While the practice of sharing food feels deeply ingrained across Chinese culture, eating separately was actually the norm until the Song dynasty, because food was scarce and needed to be evenly distributed. Once the expansion of rice cultivation helped alleviate these issues, a cultural shift towards sharing food was set in motion – a ritual that continues to be practised at Chinese meals for its sense of communion and celebration. Here are five joyous restaurants in Hong Kong that are well worth getting a big group together for.
Oi Man Sang
After World War II ended in 1945, the colonial Hong Kong government gave ad hoc licences to families of civil servants that had died or been injured, so they could operate informal food stalls and earn an income. From there, the dai pai dong was born: an open-air food stall with street seating, known for their wok hei flavours, a smoky caramelisation that comes from the scorching effect of traditional Cantonese stir fries.
As one of the last remaining daipaidongs in Hong Kong (first opening its doors in 1956), Oi Man Sang fully deserves its hype. Dishes are still made from the high-powered kerosene-fuelled stoves that the government has now stopped licensing. There’s a long wait but you can download an app called The Gulu, which allows you to claim a virtual ticket – then you can just show up when your table is ready. Classic dishes include the beef cubes with potato, the spicy clams and yuxiang claypot aubergine, but if you’re in the area and don’t have time for the wait, Tin Cheung is also another delicious daipaidong just across the road.
Sham Shui Po Building, 1A-1C Shek Kip Mei St, Sham Shui Po
A strong history and culture of fishing has meant that Hongkongers have long been famous for their deep appreciation of Cantonese-style seafood. This unassuming, family-run eatery provides a hidden seafood haven, tucked away in the bustling neighbourhood of Cheung Sha Wan. Spearheaded by Master Huen, a chef with over 40 years experience, he is supported by his wife who runs the front-of-house and the duo is known for their colourful signature dishes of gigantic salt and pepper mantis shrimp, creamy lobster yee mein noodles, and garlic-laden scallops. They also have the classic daipaidong stir fries to further complement your meal. Just make sure you call ahead to pre-order any seafood dishes.
4 Kim Shin Ln, Sheung Sha Wan
+852 2370 1234
Every night without fail, a queue will begin to form ahead of this institution’s 5.30pm opening time, until it stretches around the block – with hopeful diners often queuing for two hours. Kwan Kee is deeply loved for its clay pot rice (bozaifan): a comforting dish that originated from Guangdong province in Southern China. Kwan Kee is one of the last places in Hong Kong to still use the traditional method of cooking the clay pot over a charcoal fire – ensuring the grains are warmed gradually and evenly, so that those at the bottom form an irresistible, crispy crust. Diners can choose different accompaniments to their rice: classic options include Chinese sausage and chicken, alongside a fragrant mix of sauces to infuse the dish, including one comprising soy, spring onions, ginger and sugar. Another must-order is the lamb and dried beancurd hotpot which comes with a hearty, earthy broth, the umami fermented beans adding a serious depth of flavour.
263 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun
Pot of Soup
As a melting pot city of old and new, Hong Kong’s culinary scene preserves legendary institutions while also embracing new dining trends that have often come from mainland China. One example is the Sichuanese dry pot chicken that’s become extremely popular and been adopted by local restaurants. It’s a one-pot dish of chopped up chicken pieces with a rich, thick sauce, seasoned with spices and mixed with the likes of tofu puffs and pepper slices – all cooked without broth (unlike the traditional hotpot.)
This is the first course at Pot of Soup, an all-you-can-eat restaurant where big groups of young Hongkongers flock to enjoy their three-course set menu. The chicken dry pot is then followed by a large seafood platter to share, with shrimps, scallops, razor clams and abalone, before you’re met with the third course of another hotpot – this time with broth – and a buffet of unlimited raw ingredients to boil, including my favourite, the mochi ball with cheese inside. This feast will only cost you USD$38, which for the central Hong Kong location, is unbeatable.
54-66 Hill Road, Sai Wan
Victoria Harbour Restaurant
Within Hong Kong’s seafood scene, a particularly sought after delicacy is crab – especially during “hairy crab season” in autumn, when this particular breed is available in stores. My favourite crab however is the Alaskan King crab: gigantic, deep red crustaceans that provide a uniquely meaty experience with a light and delicate flavour. My family has been going to this banquet style restaurant for years, where the Alaskan king is always succulent and juicy, while being reasonably priced (although it does vary slightly depending on the market). Alongside this showstopper main dish, I would also recommend the crispy roast suckling pig, which is especially addictive when dipped in mustard.
Shop 243, 2/F, The Westwood, 8 Belcher’s Street, Shek Tong Tsui Western District
All photography by Elaine Zhao.