No need to stay on Hong Kong Island for a good meal. Foodies can make an epic, finger-licking tour for themselves on the mainland, in Kowloon.
HONG KONG — If there was one takeaway from my week-long trip to Hong Kong, it would be that the city and its seven million inhabitants take Michelin stars very seriously. Considered the culinary capital of Asia, Hong Kong’s rich and varied food scene has garnered a reputation as one of the world’s best places to dine, so it was understandable (and amusing) to discover just how much locals talk about the accreditation. From the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport to the proprietor at Charms Tailor who made my fiancé a beautiful bespoke suit, talk of Hong Kong’s 74 Michelin-starred restaurants came up in just about every conversation.
On the long list of things I like to do and see in new cities, fancy restaurants usually land somewhere near the bottom. I like a nice meal, but find myself happiest in a cute cafe with major design cred or a small hole-in-the-wall that’s been around for a few decades. This trip, I decided to switch things up and dig into the fine dining scene by planning an epic food day that included stops at two of the city's most famous Michelin-approved restaurants.
The morning started with room service in my spacious Harbor View room at the classically-styled InterContinental Hong Kong, where I set myself up in front of the window to take in Hong Kong Island’s spectacular skyline. Having spent time at the top of the International Commerce Centre and Victoria’s Peak, I can confidently say that it is one of the best vantage points in the city.
I made my way down to the lobby, where I met executive sous chef Simon Kwok for a tour of a local wet market. In addition to manning the kitchen at the hotel’s massive breakfast buffet, the knowledgeable chef is available to take guests on guided food excursions around the city.
On any given day in Hong Kong, you are bound to come across a few wet markets, but for the full experience (cages filled with clucking chickens, streets lined with plastic bins of flapping fish, and baskets upon baskets of tropical fruit) Mongkok Local Market is the spot. Navigating a wet market is easy enough, but having Kwok on hand made it feel more like an experience. Much of the fruit for sale were new-to-me species that he was able to identify and describe. For picky eaters like me, it was nice having someone explain the snacks, including a bowl of fresh tofu sprinkled with brown sugar that Kwok described as a favorite childhood treat. Pro tip: When visiting wet markets, it is always smart to wear a pair of close-toed shoes, as the streets are filled with all kinds of unidentifiable liquids.
From there I made my way back to the hotel to wash up before heading downstairs for a private dim sum class. Most luxury hotels in HK, including mine, have several notable restaurants, including Rech by Alain Ducasse (the first international outpost of the famous Paris seafood restaurant and recipient of one Michelin star) and Nobu, but Yan Toh Heen is the one you don’t want to miss. The two Michelin-star restaurant dishes up outstanding Cantonese cuisine in an elegant dining room with hand-carved jade accents and stunning harbor views. Along with one of his sous chefs, executive chef Lau Yiu Fai took me through an hour-long crash course in the art of dumpling making. From the easy-to-master triangle fold to the more complex pleated crescent, I learned the various techniques used to craft beautiful dumplings.
Lunch in the dining room started off with steaming baskets of dumplings we had created, followed by the restaurant’s famous Peking duck, which must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance. The dish is served over two courses. First, the crispy skin is paired with thin pancakes and an elaborate display of condiments and sauces. Later, a plate of minced duck is accompanied by crisp lettuce wraps. A sampling of the restaurant’s most beloved deserts followed, including a striking bowl of creamy ginger panna cotta layered with black basil seeds and a refreshing scoop of ginger ice cream. In traditional Chinese style, the meal ended with a piping hot cup of green tea, to help with digestion.
Later that evening, after a much needed siesta, I left the hotel for an hour-long walk to the final stop of my food-packed agenda. A subway or bus could have had me there in less than a half hour, but exercise sounded like a good idea before tucking into my next meal. The Sham Shui Po outpost of Tim Ho Wan, a Hong Kong-based dim sum chain, is the lowest priced restaurant in the world to get a Michelin star. And with dinner for two coming in at around $25 USD, diners can expect to feast at a shockingly affordable price point. I was able to spot the unassuming restaurant thanks to a small line near the door, but, to my surprise, I only had to wait about fifteen minutes. English menus (if requested) offer 25 different dim sum choices. Highlights included baked bun with barbecue pork (a restaurant speciality) and steamed beef balls. The meal was good, but not necessarily worth all the hype, in my opinion. Nonetheless, it’s worth the trek if you like the idea of eating a Michelin star for the price of a sandwich.
Rates at InterContinental Hong Kong change seasonally and typically start at $230. Click here for reservations. Or get in touch with the Popupla Travel Desk and we can plan your trip for you. Custom food experiences can be arranged with the hotel’s concierge.
Plan Your Trip
How to Get There
Having flown both coach and business class, I can confidently say that Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines. The service is on point, the planes are modern and well kept, and the food is legitimately good. And, because the airline is based in Hong Kong, there are an abundance of direct flights from major US cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles into Hong Kong International Airport. My only complaint would be the customer service phone line, which isn’t 24 hours and can have you on hold for up to 45 minutes at a time.
Hong Kong is easier to navigate than one might expect, given the pace of the city. The Hong Kong MTR is fast, convenient, clean, and has this city dweller wondering why a similar subway experience can’t be replicated in New York City. Likewise, the bus system is reliable and extensive, which makes it easy to get to even the most remote parts of Hong Kong Island. Double-decker buses are a nice way to see the city. Taxis are accessible almost everywhere, but make sure to carry cash, since many don’t accept credit cards. Uber is also a reliable option, although it is not as prevalent as in the United States and may require a bit more time to find a car. Many hotels, including InterContinental Hong Kong, offer free, reliable smartphones (called Handy Phones) for guests to use while navigating the city.
When to Go
Thanks to the city-state’s subtropical location, Hong Kong is a year-round destination. Summer months are usually hot and humid and overlap with typhoon season, so most travelers prefer to visit between either in March and April or October and November when the weather is at its most pleasant.