Food is the ultimate connector. It transcends political borders and cultural boundaries – it is the one great unifier of people. Every cultural group has their own unique culinary traditions with countless stories, and rich histories, behind each time-tested recipe. Exploring a city through its cuisine is perhaps the easiest way to get to know a bit more about the people themselves.
This month, our Foodie editorial team put our words where our mouth is and canvased our little island of Hong Kong, looking for the best local eats and exclusive insider stories. We teamed up with four Hong Kong food tour companies to experience what our glorious food capital has to offer and picked up plenty of food trivia along the way. We did the legwork exploring the nooks and crannies of Central and Sheung Wan in the sweltering summer heat, to bring you our comparison of the city’s best food tours. Whether you’re new to Hong Kong, lived here for a while but have still never tried milk tea, or a self-proclaimed foodie, come discover, or re-discover, this city we call home, one bite at a time.
Meet Celia: As our Editor-at-Large and Food Nomad, Celia travels around the globe hunting down the most delicious (and unique) culinary gems and captures her food adventures in her travel food column each month in Foodie. An adventurous foodie with a very inquisitive palate, she is happy to try even the oddest of dishes…at least once. Born in Beijing, raised in Vancouver, and now a newly minted PR in Hong Kong, Celia is not a native to Cantonese cuisine, but has grown to love the genre. The most challenging aspect of embracing southern Chinese cuisine for her has to be the strong aromas of dried seafood!
Meet Tessa: Born and raised in South Africa, our Deputy Editor Tessa lived in London for nine years before moving to Hong Kong a little over a year ago. With a keen interest in exploring this weird and wonderful place she now calls home, she seeks out trendy new hotspots and discovers a few hidden treasures along the way. Being South African, she knows a good chunk of red meat when she sees one but is a relative newcomer to authentic Cantonese cuisine. She’s always willing to order the most exotic item on the menu, although she still can’t quite bring herself to try snake soup, and absolutely has to end every meal with a little something sweet.
HELLO HONG KONG
The low-down: This is the ideal tour for those first timers in the 852, or newbies to Cantonese cuisine. Hosted by the ever-so-chirpy Laura Blackhall, this tour is designed as a culinary introduction to Hong Kong. Expect to hit up the usual suspects, most of which are popular foodie hotspots well known on the tourist map. The tour goes through a rudimentary culinary checklist, and is perfect for those looking for a basic sampler of Cantonese cuisine. More adventurous foodies might be disappointed, as this tour is a ‘first look’ rather than an in-depth exploration into Hong Kong. However, it’s a fun way to get that first glimpse of the city and includes colourful stories provided by your hostess.
The mission: Our day started in a central meeting point in Sheung Wan, where we were joined by another couple who were visiting from abroad. Together, with our hostess, we explored the dried seafood stalls of Sheung Wan, before heading to a classic dim sum restaurant (complete with push cart service). We then did a brief walk-through of the Central wet market and slurped up shrimp wontons at a renowned noodle shop, before cooling down with cups of ice milk tea strained through silk stockings. Afterwards, we hopped on Hong Kong’s iconic “ding ding” tram to Wanchai, and tested our patience with the city’s notorious traffic. In bustling Wanchai, we feasted on roast meats in a classic hole-in-the-wall joint, before ending our tour with golden egg tarts from a popular pastry shop.
The fine print: Group food tours are available every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and cost $650 per guest with a maximum group size of six people ($525 for children under 15 and free for kids under 6). Private food tours are also available and start from $1,800 for a four-hour tour for one guest. Non-food related tours are also available, plus sailing trips and even a Shenzhen shopping tour!
Group Size: 6 people
Family Friendliness: 3
Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours*
(*Similar name, but no connection to us!)
The low-down: With a group of twelve eager followers, most of which were tourists, this was the biggest food tour group out of the four and included six different food stops over the four-hour tour. Catering to out-of-towners and first time visitors, you have the option to explore the local eateries in Central and Sheung Wan or those in Sham Shui Po. For comparison sake, we chose the Central and Sheung Wan tour and were guided by one of the company’s two founders, the lovely and very knowledgeable, Silvana.
The mission: We met Silvana and the rest of the group at a convenient central location before heading off for a bowl of steaming wonton noodles. Knowing we had another five food stops ahead of us, we were careful not to over indulge. We then popped over to a local and buzzy roast meat restaurant, followed by a meander through the wet markets and a pit-stop for a much-needed refreshing glass of sugar cane juice. Walking over to Sheung Wan, Silvana stopped off along the way to point out a few of the city’s hidden treasures before our next, and favourite stop, at a family-run preserved fruit shop. Moving on, we popped into a popular dim sum restaurant in Sheung Wan and finished off with a little something sweet at a local neighbourhood bakery. With a group this size, and the number of stops included, be prepared for this tour to be a little fast paced. It also lacks the intimacy of the other tours but is nonetheless a great introduction to Cantonese cuisine and gives you a ‘look-see’ at some of the city’s most authentic dai pai dongs.
The fine print: The Central and Sheung Wan tours are available every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2:15pm. The Sham Shui Po food tours are available every Tuesday and Friday at 9:15am. The tours cost $690 for grown-up foodies (aged 15 and above) and $490 for younger foodies (age 5–14). Free for children under 5.
Group Size: 12 people
Family Friendliness: 2
Sweet Extras: A bottle of water and a little gift of dried fruit
Big Foot Tours
The low-down: A private and fully customised tour that caters to your appetite and your own pace, Big Foot Tours’ bespoke food tour is ideal for HK newbies and out-of-towners looking for a slightly more in depth introduction. Not only will Ski Yeo (founder and one of the guides), work with you to create your food tour based on food preferences, dietary restrictions and your sense of adventure, she, or one of her knowledgeable and passionate guides, will keep you entertained during the tour with fascinating tidbits about the city’s hidden gems and the everyday life of locals.
The mission: We met Ski at a central location and together the three of us took a slow wander to our first food stop. Despite it being a popular, perhaps obvious choice for us foodies, it no doubt served up delicious prawn wonton noodles, made all the better by Ski’s special sauce concoction. We then washed these down with a yuanyang milk tea and an egg tart, while slowly making our way through Central to Sheung Wan. With our bellies feeling a little too full, Ski was happy to skip the next food stop and instead took us on a very interesting little tour in the back streets of Sheung Wan. Feeling a little smug and confident there was nothing she could divulge about our trendy little ‘hood that we didn’t already know, she surprised us with a few interesting and ‘haunting’ facts. The best part about our morning was that we didn’t feel like we were on a tour. There were no time pressures or constraints and with Ski’s relaxed and easy-going nature, she has the ability to make you feel like you’re spending time with a friend. And now, the next time we have visitors in town, we can confidently say; “yes we know where the hidden gems of Hong Kong are”. If only we’d done this tour a few guest-visits back!
The fine print: Private and customised food tours are available every day and are priced according to the size of the group, instead of per person. A tour for a group of two will cost $1,600 and $2,000 for a group of three–four people (a maximum group size of eight people). Big Foot also offers non-food related walking tours.
Group Size: 8 people
Family Friendliness: 4
Little Adventures in Hong Kong
The low-down: Catering both to the intrepid foodie as well as well-seasoned food and beverage professionals, Little Adventures in Hong Kong offers bespoke, one-of-a-kind experiences tailored to the unique interests of each guest. Operated by Daisann, a National Geographic writer, plus a host of food personalities such as Johannes Pong and Daniel Cheung, each tour is filled with in-depth personal narratives and insider glimpses into Hong Kong’s traditional food scene. This is a tour that goes beyond the popular tourist hotspots, and sniffs out the best kept, secret food gems, much like searching for an elusive truffle.
The mission: Well before we actually met, we were asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire articulating what our interests are and the types of food topics we’d like to explore on our tour. This was a helpful way for our hosts to get to know us a little before our meeting, and plan a bespoke experience around our interests. Our day started with chilled glasses of red bean ice slushie and scrumptious morsels of fresh-baked egg tarts, coconut tarts and crispy buns oozing with melted butter, all in an authentic “ice box” mom-and-pop diner. Then, we moved on to sample freshly roasted suckling pig before meandering our way through Sheung Wan to an XO sauce tasting. We then hopped into a cab and found ourselves in bustling Wanchai, sipping Iron Buddha tea and sampling dim sum filled with truffles, and some of the best tea-smoked soy chicken we’ve had in ages.
The fine print: On the pricier side, Little Adventures offers bespoke tours to the tune of $888 per hour, for a group of one–two people. For a maximum number of three, the rate is $965 per hour. Each tour takes an average of 4.5 hours, and a minimum of 3 hours is required for booking. There’s a 12 per cent discount on bookings during the summer months, and a 10 per cent discount for all culinary professionals all year long. Non-food related tours are also offered.
Group Size: 3 people
Family Friendliness: 2
Sweet Extras: Goodie bag of soy sauce