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In such a fast-paced city as Hong Kong, who’s got the time for breakfast? It’s still supposedly the most important meal of the day, however, and so Hong Kongers adapted to make it quick and convenient, but also surprisingly delectable. Check out the most common breakfasts in Hong Kong, and see how many you’ve tried before.
The greasy and carb-tastic goodness that is cha chaan teng breakfasts will always have a special place in Hong Kongers’ hearts. The breakfast combo comes in two parts and a drink, with a choice of mains between macaroni with ham, noodles with satay beef, or noodles with preserved vegetables paired.
Diners could choose from a variety of noodles, such as instant noodles, rice noodles, and even spaghetti; the build-your-own flair extends to the side dish, where you can choose to have luncheon meat, sausage, sunny side up eggs, or scrambled eggs to go along with a piece of white bread with margarine on it. All of this is paired with a glorious cup of Hong Kong-style milk tea or any of the other quintessential drinks.
But don’t expect to linger long: Aside from the heavy degree of customization, another characteristic of the cha chaan teng breakfast is speed. The meal often arrives in less than five minutes, perfect for those rushing to work, but not as much as those looking for a leisurely breakfast.
For the more health-conscious Hong Konger, this is often their only choice on the cha chaan teng menu. But no, it’s not as boring as you think—Hong Kong-style oatmeal takes instant oat to the next level by cooking it with a combination of evaporated milk, condensed milk, or regular milk. The sweet and creamy concoction is usually served with a scrambled egg sandwich or a boiled egg.
Compact, filling, and warm, this Shanghai classic has become one of Hong Kong’s favourite on-the-go breakfasts. To make this dish, glutinous rice is tightly wrapped around a piece of deep-fried dough, along with bits of preserved vegetables and dried pork floss. The rice ball is then steamed and sold in halves when it’s still piping hot so that it’s like you’re gulping down a portable bowl of rice. In true Shanghai fashion, the savoury morsel is usually paired with a refreshing cup of soy milk, both of which can be found in the many traditional street food stalls around the town.
Another well-liked takeout breakfast is the humble rice noodle roll. Steamed rice noodle rolls, or cheung fun, are chopped into smaller sections and rolled up without any fillings, unlike its yum cha counterpart. Instead, its bold flavours come from the accompanying symphony of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame sauce, which is then topped with fragrant roasted sesame seed, making it a most homely first meal of the day.
A popular breakfast among older locals is an unassuming bowl of plain congee. Plain congee is often paired with savoury pieces of a deep-fried dough stick (油炸鬼), which literally translates to “oil-fried ghost” in Cantonese. Another variation sees a thin layer of rice noodle sheet wrapped around the deep-fried dough stick before the dish is doused in cheung fun soy sauce. Plain congee can also be paired with an extra salty dish of stir-fried noodles or rice vermicelli to go along with, so don’t be shocked to see patrons dunking noodles into their congee. However, there are fewer and fewer congee shops in Hong Kong nowadays as big businesses take over the time-honoured small local businesses.
Perhaps the most hassle-free breakfast of all is the conventional Hong Kong-style bread. Hong Kong bakeries are a curious result of British, Portuguese, and Chinese influences, producing singular kinds of bread such as the pineapple bun, the cocktail bun, and the sausage bun. Baked fresh in the morning and usually under $10 a piece, they make for a tasty and convenient breakfast.
Pass by any train station in the morning and you’ll spot a long line of bleary-eyed workers queuing to buy buns. Steamed buns weren’t that common as a breakfast item before, but after Chinese takeout chain Tong Kee Bao Dim—which means “Tong Kee’s Buns and Dim Sum” in Cantonese—started opening shops around the city, workers began to appreciate steamed buns as a hearty alternative to bread. It’s just as cheap, too—at only eight dollars apiece, patrons can choose from savoury favourites such as the Pork & Cabbage Bun and the Barbeque Pork Bun, or sweet alternatives such as the Creamy Custard Bun and the Taro Paste Bun.
Of course, who can forget this toothsome Cantonese classic? What is the family’s occasional weekend brunch is more of an everyday ritual for the elderly. As early as 7 am, grannies and grandpas would settle down in their customary yum cha place to enjoy an unhurried solitary meal, accompanied by the daily paper. The restaurant gets busier as the sun rises, and patrons now have to share tables with strangers, which may or may not lead to lively conversations. Groups of aunties would also come in after their daily morning exercise to spill more tea as they're sipping on tea.
While dim sum remains a hallmark in morning yum cha, bargain deals for steamed rice are also popular, with common combos being Steamed Pork Patty with Rice and Spare Ribs and Chicken Feet with Steamed Rice.