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With significant Hakka communities scattered across Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, it should come as no surprise that you have definitely encountered its food before. In fact, Hakka cuisine was listed as part of the first Hong Kong Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage back in 2014.
Yet, perhaps due to extensive integration within various regions, there are plenty of well-loved Asian dishes that the casual foodie may not know are actually from the Hakka people—consider if you knew stewed pork belly with preserved vegetables (梅菜扣肉; mui4 coi3 kau3 juk6) has Hakka origins, for instance!
Texture of food is seen as crucial in Hakka dishes, and therefore diners will commonly find a lot of meat options that have been stewed, braised, or roasted, each cooking style yielding its own unique textures and mouthfeels. Simple and pragmatic, Hakka food is not known for being fussy with its presentation, but rather for being satisfying and comforting. This sort of homely cooking has been struggling to compete with flashier eateries and rising rents over the years, but here are some restaurants where you can still find authentic Hakka food in Hong Kong.
Tsui King Lau is one of Hong Kong’s long-commended restaurants for Hakka food. With interior decoration that still seems to be firmly planted in the 1970s and 1980s, this is a top location for the increasing number of crowds who prefer to seek out nostalgic experiences. For all their humble appearances, however, some signature dishes are not as cheap as you might expect, but that’s because they know their worth and quality.
Tsui King Lau’s stewed pork belly with preserved vegetables ($120) is a classic, though some diners have expressed they would prefer if the cuts were fattier. A must-try here is the stuffed tofu ($80), a beloved Hakka dish also known as 釀豆腐 (joeng6 dau6 fu6), where various meat-based fillings are stuffed into cubes of tofu.
Tsui King Lau’s lunchtime specials come at very affordable price points, with dishes starting from $40 with no service charge added. As with most old-school Chinese restaurants, Tsui King Lau’s menus are not necessarily provided in English, so bring a Chinese-speaking friend along for the meal.
Another one of Hong Kong’s old-name Hakka restaurants, Chuen Cheung Kui has been on the scene for decades, and are specifically famed for their salt-baked chicken. Their fowls are imported fresh from Longjiang in mainland China and purportedly have a good layer of fat under the skin, which makes the meat more tender.
Unsurprisingly, the one dish that diners must order is the gold medal salt-baked chicken rice ($56), also known as 金牌鹽焗雞飯 (gam1 paai4 jim4 guk6 gai1 faan6). To simplify things from their extensive menu, Chuen Cheung Kui also offers set packages for groups of two to six diners (starting from $348), comprising of chicken or seafood mains, a variety of side dishes, and rice or noodles.
Chuen Cheung Kui (泉章居), 1/F, Alliance Building, 133 Connaught Road Central, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2388 7488
Poon choi (盆菜), also known as a “basin feast,” is a communal meal often served in Hong Kong’s villages over festivals and celebrations. Closely associated with the early settlers in the New Territories, many of whom were Hakka people, poon choi is often considered to have Hakka origins. Aside from still being served in village feasts to this day, poon choi has also experienced a mainstream renaissance of sorts, with various hotels and fancy restaurants creating versions of this traditional meal for sale particularly over Lunar New Year.
If you’re not in with someone who can bring you to a traditional poon choi feast in a village, the next best thing is probably chowing down in Hakka Kitchen. Available through pre-ordering, diners can choose between the delicacy poon choi (starting from $980) or the supreme abalone poon choi (starting from $1,280), which come in portions for four people all the way up to parties of 15. Expect to dig into an actual basin-sized dish layered with seafood, tofu, dried oysters, chicken, duck, pork, mushrooms, conpoy, assorted vegetables, and much more. Chinese-style feasting doesn’t get much more traditional than this.
Hakka Kitchen (客家人), Wing Yip Building, 193A Castle Peak Road, Cheung Sha Wan | (+852) 2392 8331
Although Hong Kong at large is rapidly giving way to gentrification and café culture, traditional cuisine can still be found in small pockets, such as Kong Hing Restaurant in Tai Wai, which serves home-style Hakka food at its best. Operating as a family business under owner and head chef Mr Liu since 1988, Kong Hing serves dishes that are generally difficult to find in other restaurants as they were considered too low-brow for dining out.
Take, for example, the chicken stew with rice wine ($228) featuring bite-sized pieces of chicken steeped in a fragrant soup that carries the sweetness of the wine. Another rare find is the stir-fried pork stomach with preserved vegetables and rice wine bits ($148), an interesting dish because the wine-soaked red glutinous rice pieces are left relatively intact in Hakka cooking, as opposed to the Taiwanese variety, which is broken down into a paste instead. Pork stomach itself makes for a texture-filled mouthful that tastes faintly of the rice wine used—be brave and try it before you diss it! If you like drinking with your meal, wash everything down with some Hakka glutinous rice wine ($128), which is served hot with ginger slices, and is incredibly warming.
Kong Hing Restaurant (港興大飯店), 79–81 Tsuen Nam Road, Tai Wai | (+852) 2691 6726
Lastly, a very quintessentially Hakka food is the lei cha (擂茶; leoi4 caa4), or “thunder tea.” Ingredients may vary, but the essence of this tea-based vegetarian dish remains the same. Tea leaves and herbs are ground with a variety of grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, and hot water is added to create a soup- or tea-like liquid. This is then poured into a bowl of rice and vegetables before serving, similar in concept to the Japanese ochazuke (お茶漬け).
Hong Kong has seen some lei cha eateries come and go, and at the time of publishing, there are currently no restaurants dedicated to this dish. In any case, the best way to enjoy a bowl of thunder tea would be to dine with a Hakka family, who will generally make their own lei cha mixture from scratch, so pull up those contacts!