Where to eat some winter warmers amid Hong Kong’s cold snap

When temperatures plunge, Hongkongers’ thoughts turn to foods traditionally thought of as warming - hotpot, double-boiled soups, claypot rice and snake soup. Here are some places to get some

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2016, 6:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 February, 2016, 6:42pm

When the weather in Hong Kong is this cold, we need some seriously warming food. There are four traditional options: snake soup (not for everyone, we know), hotpot, double-boiled soup, and claypot rice.

Some hotpot lovers will tell you the best hotpot is the one you prepare yourself. However, unless you are good friends with stall owners who reserve the best cuts of meat or you are expert at making your own soup base, you’re best off eating out.

The creative combination of ingredients at Megan’s Kitchen (5/F Lucky Centre, 165-171 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai; tel: 2866 8305) always surprise. One of our favourites is a deep-fried pastry stuffed with shrimp paste. The salty ox-tongue cheese dumpling is another highlight.

At Golden Valley (1/F The Emperor Hotel, 1 Wang Tak Street, Happy Valley; tel: 2961 3330) the Sichuan spicy soup is so good, we barely touch the others. A condiment bar is equipped with a mortar and pestle for you to crush your seasonings and there are instructions on how to make a Sichuan-style sauce.

While freshness of ingredients is very important in a hotpot, it’s a mistake to take the soup for granted. The tomato crab soup from Old Man Hot Pot (25-31 Cooke Street, Hung Hom; tel: 9089 7732) is outstanding and easily the best.

Double-boiled soups are a traditional Chinese way to keep the chills at bay. The soup and its ingredients are placed in either a tureen or ceramic jar, sealed and then put in a steamer and slow-cooked for three to four hours. The end result is an intensely flavoured, usually clear broth that has absorbed all the nutrients from ingredients that are chosen for their benefits to the body.

At fine-dining Cantonese restaurant One Harbour Road (7/F-8/F Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2584 7722), double-boiled chicken soup with matsutake mushrooms has clean, complex flavours that we found very delicate. There’s a more medicinal aftertaste in the double-boiled frog soup with fresh ginseng and American ginseng.

At Jui Yau (129-135 Castle Peak Road, Sham Shui Po, tel: 3480 9085), the soups are remarkable. Chef-owner Yiu Li-man is from Taishan in Guangdong, and his soups are best ordered in advance; the pork lung soup with dried vegetable, for instance, takes seven hours to prepare.

At Jin Cuisine (2/F Holiday Inn Express, 3 Tong Tak Street, Tseung Kwan O, tel: 2623 2333), the lamb bone soup with wolfberries is clear, with a delicious flavour and makes you feel warm and nourished. The double-boiled pigeon soup with pear and apple has a delicate, sweet flavour.

In traditional Chinese medicine, snake is considered a warming ingredient that heats the body when it’s cool outside. Among the best-known snake restaurants in Hong Kong is Shia Wong Hip (170 Ap Liu Street, Sham Shui Po, tel: 2386 9064). Every batch of its snake soup is made with 30 catties of snake meat and bone, pork bones, two old chickens, Jinhua ham, black fungus, ginger, lemon leaves and mandarin peel. “The black fungus is for the blood, mandarin peel is to get rid of the gamey taste, lemon leaves for the smell,” says proprietor Chau Ka-ling.

Chau supplies snakes to restaurants across the city, including The Chinese Restaurant (Level 3 Hyatt Regency Hong Kong Tsim Sha Tsui, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3721 7788), where chef Lo Kwai-kai takes snake that’s been boned and boiled, steams it and adds sugar cane, an old chicken, pork, ham, mandarin peel, and lemon leaves to make soup that’s a bit thinner than other places serve.

A properly made claypot rice is one of the most comforting of winter treats. It all starts with the rice, which should be soft, dry and slightly al dente. The grains on the side should form a golden brown crust that separates easily from the pot. Finally, there needs to be a balance between all the toppings you pile onto the rice.

At Tim Lok Yuen (4 Fuk Lo Tsun Road, Kowloon City, tel: 2382 2369. Open: 7am-2am) the menu is filled with old-school combinations including Jinhua ham with grass carp belly, chun pei (mandarin peel) with fish intestine, and shiitake with chicken. Owner Kong Fu-sing says they don’t mind if guests ask them for a bowl of their wonton soup broth to add to their almost finished claypot before they scrape the crunchy bits from the sides.

Our favourite at Wing Hop Sing (G/F, 360 Des Voeux Road West, Western District, tel: 2850 5723. Open: 7am-4pm) is the minced beef and egg claypot rice. Cracked raw on top of the piping-hot rice, the egg oozes into the rice, giving it a richer texture. The expensive beef shoulder they use is well worth it. We love the mixed cured meat version too. Wing Hop Sing cook the claypot rice in a regular oven, but if you pay an extra HK$10 during off-peak times, they will put the pot on a gas ring for a crunchy crust.

At Chuen Moon Kee Restaurant (Man Fok Building, 419 Reclamation Street, Mong Kok, tel: 3760 8855. Open: 7am-midnight; claypot rice available from 5.30pm-11.15pm) the main event is watching chef-owner Yu Ho-chuen use a knife to loosen the crispy crust off the bowl – in one piece. Yu likes to use seafood from the nearby wet market in his dishes.

In Tai Po, Chan Hon Kee (91B Wan Tau Street, Tai Po, tel: 6856 6044. Open: 11am-4am; claypot rice available from 6pm-3am) is the best place to get your late-night carb fix. The two-page menu boasts close to 60 varieties of claypot rice comprising endless combinations of frog, pork ribs, chicken, beef, preserved fish, cured meats and eel. The little touches and attention to detail that make its food stand out.