Street food is the lifeblood of Hong Kong. Behind the flashy expat-friendly high-end eateries and skyscrapers that stretch as far as the eye can see, tiny little noodle houses and produce markets still thrive as locals flock to them in droves to get the freshest and tastiest treats this city has to offer.
Nathan Road is the backbone of the Kowloon side of town, providing easy access to all the major markets and food joints that locals love. A few hours wandering the streets around Nathan Road and a sense of adventure serves me well on my Kowloon Food Safari, where I’m treated to a smorgasbord of Hong Kong’s most delicious and fast-moving street food.
Beginning at the Ya Ma Tei end of Nathan Road, the smell of fish balls kicks off the food safari with a punch. Locals here consume fish balls in their millions every day. On the street, they come on a skewer ready to be pulled off the stick and guzzled straight up. Usually there are spicy or regular varieties available; in this instance, the adventurous side of me wins the battle and I wind up with a skewer full of spicy fish balls, tinged red with chili.
After one mouthful, I’m pleasantly surprised. For something that is made with the meat of smooshed up poorer quality fish that fishermen cannot sell as a whole, these aren’t half bad. In fact, over my next few days in Hong Kong, I eat as the locals do and consume my fair share of fish balls.
As we wander through the wholesale fruit market around Nathan Road towards the Temple Street Night Market area, exotic and bizarre fruits flushing with colour sit at every stall. Fruit from every corner of the world lives here — the rosy pink skin of the dragonfruit, the not-yet-ripe greenness of custard apples, the spiky casing of the durian — they’re all here waiting to be snapped up by middle men, ready to onsell to their clients around Hong Kong. Fruit here is not overly cheap, but it’s certainly cheaper than in most Western countries, and it definitely looks far more vibrant than anything I’ve seen in a supermarket.
Stopping in next at a street stall that sells many varieties of dried fruit, I watch in awe as the vendor recommends different dried fruits to help all kinds of ailments. He’s insistent that I try his wares, constantly handing me pieces of dried ginger, kiwi, mango and citrus until I decide which one I want to buy. I purchase a strange citrus fruit that the locals only eat dried, which has the zestiness of a lime but a different flavour. It comes bagged in plastic and keeps me snacking for the next two days when I get peckish.
In between snacks, we’re strolling through the streets watching vendors peddle their wares and marvelling at the quality of the imported greens that line their stalls. It’s closing time for a lot of these stalls now, and there’s something fascinating about watching these people shut up shop and head home, knowing that they’ll be back again tomorrow to spruik their produce again.
For our efforts walking, we’re rewarded with a seated meal at a Michelin Guide-recommended hole-in-the wall joint specialising in wontons and dumplings served with egg noodles and broth. The kitchen for this place cannot be any bigger than a metre squared and the chef works at an incredible pace, churning out bowl after bowl of steaming yellow noodles. Comfort is not the top concern here, with little wooden stools and tables cramping as many customers in as will fit the venue, but taste certainly is. The wontons are silky smooth and the prawns they’re wrapped around are sumptuous. There’s not much talking in this place as hungry customers slurp up their noodles and hurry out into the Hong Kong night.
One of the things I notice walking through the streets is the local love for hanging whole animal carcasses out on display. Roasted geese and pork swing in the windows of the stores, looking caramelised and juicy, although I can imagine vegetarians wouldn’t love the fervour with which the locals proudly show off their meat.
I’m taken in to try some char siu (Cantonese BBQ pork) and roasted goose (a local delicacy). The char siu is sweet and rich, but tastes oh so good and the roasted goose conjures up similarities with the duck that is preferred in parts of mainland China. Washed down with a Tsingtao purchased from the local 7/11, this is my kind of Hong Kong food — cheap, cheerful and full of flavour.
Finally, it’s time for dessert. I’m stuffed full at this point, so I’m relieved to hear that dessert tonight is soup — something I’ve never tried and certainly something that I might just be able to squeeze in! Another little hole in the wall later and I am sitting in front of the most soothing and tasty ginger soup bowl with floating glutinous rice balls with black sesame in the centre. It’s like a hot ginger tea, and coupled with the sweetness of the black sesame, it is divine. The texture is unlike anything I’ve ever had in my mouth and suddenly I’m sold on this soup-as-dessert concept.
Thankfully this is the last stop on the food safari because at this point I am so full I am considering rolling my way back down Nathan Road to my hotel. Three hours of street food, tales of old Hong Kong and market vendors later and I’m absolutely satisfied that I’ve had an eating experience for the ages here. For the rest of my time in Hong Kong, I eat exclusively on the street, watching where the locals go and learning to just keep an eye out for packed street stalls as a sign of tasty food.
Part foodie adventure, part culinary lesson, this Hong Kong food tour will tell you everything you wanted to know about the city’s food culture. You’ll head to Kowloon’s vibrant Jordan District, a working class area that’s a local favourite for its authentic and inexpensive restaurants and food stalls.