A green tea ice cream bao at Little Bao // © 2016 Little Bao
Feature image (above): Little Bao restaurant // © 2016 Little Bao
From canary-yellow egg tarts to ratatouille dim sum, the food in Hong Kong should be on every gastronome’s radar. Hong Kong’s culinary scene offers Michelin-starred restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, authentic Chinese street food and innovative eateries that marry Western influences with local delicacies to create experience-driven meals.
Experience certainly comes first at Little Bao, a 22-seat Asian-American diner in Central, Hong Kong. Chef and owner May Chow sets out to make “adult Happy Meals” by slicing baos (yeast buns that are traditionally steamed) in half. She then lightly toasts the baos on the griddle and stuffs them with goodies such as pork belly and hoisin ketchup. Order Little Bao’s take on truffle fries with Taiwanese braised minced pork, shitake tempeh, truffle mayo and pickled daikon.
“Everything is a little bit messy here,” Chow said. “This is not a first date kind of place.”
A Hong Kong local who has lived in the U.S. and Canada, Chow has a deep understanding of Cantonese culture and a knack for reinterpreting American cuisine. She also runs a tight ship, meaning that tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis with no reservations. Another thing you can’t do, in my opinion, is leave the restaurant without trying something sweet — the green tea ice cream bao is an Instagram-worthy dessert made with green tea ice cream, condensed milk and a deep-fried bao.
Man Mo Cafe, located in the heart of Sheung Wan, is also turning heads with experimental East-meets-West cuisine. Here, Western favorites, such as ratatouille and tomato mozzarella, come in the form of dim sum. Dishes come in two- or three-piece orders, so diners can mix and match from a menu that offers anything from foie gras xiao long bao (steamed buns) to bouillabaisse soup dim sum. More surprises await on the dessert menu, including Kung Fu creme brulee and a Nutella ball — a twist on a jin dui sesame ball, using Nutella in place of bean paste.
“I wanted to open a concept restaurant in the heart of dim sum country,” said Swiss-born chef Nicolas Elelouf. “This is the only type of dim sum restaurant like this in Hong Kong and, I think, the rest of the world.”
Those feeling less adventurous can take a guided tour of Hong Kong’s more traditional fare. I pigged out during a 3½-hour exploration of the Central and Sheung Wan neighborhoods with Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours. For about $93 (excluding gratuity), I joined a group of 12 foreigners for an afternoon of tastings at family-owned establishments.
Locals love siu mei (Cantonese-style roast meats) to the tune of consuming 66,000 tons of it every year, so it only made sense that we tried the signature dishes at Lung Kee Roasted Meat Catering Limited on Queen Victoria Street. While many cited its fatty roasted pork as a highlight of the tour, I most enjoyed our walk through the wet market where we found live abalone, yellow cucumber and the largest winter melon I’ve ever seen.
Another highlight was sampling preserved plum candy, baked lotus seeds, black sesame crackers and other treats at a hole-in-the-wall candy store. After our guide plied us with steamed dumplings and egg tarts, she taught a few useful phrases so that we could return to these restaurants and order (a sensible portion) for ourselves.
“Nothing compares to living like a local and visiting a neighborhood noodle shop or one of Hong Kong’s dai pai dongs (street restaurants) for an exciting culinary adventure and cultural experience,” said Bill Flora, U.S. director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “We also benefit from the incredible variety provided by many of the world’s finest chefs who have chosen to open restaurants in Hong Kong, such as Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsey, Alain Ducasse, Nobu Matsuhisa, Michael White and Jamie Oliver.”