Many of us have probably experienced the Proustian phenomenon at least once, an idea which proposes that your olfactory system has more power than any other sense to trigger memories. For some it’s a tea-soaked madeleine, for others maybe a thick chicken broth. This week on PTJ, Anne Berry found a few classic Hong Kong dishes and eateries so good they’ll transport you in time and space to their inception. This list is by no means definitive of what Hong Kong has to offer and instead curates a small taste of the city’s favorite dishes and the people behind them.

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Char Siu (叉燒)

This is a Hong Kong staple featuring thin slices of barbecued pork, glazed in soy sauce and honey, on steaming white rice. The dish was introduced to Hong Kong during the city’s origins as a British colonial outpost, and was considered as rudimentary peasant cuisine from Guangdong province at the time. For this dish we went to Joy Hing Roasted Meat (265-267 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai), a back-to-basics siu mei (Chinese barbecue) restaurant which has perfected this humble dish.  Although it hasn’t yet achieved Michelin star status, Joy Hing was recently regarded as Bib Gourmand status by inspectors for quality cooking and value.

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Cha Chaan Teng (茶餐廳)

A peculiarly quintessential element of Hong Kong cuisine is cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) afternoon tea. The majority of dishes served in these restaurants are “western with a Hong Kong twist”: steaming hot egg tarts, cocktail buns (filled with coconut paste), and yuanyang (a mixture of tea and coffee) to name a few. These small cafes emerged after the Second World War, offering affordable western food to locals as the two cultures began to converge. There are plenty of them across Hong Kong island and Kowloon, but a local favorite is Kam Fung Restaruant (41 Spring Garden Lane) in the heart of Wanchai district. Their buttery pineapple buns (which don’t feature pineapple actually) go down a treat with an icy milk tea.

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Dim Sum (點心)

This popular Cantonese cuisine has its origins in teahouses along the Silk Road, pairing fragrant teas with small delicacies. The experience is one that is undeniably heartwarming, not only for the variety of deliciousness it offers, but also because it’s a cuisine that demands sharing, be it with family, friends, or colleagues.  Hong Kong has a vast number of teahouses, but Dim Sum Square (27 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan) is one of Hong Kong’s best kept secrets for their reasonable prices and excellent craftsmanship. If there’s one dish you have to order it’s the baked barbeque buns, which is the perfect blend of savory-sweet roast pork in a crumbly bao. It will change your life.

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Wonton Mein (雲吞麺)

Although dumplings and noodles are typically associated with the northern region of China, Hong Kong’s wonton noodles take this northern staple and give it southern flavor. The wontons are typically made with fresh shrimp, a trait determined by Hong Kong’s close proximity to the sea. They are accompanied by egg noodles, which are exceptionally thin, al dente, and placed in steaming bouillon. In the middle of Hong Kong’s bustling business district you’ll find Mak’s Noodles (Wing Kut Street, Sheung Wan), filled with newcomers and regulars alike who’ve come to appreciate what Mak’s believe is the perfect bowl of wonton noodles.

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Ngau Lam Mein (牛腩麵)

Beef brisket noodle soup is another fundamental noodle dish to Cantonese cuisine. The brisket of beef is slow-cooked to tender perfection and is matched with a thick beef broth and rice or egg noodles, sometimes with a sprinkling of spring onions. Every beef brisket restaurant will have their own version of the dish: some infuse the brisket with spices, while others prefer a clear broth. To try it yourself; many locals will point you in the direction of Kau Kee Restaurant(21 Gough Street, Sheung Wan), an institution which has been serving ngau lam mein for almost a century. However, we’re more inclined to visit the quiet neighborhood of Sister Wah (13A Electric Road, Tin Hau) for the light yet flavorful broth and dedication to quality.

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/ Words and Photography / Anne Berry /