This month, I set out to come up with a list of five restaurants that serve traditional, Cantonese food right here on Hong Kong Island. I am grateful to my Hong Kong friends who helped in this endeavor. The restaurants are listed in reverse order of comfort and décor.
Mun Sing Bing Sutt
Bing sutt means “ice house” in Cantonese and started as cafés serving iced drinks along with limited selections of snacks. Mun Sing Bing Sutt has lasted more than 50 years and the food now served is homey, hearty and delicious Cantonese dishes of yore.
The highlight is Mun Sing’s steamed Minced Pork Pie (HKD45 at lunch). The dish is similar to the steamed minced pork patties one can find around the city. But, it stands out for its robust flavour and unique tower shape, which tapers to a peak of rich salty egg yolk doused in soy sauce and dotted with minced green onion. The design enhances the flavour, as the fat from the top seeps through the tower’s lower reaches. Beyond this signature dish, the hallmark of the food at Mun Sing is the use of quality ingredients and classic taste. The Scallop and Tofu Dish (HKD45 at lunch), for example, was notable for the freshness of the sashimi-grade crustacean as well as the firm but creamy texture of the tofu underneath.
Not available at lunch but a must for dinner, Mun Sing is also known for its Steamed Egg with Crab (HKD79). The egg and whole roe crab are steamed in a single dish encasing the crab in smooth egg custard to great (and delicious) effect.
Mun Sing Bing Sutt, G/F 16 Wun Sha Street, Tai Hang (Google Maps)
Choi’s Kitchen on the other side of Victoria Park from Causeway Bay retains the look and feel of a neighborhood restaurant from an earlier time. The menu includes an ample selection of Cantonese classics from claypot rice to fresh seafood. On my last visit, I had some of the best Razor Clams (HKD78 each) I have ever tasted. They were enormous, perfectly steamed, not too chewy and prepared traditionally with garlic sauce and clear vermicelli noodles.
I also recommend Choi’s signature Brisket and Radish Soup (HKD258) and the Deep Fried Bummalo Fish with Salt and Pepper (HKD118). The soup is served in a large clay pot that can be shared by a group and is thick with tender and fatty brisket slices and chunks of cooked radish making for a deliciously sweet and savory broth. Bummalo fish, also known as Bombay duck, is not a duck at all but a small, elongated fish that is typically salted or fried when fresh. Choi’s version contains a light batter to coat the soft fish for a perfect combination of taste and texture. There is a similar dish with squid, but the fish is better.
Choi’s Kitchen, 9 Whitfield Road, Causeway Bay (Google Maps)
Tai Wing Wah Village Cuisine
Tai Wing Wah in Wan Chai is a branch of the Wing Wah group’s restaurant business that opened in Yuen Long in 1950. The restaurant specializes in the traditional cuisine of the walled villages of Southern China. The food is homey, hearty and satisfying. My favorites on a recent visit were the Salted Egg Prawn with Cashew Nut (HKD98) and the Spicy Stir-fried Sprouts with Dried Fish (HKD87). The former includes fresh shrimp mixed with roasted cashew nuts, crispy celery and peppers coated but not fried in a salty egg sauce for a well-balanced, flavorful combination. The latter vegetable dish was also excellent, combining the crispness of wok-fried sprouts with the salty flavour of the small fried fish. On the heavier side, the Country Style Pork Belly (HKD87) was steamed tender and combined in classic Cantonese fashion with an ample amount of taro.
Any meal at Tai Wing Wah must include a serving of their signature claypot rice with pork lard and soy sauce. This individual portion of white long-grained rice is steamed in a clay bowl and drizzled table-side with a spoonful of liquid pork lard and soy sauce. This is not your average bowl of rice.
Tai Wing Wah, G/F, 1 Stewart Road, Wan Chai (Google Maps)
I love Ho Choi Seafood Restaurant for dim sum, in particular for its excellent selection of traditional hand-made dim sum combined with a few of their own creations. One of my favorites is the steamed chicken with fish maw (HKD28.8) which comes wrapped in foil on a sizzling iron plate. This method ensures the aroma and juices of the chicken are well infused into the tender steamed maw. The Bamboo Shoots with Chili Sauce (HKD36) is another highlight. The stewed baby bamboo is cool with a perfect balance of crispness and pliancy and a sparing amount of chili sauce to complement the bamboo’s naturally fresh taste.
An original creation are the Deep Fried Sesame Balls with Cheese (HKD23.8). From the outside, these look like typical sesame paste balls, customarily eaten as a sweet conclusion to the meal. However, these balls are instead stuffed with gooey mozzarella cheese for an east-west comfort food combination that just works.
Ho Choi Seafood Restaurant, 287-291 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan (Google Maps)
Sing Kee Seafood’s branch in Central has a “bib gourmand” from Michelin for high quality, good value food. While I find Michelin’s ratings to be suspect in Hong Kong, in this case I think they got it right, as Sing Kee is a convenient location for very good traditional Cantonese food. At my recent dinner, the Fried Bean Curd with Spicy Salt (HKD98) stood out. The outside was crispy and full of flavour while the tofu itself was smooth and creamy. The Fish Head with Ginger and Scallion in Casserole (HKD138) was also excellent. The head was broken into pieces and flash fried for that fresh-off-the-wok taste plus bones so crisp that they were edible. I highly recommend this dish. The Salted Chicken (HKD200 for a half portion) was tasty to help round out a meal but could have been less oily and had crisper skin. Nonetheless, for “casual fine dining” on traditional Cantonese food in a convenient location, Sing Kee is an excellent choice.
Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant, 2/F, 1-7 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central (Google Maps)