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Hong Kong English phrases that have made it into the dictionary

By Doris Lam 2 July 2019 | Last Updated 26 February 2021

Hong Kong English, also known as Chinglish or Konglish, has been used by locals and expats for decades—but it was not until recently that it has earned a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). To celebrate our love for Hong Kong, we revisit some of the most popular Cantonese slangs and phrases that have been added to the dictionary over the years. From our favourite barbecue meat to conversational expressions, we are sure you will be able to recognise some of these well-known Hong Kong phrases.

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Add oil

A literal translation from the term ga yao, this Hong Kong English phrase is commonly used to show encouragement and support in everyday situations in place of “good luck” or “keep it up”. Going for an interview? Add oil! Have an assignment due today? Add oil!

Kai fong

Kai fong is a friendly reference to the people living in the neighbourhood. Restaurants and cafes using this term as part of their name, such as “Kai Fong Cafe” and “Kai Fong Dai Pai Dong”, literally translates into “neighbourhood restaurant”. The definition in the OED, however, only touched upon kai fong associations; for example, traditional welfare organisations that were set up after the Second World War to promote a civil society.

Lucky money

Also referred to as red envelopes, red packets or lai see, “lucky money” is a monetary gift given out by married people to the unmarried during Chinese New Year and special occasions. The amount of money contained in the envelope should be an even digit to avoid bad luck, as odd-numbered money gifts are associated with funerals.

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Dai pai dong

Located in outdoor areas, dai pai dong is a type of open-air food stall in Hong Kong that serve a large variety of no-frills local dishes. Dai pai dong, meaning “big licence stall” in Cantonese, is a nickname that stems from the stalls’ large license plates. While this local tradition used to be a popular dining option in the mid 20th century, there are now only 25 dai pai dongs remaining due to strict regulation laws.

Char siu

Need to order lunch to-go? You can never go wrong with char siu rice. Typically made with pork loin, char siu is seasoned with a mixture of honey, five-spice powder, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and red fermented bean curd, as well as red food colouring to create the dark red exterior. This iconic Hong Kong dish is one of the must-try meals for visitors to Hong Kong, and much beloved by locals, too.

Siu mei

Siu mei refers to all kinds of Chinese-style barbecued meat, whether it is roasted duck, char siu, roasted goose, roasted pig, or soy sauce chicken. With siu mei restaurants located on almost every street corner, it is hardly a surprise to hear that the average Hongkonger eats some form of siu mei at least once every four days. It is certainly a huge part of the Localiiz team’s regular diet!

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Yum cha

Yum cha, meaning “drink tea” in Cantonese, doesn’t always mean drinking a cup of tea. The phrase implies “going for dim sum” at Chinese tea houses, either during early breakfast, lunch, or tea time.

Wet market

Whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying that wet markets have unbeatable deals for produce. Selling everything from fresh meat and fish to vegetables and dry goods, wet markets are popular with housewives who like to check the health and quality of live animals before choosing which one to bring home. The cacophony, the heaving crowds, and the muddle of aromas make wet markets a unique and unshakeable part of Hong Kong’s identity.

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Doris Lam


Doris Lam is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Hong Kong. Her work has been published on Localiiz, HuffPost, Vice, Time Out, Hong Kong Tatler, and more. While she wishes that she’ll become a hiker gal one day, you’re probably most likely to find her slurping up bowls of ramen or enthusiastically petting chihuahuas on the street. Follow her on her website.