicious BBQ pork, we were taught about the various roast meat options and all the differences between them.
As we wandered down the road to our next tasting, our lovely guides explained the history of the neighborhoods and markets we were walking through. I really appreciated the history and cultural explanations we were given along the way– it made the tour that much richer, more than a simple food tour.
Walking in the Hong Kong heat made us sweaty and in need of a drink. Luckily for us, the next stop was for some refreshing sugar cane juice. We were brought into an awesome shop from the 1930s– and I could tell not much had changed since then.
We watched as a worker was feeding sugar cane through the press while we waited for our drinks.
I had tried sugar cane juice before, but this particular juice was far superior. Our guides explained that this juice has less of the grassy, “green” taste associated with most sugar cane juice, because the cane’s outer skin is peeled off before pressing it.
Sugar cane juice is known as a “cold” food in Chinese medicine, so it was the perfect drink to refresh ourselves halfway through the tour.
This was the best sugar cane juice I’ve had, and I hope to find myself enjoying it again soon. Next time I need to balance all the “hot” foods I typically find myself eating, I know where I’ll be going!
On our way to the fourth stop, more Hong Kong gems were pointed out to us. This one was in the form of an old Shanghai barbershop, hidden away by his antique gate in a back alley. There are only a handful of these shops still in existence.
The shop still uses manual clippers for hair and for shaving– tools that aren’t even in production anymore. And the price of a hair cut or shave? $68 HKD (a mere $7 USD).
Our fourth stop was what I had been most excited for, sampling Chinese teas.
I honestly was never much of a tea, or any hot beverage for that matter, drinker before moving to Asia. Over the past year, my love for tea has grown exponentially, with my favorite being Chinese pu-erh.
The teahouse we went to was literally a hole-in-the-wall. I never would have noticed it walking along the street, and even after having it pointed out to us as our next stop, I was still confused as to where we were going. The doors just looked like an entry to a warehouse, but as we walked through them, we were transported to a world of tea.
Shop owner and tea aficionado, Ivan spent the next hour teaching us, and more importantly letting us taste, Chinese tea. He handpicks all tea leaves himself from a plantation in Mainland China to ensure it’s of the highest quality. Ivan is also the only person in Hong Kong who holds Tea Connoisseur Certification, although we later learned he is currently training an apprentice.
The tea tasting was also interactive, which made it more special. Everyone took a turn learning to pour tea using a traditional Chinese gaiwan.
First we practiced with cold water so that we would not burn ourselves if we made a mistake. Then the real test came when the boiling water was brought out. Carefully pouring the water through the gourd, I was able to brew my own oolong tea. Delicious!
Drinking copious amounts of tea helped to digest all that food we had eaten earlier, and we were now ready to head to our fifth tasting.
We sat down and it was only a matter of minutes before the bamboo steamers started pilling up on our table. Everyone was able to enjoy a few classic dim sum tastes, including siu mai and har gao.
Again because these staple items use shrimp as the main ingredient, I was provided two different options. I really enjoyed the fresh vegetarian dumplings. Unlike at some other dim sum places I’ve been to, the dumpling wrappers here were thin and translucent– a sign of any good dumplings.
By the time we had finished our fifth tasting, I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to eat anymore. But soon enough with the promise of egg tarts we were walking towards our sixth and final stop.
Although I rarely find myself able to stomach egg tarts, these tarts had a very nice flavor. They weren’t too oily and the crust was very thin. Everyone quickly finished off their egg tart, leaving only a remaining few for customers.
Our guides were awesome. Really, they were what made the tour. Over the span of the four hours they continually were warm and friendly to everyone. They provided us great cultural and historical knowledge and the insight of local Hong Kongers.
Even better than all that they genuinely seemed to care about our experiences and related to everyone on a more personal level. Both of our guides frequently included us in conversation and asked us questions about our lives in Hong Kong and our travels. Sometimes it even felt like we weren’t on a tour. Rather it felt like we were being shown around by a couple of friends who just happen to be locals and fellow food lovers.
I can’t say enough good things about the guides.
Your Fellow Travelers
Those who accompany you on tour will most likely be your typical tourists or people who have a short amount of time in Hong Kong. In our group, one couple was literally taking the tour on a short layover between flights, and another was on a slightly longer layover of three days.
We had mainly couples and a solo traveler, but it is not uncommon for families to join the tour as well. Everyone was generally friendly and it was nice having conversations with fellow travelers and foodies.
As with any tour, you need to stick to the schedule, so if you see someplace along the way you’d like to stop at you generally can’t.
However, Hong Kong Foodie actually provides a map with the tour route, so if there is someplace you’d really like to go to, just mark it on your map and you can go back later! I thought this was really awesome and something I hadn’t seen before on any tours.
Would I Recommend the Tour?
Throughout the tour and the tastings, I felt I really got better acquainted with the areas of Central and Sheung Wan. And although Hong Kong food is nothing new to me, I left the tour having learned something new and with a larger appreciation for these specialties. Now I’m even considering taking the Sham Shui Po tour to learn more about what my own neighborhood has to offer.
I think Hong Kong Foodie’s is a great addition to anyone’s itinerary while in Hong Kong, and I highly recommend it– just make sure to go with an open mind and an empty stomach!
[toggle title=”Want to take your own Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour?” state=”close”]
When: Mondays – Saturdays; departing at 2:15pm for the Central and Sheung Wan tour and 9:15am for the Sham Shui Po tour.
Have you tried any Hong Kong specialities? What are your favorites?
Disclaimer: I kindly received a complimentary tour from Hong Kong Foodie in exchange for a review. But as always, all opinions are entirely my own.