Header image courtesy of Freya Cheung (via Unsplash)
If you are a strong believer in “no spicy, no happy” (無辣不歡), then Hunan cuisine—or Xiang (湘) cuisine—is right up your alley. Like its neighbours Chongqing and Guizhou, Hunan is known for its fiery foods. While other places cook up distinctive flavours like sour and spicy and numbing and spicy, Xiang cuisine stands out from the crowd with its assortment of fresh chillies and preserved foods and condiments, combining umami with burning sensations.
From street snacks to homestyle dishes, the fragrant world of Hunanese cuisine in Hong Kong has plenty to offer. Here are some of our favourite spots for you to check out.
Café Hunan is the only Hunanese restaurant in Hong Kong on the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand selection, a prestigious award recognising eateries that offer a high-quality meal for under $400. From affordable wooden barrel rice lunch sets to pricier speciality items like the braised pork elbow, a delicacy that is slow-cooked for over 10 hours, the food here suits everyone’s budget and palate.
Its location in Western District is especially favoured by students from the University of Hong Kong, who satisfy their cravings for homestyle meals with classics like stir-fried pork and Youxian tofu and spicy cauliflower.
What better way to spend a hot summer’s day than with an equally hot feast? Stimulate your senses with a gigantic bowl of steamed fish head with diced red and yellow peppers, an iconic Hunanese dish that’s swimming in (get it?) chillies and soy sauce.
Naturally growing upwards, the red “heaven-facing peppers” (指天椒) are preserved with salt, ginger, fermented black beans, and baijiu, while the small yellow tabasco peppers are pickled for 10 days. Loaded with savoury-and-spicy red chillies and sour-and-spicy yellow chillies, this fish head dish is the best of both worlds. Balance out the heat with a warm bowl of lotus root pork bones soup.
Cuisine de Hunan, M/F, Nathan Tower, 518–520 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei
Competition is fierce in the fish head game! Causeway Bay’s Hunan Weiguan also serves up a spicy double fish head. The right way to eat this dish, as some gastronomes suggest, is to finish off with a bowl of fresh noodles soaked in the fish head’s juices.
Another must-have on the menu is the Hunan-style deep-fried beancurd—or Changsha stinky tofu—a traditional snack in Xiang cuisine. Its pungent smell and black tofu skin might scare off those unaccustomed to the cuisine, but look past its appearance and you’ll soon be enticed by its moreish flavours. Drenched in a special chilli garlic sauce, every bite is crispy and bursting with savouriness—not stinky at all.
Hunan Weiguan, 6/F, Holiday Inn Express, 33 Sharp East Street, Causeway Bay
Wu Nam Yun is no fancy restaurant; its interiors are basic, the menu old-fashioned, and the service okay at best. But once you get past its drabness, you’ll find yourself immersed in authentic Hunan delights.
Hong Kong drifters from up north often order the spicy pork and egg stir-fry or the hot and sour chicken offal for a taste of home. If you are visiting Wu Nam Yun for the first time, try the ganguo thousand-layer tofu—a rare find in Hong Kong. Sizzling in hot oil and chilli sauce, the tofu is full of wok hei (鑊氣; “breath of the wok”) thanks to the ganguo (干锅; “dry pot” cooking method)—a cooking style that serves food in a mini wok on top of an alcohol stove.
Wu Nam Yun, G/F, Paul Yee Mansion, 340–344 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai
You would be mistaken if you think there’s nothing more to Hunan cuisine than spicy dishes! At Mrs Hunan, a hole-in-the-wall eatery nestled amidst the hustle and bustle of Kowloon City, chefs are whipping up sweet, fatty, and indulgent plates of Mao’s braised pork belly. Supposedly one of Chairman Mao’s favourite foods, the Hunanese version of this Chinese signature is laced with aromatics and spices, sending notes of caramel and dried chilli peppers to the tongue.
Don’t miss out on the stir-fry or ganguo dishes with cured pork or beef either! A Hunanese home staple, the larou (臘肉) becomes a golden-brown meaty wonder when sautéed with a generous amount of oil. Smoky and savoury, it pairs wonderfully with simple veggies like garlic sprouts and celtuce.
Mrs Hunan, G/F, 354 Prince Edward Road West, Kowloon City