The Flavors of Hong Kong package includes a trip to a traditional wet market. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Hong Kong cuisine is influenced by traditional Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian fare. // © 2016 iStock
Aficionados of authentic world cuisine will appreciate The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong’s new Flavors of Hong Kong package. The offering includes a two-night stay, complete with welcome amenities, a private excursion into the city to sample local fare, fine dining at two distinct Michelin-starred restaurants and a signature nightcap at the hotel’s luxe rooftop sky bar, Ozone.
“Flavors of Hong Kong is for those who are truly foodies at heart,” said Peter Find, executive chef for The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. “It is important, when traveling to a new city, to immerse yourself in the culture, especially the cuisine.”
Find believes the new package has particular appeal for travelers from the U.S.
“Americans are the types of travelers who really like to explore the foundation of a country or city they visit,” he said.
The highlight of Flavors of Hong Kong is an exclusive afternoon adventure into the nearby Mongkok neighborhood, personally led by Find. On the tour, guests will sample a wide spectrum of street-food delicacies and stop in for a unique diversity of tastes at some of the city’s distinctive “cha chaan teng,” or Hong Kong teahouses.
Translating literally to “tea restaurant,” cha chaan teng are so named in order to distinguish them from Western restaurants, which provide water to customers upon seating them, instead of tea. These neighborhood eateries offer a uniquely approachable dining experience and appeal to residents from all walks of life. Their informal atmosphere makes them a popular meeting place for locals, and the wide variety of dishes served at affordable prices keeps customers coming back.
Hong Kong’s long history as a city of international commerce and the resulting exposure to outside cultures gave rise to its characteristic cuisine, which contains elements of traditional Chinese (both Cantonese and non-Cantonese), Japanese and Southeast Asian cooking, as well as more recent Western contributions. In keeping with this evolution, cha chaan teng feature an eclectic combination of Canto-Western fusion foods.
“Since Hong Kong is such a melting pot of cultures, it is difficult to pinpoint a dominant ethnic background,” Find said. “However, food is a universal language, and the cuisine served here in Hong Kong is undeniably local, and that is what entices travelers to come and visit this country to begin with.”
Prior to World War II, Western food was considered a luxury item in Hong Kong, served only in high-class restaurants to the select few who could afford it. By the time the war ended, British influence within the province had broadened to reach all economic levels, affecting the tastes of the everyday crowd.
Cha chaan teng arose in response to an increased demand for accessible Western-style fare. Though the decades since have seen significant changes to the city’s gastronomic scene, this culinary institution has remained steadfast in its role within Hong Kong society and is now a treasured part of its heritage.
Cha chaan teng establishments can range from intimate eateries — serving regional favorites such as egg tarts, won tons, spring rolls and pineapple buns — to grander venues, such as the next stop on the tour: Hong Kong’s famous Michelin-starred dim-sum restaurant, Tim Ho Wan.
“In Hong Kong, dim sum is synonymously known for being the epicenter of traditional Cantonese cuisine,” Find said. “It is special to this city, as it is eaten by all walks of life and at a large price spectrum, making it truly accessible to everyone.”
Guests will experience another long-time Hong Kong institution during their next stop at a local “wet market,” an indoor pavilion lined with stalls where individual vendors animatedly present an array of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, dry goods and preserves for sale. Even prepared street foods are often available.
“There is a large sense of community here, as this is where locals often shop, due to the produce’s being not only cheaper but of better quality,” Find said. “But it’s the atmosphere which really attracts visitors.”
With folks buzzing about in search of their favorite products, this may be the city’s best place for out-of-towners to interact with regular Hong Kongers.
For a change of pace after the day’s activities, guests will be treated to a late-night dinner at Tosca, The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred Italian restaurant, and proceed to cap off the evening with a signature Hong Kong Skyline cocktail at the hotel’s ultra-modern Ozone, the world’s highest rooftop bar.