Hong Kong can be a hard city to be in if food is not your thing. Because, everywhere you turn there is food. From barbecued pork hanging in the shop fronts ready to be eaten to locals sitting on rickety stools chopsticks in hand busy slurping away their noodle soup and dumplings, there’s no escaping food.
On the flip side, it is also a hard city to be in if food is your thing. Simply because there’s too much to choose from and if you’re only there for a short trip, it’s like having a ticking time bomb in your stomach – must eat as much as I possibly can!
If you find yourself in this situation the next time you’re in Hong Kong, simply head to the suburb of Mongkok. Known primarily for its cheap Ladies Market, Mongkok is no LFQ – an area known for bars and fancy restaurants. Here, expect crowds and queues everywhere you turn. But, queues are good because in Hong Kong food stalls are judged by their cover but instead by their queues.
While there’s something for everyone’s palate in Mongkok, come to this area with your adventurous cap on and leave your craving for chicken aside – unless you’re keen for some chicken feet. I was lucky enough to have a friend’s brother show me around and here my top picks from Mongkok that you simply must try!
Cuttle Fish Balls
Fish balls are a staple in the mainland and from noodles to soups to dumplings; you’ll find them everywhere. What I hadn’t had was just the fish balls by themselves. I broke my fish ball virginity at the Hot Star Fried Chicken Stall, which is a three-minute walk away from the Mongkok MTR station. They sell cuttlefish balls that are deep-fried and served hot on a bamboo skewer with some sauce. Hot, crispy and salty on the outside, the crumb gives way to the delicate fish inside and is a great way to start your food trail.
When I heard my friend saying, “Now try this stinky tofu”, I asked him why he was making me try something he believed was ‘stinky’. He reassured me though that stinky tofu is the actual name of this dish and is a kind of fermented tofu. Apparently, the stinkier it is, the tastier it will be! The secret to the stink is the fermentation process that can take several days to a week. And, like butter chicken in India the stall owners are highly secretive of the brine recipe used to ferment the tofu. Stewed, braised or deep-fried, the dish comes garnished with all sorts of strange things like pickled cabbage, bamboo shoots, eggs or congealed duck blood. You won’t find this dish at any fancy restaurants so Mongkok or a local market may just be your best bet.
Takoyaki (Japanese style Octopus Balls) at Fa Yuen and Bute Street
After fish its time to be a bit more adventurous and try octopus. The Takoyaki stall in Mongkok is squeezed between a Milk Tea and a Stinky Tofu stall but you won’t miss it, as there is a perpetually long queue outside anytime of the day. Don’t let the thought of octopus make you miss this treat! This stall makes their Takoyaki the traditional way on a carved griddle before flipping them out and dunking them in mayonnaise and barbecue sauce. Of everything I ate in Hong Kong, these were my absolute favourite.
While I can see the mental cringe as you read this, I urge you to give the frog legs a try. You’ll find them in the backstreets squeezed in between the shops of Mongkok’s Ladies Market. Stir-fried with spring onion, capsicum and green chilies, these legs are like miniature chicken legs and even though there isn’t much meat on them they are very juicy and flavourful. Remember when you discovered edamame and couldn’t stop eating it, that’s what will happen with these too.
Gai Dan Jai
A twist on the European waffle, the Gai Dan Jai is a strange-looking yet delicious snack that is likely as old as the city itself. While the best place to eat them is at the original Lee Keung Kee stall in North Point, you will find many street vendors in Mongkok too. Simply look out for people carrying a paper bag of what looks like miniature eggs and the vendor will be close by. Crispy on the outside yet soft as air on the inside, this snack is not overly sweet and something that you will find yourself craving any time of the day. I was so happy I discovered these on my first day in the city as that gave me enough time to gorge on these beauties for lunch, evening tea and dinner every day since.
While you will of course find all of these snacks in various other parts of the city too, there’s something enticing about having them in Mongkok simply because this area is densely packed with great food everywhere you turn. Now excuse me while I go back to dreaming about my bag of Gai Dan Jai.