There are two things that should always be at the top of your Hong Kong eating list: roast goose and suckling pig.
Cantonese-style roast goose, in particular, is a delicacy we rarely get to enjoy in Sydney. In Hong Kong, it's almost as commonplace as roast duck, cooked to the same level of juiciness with a slightly gamier taste to the flesh. And then there's suckling pig, reaching levels of crunch you never thought possible in its crackling skin.
You can eat roast goose and suckling pig at restaurants all over Hong Kong, large and small, expensive and cheap. Here are three places to get you started on your next visit.
Yung Kee, Central
Chef plating up roast goose at Yung Kee
When it comes to roast goose, Yung Kee
is a Hong Kong institution. Originally it started as a dai pai dong
, or roadside stall, selling siu mai in 1938. Four years later it converted to a restaurant and after several relocations, it settled into its current premises on Wellington Street in 1978. Today it owns the entire six-storey building.
In 2009, Yung Kee was awarded one Michelin star in the inaugural Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide, a status it maintained for 2010 and 2011. In 2012 it was moved to the Bib Gourmand section, defined as "inspectors' favourites for good value".
Hungry passersby admiring the roast meats in the window
That hasn't stopped the swarms of customers that flock to Yung Kee every day. They sell as many as 300 roast geese each day, with many bought by tourists to take back home to Guangdong or Macau.
Its reputation means that prices aren't cheap, and whilst some Hong Kong locals regard it now as more of a tourist trap, it's still worth visiting, especially for some of its more unusual dishes.
Downstairs dining room
One hour waits are common, even though there are two floors of seating. It's a noisy clatter of families and tourists, with waitresses hurrying through with brusque efficiency.
Upstairs dining room on level four
has the inside intelligence though. He confidently leads the way to the elevator, neatly spitting us out at level four on the VIP floor. There are no queues here, and it's eerily quiet. An army of waitstaff flank the corridors, springing to attention at the faintest wave of a hand. The seats are covered in a royal purple silk and classical music plays softly in the background. It's a little bit of luxury compared to the chaos downstairs. You'll pay about 10% more on menu prices for the privilege.
Signature roasted goose HK$176 (AU$25)
A quarter roast goose
will set you back AU$25, not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but the slices are plump and succulent. Even though we're given the breast, the meat is tender, offset by a complex marinade on the skin.
Poached pig's aorta HK$198 (AU$28)
Pig Flyin is here for the rest of the menu, especially the poached pigs' aorta
, which is the kind of dish that's hard to find anywhere in Hong Kong. The large artery is eaten more for its texture, a rubbery chewiness that is inordinately satisfying.
Frog leg sauteed with salt HK$298 (AU$42)
We also feast on frogs legs
, sauteed simply with salt and shallots that add a subtle sweetness. The frog has been cooked gently so it maintains its moisture, its flesh coming away from the bone with ease.
Smoked pigeon with tea leaves HK$165 (AU$23)
The smoked pigeon
is a favourite too. The skin has been roasted to a glorious deep brown, and each mouthful of flesh has an intense smokiness from tea leaves.
Asiania Restaurant, Wan Chai
Whole roast goose HK$360 (AU$50)
You can get your roast goose fill from Asiania Restaurant
in Wan Chai for about half the price of Yung Kee. Asiania has been around in Hong Kong for ages, although it's recently moved to smaller premises. That means it's highly recommended to make a reservation. It's regularly fully booked.
The whole roast goose
is piled onto a plate, drenched in a puddle of its own sweet roasting juices. There's a generous layer of fat beneath the skin, and there's plenty of flavour in both the meat and the bones.
Half roast suckling pig HK$460 (AU$64)
The suckling pig
is a sight as well, especially when it arrives with a red light bulb jammed into its eye socket. The red light flashes on and off like some saucy strip club entrance. Perhaps its not too far from the truth given the gleam in our eyes as we hover closer.
The crackling on the skin is perfect: thin and brittle tiles that make a resounding crunch. Suckling pigs are noticeably smaller in Hong Kong too.
Steamed buns for the roast suckling pig
Wrap a slice of crackling suckling pig in the accompanying steamed buns and you'll appreciate the contrast between softness and crunch even more. A slick of hoisin adds sweetness and the matchsticks of cucumber and scallions will cut through the richness.
Teochew dumpling HK$88 (AU$13)
They do a couple of teochew dishes here too, like teochew dumplings
which have a distinctive chewy and glutinous skin. Inside each pocket is a textural wonderland of mushrooms, dried shrimp, bamboo shoots and roasted peanuts.
Vermicelli with XO sauce HK$88 (AU$13)
Vermicelli with XO sauce
is one big umami and spice hit that combines dried scallops, dried shrimp, garlic and chilli. Buried in amongst the glass vermicelli noodles are sweet whole prawns.
Steamed egg white with prawns HK$98 (AU$14)
Steamed egg white with prawns
is always a crowd favourite, a comforting mix of wobbly egg white, sweet prawn, tender carrot, chewy mushrooms and crunchy pops of finely sliced asparagus. Everything is enveloped in a thick gravy, perfect for ladling over bowls of plain steamed rice.
Mushrooms with broccoli HK$88 (AU$13)
And because you need more veggies to balance out all that meat, we swoop on the mushrooms with broccoli
too, the funghi firm and toothsome, coated in a glossy thick sauce.
Tai Chung Wah, Cheung Sha Wan
Oh hello Photoshopped poster
If street food is more your thing, then you have to check out a dai pai dong
. Dai pai dongs refer to the extra large street food stalls, ones that sprawl more like a restaurant with masses of large tables. Translated into English, dai pai dong means "big license food stall".
They're fast disappearing across Hong Kong - especially as the government is trying to buy back licenses and improve hygiene levels - but they offer a feast of good food at a fraction of an air-conditioned restaurant's price. In 2010 there were only 28 dai pai dongs
left in Hong Kong.
Dai pai dong outdoor seating
Tai Chung Wah
in Kowloon's Cheung Sha Wan is one of the biggest. From the main street, it looks like a bustling restaurant but if you head around the back and into the alleyway, you'll find a sprawl of chairs and tables in backrooms and on the street.
The open kitchens face onto the street, giving you a direct look into most of the prep that happens. Sometimes it's a little more information than you wanted, but that's half the fun of street food dining, right?
Indoor dining room
You'll need to pre-book to eat here, so find a Cantonese speaker to help you out. You may as well ask them to join you too, as you'll have to write down your own order, in Chinese no less.
The dining rooms are no fuss affairs. Posters plaster the walls and fans keep things cool during summer. Plastic stools are all you'll get here, and forget about tablecloths - the tables are covered with giant plastic sheets.
DIY cutlery and crockery cleaning with hot water
Your bowls, glasses and chopsticks are brought out in a giant bowl with a jug of hot water. That's so you can sterilise your own eating utensils with boiling water. It's like they concede that ok we admit things aren't so clean, so here, have some hot water and go crazy with your hygiene complexes.
Frying the oyster pancake
The food comes out whenever it's ready, so if you do head out to have a sticky beak at the kitchen like I did, hurry back quickly as the food arrives fast.
Deep fried oyster pancake HK$70 (AU$10)
The deep fried oyster pancake
is a massive fritter of plump oysters bound together in a lacy batter that is full of crunch. And at AU$10, it's an utter bargain.
Deep fried century eggs HK$55 (AU$8) each whole egg
The deep fried century eggs
are an awesome mash-up of century eggs and Scotch eggs. Century eggs are an acquired taste, but they're made even better here with a casing of shrimp paste that's then crumbed and deep-fried.
Deep fried eel HK$100 (AU$14)
The deep fried eel
is a winner too. The battered coating adds crunch, but without the usual thick sweet soy you get with Japanese-style eel, here you taste more of the eel flesh on its own.
Sinqua melon with dried shrimp HK$80 (AU$11)
has a terrific spongy texture with a mild sweetness similar to young zucchini. Here it's stir-fried with dried shrimp, shallots, chilli and bucketloads of garlic.
Deep fried whole giant oysters
We splurged on deep fried whole giant oysters
too. Not sure how big these are?
iPhone-sized giant oysters
How did we survive before the international size comparison unit, the iPhone? Mrs PigFlyin
has the hand modelling job down to a fine art too.
These oysters are ridiculously huge, almost a meal on their own.
Pork knuckle with black pepper and oyster sauce HK$120 (AU$17)
One of the trademark dishes here is the pork knuckle
. They churn these out like nobody's business, each one arriving at the table on a hotplate cloaked in steam.
The pork knuckles have been slow cooked until soft, then liberally soaked in a rich and sticky black pepper and oyster sauce. The meat falls away easily off the bone.
Making clay pot rice
Clay pot rice
is also worth seeking out here. There's an element of mastery behind getting the water and heat ratios right so you're left with perfectly cooked ingredients and a bonus crunchy layer of rice at the bottom.
Gas flames cooking the clay pot rice
Clay pot rice HK$80 (AU$11)
When everything is mixed up, you get bits of crunchy rice in amongst the bursts of sweet lap cheong sausage and fresh shallot. The clay pot keeps everything hot for ages too.
Whole suckling pig HK$560 (AU$78)
And I've saved the best for last, of course. The whole suckling pig
. It's a crazy bargain at only AU$78. The pig is tiny - only the length of about three iPhones laid end to end - but it's the best we have on our entire Hong Kong trip.
The crackling skin is superb. Super crunchy and sweet with an unmistakeable taste of smoky charcoal that leaves you craving for more.
Crisping the skin of the suckling pig over charcoal by hand
It's only when we sneak into the kitchen on our way out that we discover the secret. After each pig is roasted, it's held by hand over a bed of glowing charcoal. The prong is slowly rotated so the skin bubbles even more, and the flesh takes on the flavour of charcoal.
Roast suckling pig
They serve the suckling pig here with saucers of hoisin and mustard. The flesh is buttery soft, but it's that smoky sweet crackling that will make you a fan of this dai pai dong for life.
Basement level, 288 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2861 2882
Tai Chung Wah
539 Fok Wing Street, Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 9045 4863
Open daily 6pm - 1am
32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2522 1624
Open daily 11am - 11.30pm
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