Header image courtesy of @yummy.cecilou (via Instagram)
One of the best ways to experience a culture is through its food. Traditional cuisine is passed down from one generation to the next as an expression of cultural identity. While we are all yearning to jump onto a plane and experience the unfamiliar, Hong Kong has lived up to its reputation as the culinary capital of Asia.
Whether you crave a spoonful of creamy mango sticky rice from Thailand or the kaleidoscope of seasoned sautéed vegetables that make up a bibimbap (비빔밥) from Korea, we dive into the international food neighbourhoods in Hong Kong to find the best gastronomic experiences and street food.
With the emerging popularity of Korean dramas, boy bands, and movies, the K-pop culture has swept Hong Kong, inspiring unmatched devotion from its fans. Established by Korean immigrants around the 1960s, Kimberly Street and Carnavon Street have served as a neighbourhood for the Korean community—dubbed “Koreatown” (韓國街; hon4 gwok3 gaai1) in Cantonese.
For years, the area remained mostly relegated to a small street in Tsim Sha Tsui. Dotted with restaurants, cafés, and grocery shops, the neighbourhood’s popularity was revived by the Korean drama Dae Jang Geum and the overnight sensation of hit song “Gangnam Style.”
Koreatown in Tsim Sha Tsui opens up a whole new world of possibilities to intrepid foodies. Here, you can feed your inner Korean self with Korean barbeque, fried chicken joints, and speciality groceries. Stroll through the neighbourhood for chilled soju, cheese ramen, and even household products imported from Korea.
As you enjoy an oxtail stew inside a restaurant, expect a variety of side dishes like signature kimchi, pickled cucumber, spicy beansprout, and rustic spinach. Try a few Korean fusion dishes in the area, like kimchi hot pot and budae jjigae—a potted stew concocted from a jumble of sausages, baked beans, and cheese slices, which were smuggled out of the US army bases during the Korean War.
Bordered by Junction Road on the west, Carpenter Road on the north, and Prince Edward Road West on the southeast, Kowloon City’s “Little Thailand” has been the heart of the Thai diaspora since the 1970s. Spread across the neighbourhood is a myriad of spas, Thai grocery shops, affordable eateries, and everything you can imagine associated with the Thai culture.
Garlands of fresh marigold blooms and jasmine buds are hung across shopfronts as decoration. Grocery stores are stocked with exotic ingredients, including lobe-shaped aubergines, bird’s-eye chillies, and mangosteen—the queen of tropical fruits. Stacked across shelves are boxes of look choop—rainbow-coloured, fruit-shaped desserts made from mung bean—and coconut sago puddings poured into pandan leaf “boxes.”
If you are in the mood to search out more unique dishes, Thai BBQ2 serves a raw rendition of laab, a Thai iteration of beef carpaccio bathed in fish sauce, chilli flakes, lime juice, and a handful of herbs.
Every April, Kowloon City hosts the festival of Songkran to celebrate the Buddhist New Year. The thoroughfares are lined with youngsters equipped with cannon-sized water guns and buckets. Besides being the wildest water fight to experience in Hong Kong, it’s also a melting pot of new year gastronomic classics, including a rice speciality, pounded and winnowed before being soaked into cold water in a jasmine-scented earthenware pot.
Causeway Bay became the shopping hub of today after a wave of Japanese department stores sprouted across the district in the 1960s. Nicknamed “Little Ginza,” Causeway Bay once thrived as a commercial hub with over nine Japanese department stores stretched around the block. The four biggest were Daimaru (大丸; daai6 jyun2), Matsuzakaya (松坂屋; cung4 baan2 nguk1), Sogo (崇光; sung4 gwong1 ), and Mitsukoshi (三越; saam1 jyut6), which bequeathed shoppers a combined retail space of 500,000 square feet. The department stores gave many Hongkongers their first impression of Japanese culture.
Until the 1950s, Fashion Walk was the soybean warehouse for Vitasoy Milk until it transformed into Daimaru a decade later. Its streamlined designs became a shoppers’ paradise for toys, appliances, and trendy clothes. For years, Daimaru was synonymous with Causeway Bay. A minibus station was even named after it, giving rise to a classic phrase that riders shouted: “Please stop at Daimaru!” (司機大丸有落; si1 gei1 daai6 jyun2 jau5 lok6).
While the past legacy of four major department stores marked the end of an era, Causeway Bay is saturated with omakase restaurants, ramen joints, sake bars, and izakayas. Better yet, there’s always fresh-made takoyaki to relish as you stroll through the basement of Sogo. Re-live the Ginza Crossing experience by crossing Hennessy Road during rush hour—saturated with fashionable people, neon lights, and billboards on all its sides.
Widely known as a “ghetto at the centre of the world,” Chungking Mansions is a warren of shops run by Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigrants. Marked by unsightly concrete blocks punctured by disproportionate windows, the 17-floor mansion spreads across five building blocks connected by a two-floor shopping arcade.
Built in the 1960s, Chungking Mansions was partly owned by Indians and Pakistanis. It became a buzzing commercial centre for the Hong Kong South Asian community. The maze-like corridors and staircases in the belly of Chungking Mansions are dotted with small restaurants, electronic shops, Chinese-related food joints, and shops selling everything from gold to fabrics to mobile phones.
The complex magically transports diners to India with the clinking of silverware and the rich aroma of curry wafting throughout the air. You can find authentic Indian food across the building, including masala dosa—a south Indian rice pancake stuffed with spiced potatoes—at Aladdin. Navigate deeper into the building for tandoori chicken, Indian sweets, and mouth-watering street food like pani puri—a bite-sized snack filled with diluted chutney that you can pop and crackle on your palate.
Nepalese immigrants began moving to Hong Kong in late the 1940s to 1960s as part of the British brigade that occupied the Whitfield Barracks and Shek Kong—near present-day Yau Tsim Mong and Kam Tin. While some moved back to Nepal after the British occupation had ended, more chose to take roots in Hong Kong.
Since then, the Nepalese diaspora has remained closely knitted, taking up residence in tenement houses across Jordan and Yau Tsim Mong. The neighbourhood is juxtaposed with traditional saree shops, Nepalese speciality stores, and eateries. Try homemade momos—mildly spiced minced meat steamed with tomatoes and chillies—and dishes featuring anchobi—preserved fish processed using centuries-old indigenous knowledge of fermentation, drying, and smoking.
End your street food adventure with a heaping portion of chatamari, a pizza-like delicacy topped with an assortment of meat, vegetables, and a sunny-side-up egg as you picture your next street food quest around the world.