There are few cities in the world where breakfast might be a fluffy slab of diner toast weighed under an airy pile of scrambled eggs, lunch a messy heap of steaming noodles and fish balls, and dinner a fine-tuned French affair recalling the ritziest of Champs-Élysées haunts. In even fewer can one waddle from an elegant, multicourse English-style afternoon tea to the most clamorous and steamiest of late-night dim sum sessions.
But then again, few cities in the world are as intoxicating as Hong Kong, a place at once both unknown and familiar, both expansive and compact. These seemingly contradictory traits are reflective of an impossibly varied food scene packed into a scant 415 square miles and decades of British influence, which created a bridge between Western and Chinese sensibilities. Altogether, they make Hong Kong among the most fascinating places in Asia to stuff your face and feed your soul.
Proof can be found on a jaunt up the Central-Mid-Levels, the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system, which cuts through several notable neighborhoods as it whizzes up Hong Kong island’s comically steep inclines. Where other modern Asian cities feel sterile and corporate, Hong Kong is colorful and complex, holding onto tradition while embracing new flavors and culinary innovation.
There are more only-in-Hong Kong dining options than can possibly be counted here, from atmospheric cha chaan teng restos reminiscent of Western-style diners to outdoor dai pai dong hawker stalls, both slinging budget-friendly and hearty fare. A melding of Cantonese and Western flavors has yielded drinks and dishes unique to this part of the world, like yuanyang, a power-charged 30/70 blend of coffee and creamy Hong Kong-style milk tea; and Hong Kong-style French toast, which often resembles a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich splattered with sweetened condensed milk.
Around midnight, a stroll through the neon-splashed night markets will nip any after-dark hunger pangs in the bud with deep-fried rings of tender squid sprayed with sweet vinegar, whole roasted chopped pigeon zinged up with white pepper and all manner of skewered and charcoal-blasted meats and seafood.
Of course, hip restaurants and cafés in the Brooklyn tradition abound. In white-hot Sheung Wan and Soho, the fashionable hoods of choice for Hong Kong tastemakers, organic juice shops, subterranean speakeasy-style cocktail lounges and pour-over coffee shops are in no short supply. The craft beer scene is on fire. Instagrammers go slack in the jaw over meditations on Italian (8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana), French (Belon), Thai (Chachawan) and Japanese (Okra) cuisines.
Celebrity chefs have flocked to the area in recent years, too, with outposts from Nobu Matsuhisa, Gordon Ramsay, Alain Ducasse and Jamie Oliver, to name a few. In truth, if you wanted to exist in Hong Kong and pretend your taste buds never left New York City or London, you could. But why would you? The city once known as the Pearl of the Orient is a Chinese food powerhouse, pumping out the first Cantonese restaurant ever to snag three Michelin stars, Lung King Heen.
The point is, in Hong Kong, the palate doesn’t have to choose sides. Snag a flaky Hong Kong-style pineapple bun or a chia seed-sprinkled Buddha bowl or an oozy chicken Parmesan sub. It’s all good here.
Pack your passport—and an appetite—as we hit the world's hottest culinary destinations on and off the grid all month long. Now Boarding: your next trip to paradise.
Rachel Tepper Paley is a writer, editor , and sometimes illustrator living in New York City. See what she’s eating over at @thepumpernickel on Instagram.
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