Hungry In Hong Kong

Eschewing mundane, everyday fare, Ajit Rana runs the gamut of eateries – from Michelin star havens and fine dining restaurants offering Punjabi and Sichuan fare, to bistros and even takeout serving home-cooked delicacies – in his quest to satisfy the Indian palate. He writes from Hong Kong, three months into the worldwide lockdown.

Lifestyle Insider Keema at New Punjab Club

The Gujarati with packed khakra or the Punjabi with the packets of namkeen chakhna is always a source of laughs and ridicule for most of us but face it, five days into ‘eating authentic local cuisine’ and we are back to craving desi food, Indian Chinese, or Punjabi Italian!

Hong Kong may be one of the most ‘international’ cities in the world, but sampling the local fare is not for the Indian palate. I consider myself a global adventurer and normally refrain from eating at fancy restaurants, international chains, or in big hotels when visiting a new place. I do the local thing. I like to eat with the local common man, like the local common man and with the budget of the local common man. While this has been very educational for me in understanding and experiencing different culinary cultures, it has also backfired on me and found me in awkward situations a few times. The local Hong Kong common man’s meal did not work well for me. Besides the fact that it is completely bland, the strong fishy flavour and pungent aroma remained in my palate for the rest of that particular trip.

Lifestyle Insider Shrimp Dimsum at Peking Garden

Now I am a part-time resident of Hong Kong and have come a long way in finding food that satisfies my Indian cravings here. Hong Kong is dotted with more that 60 Michelin star restaurants and several other top-notch eateries that are very authentic in their fare. Some of these employ chefs of international fame who transport you to a culinary experience that is not only authentic by country but also by exact regions. But being a ‘desi munda’ I need my Indianized food often. While being locked out of India during the Covid-9 crisis, I have been in Hong Kong for over three months and in the process have discovered some restaurants that give me that satisfaction.

Lifestyle Insider Masalewala Chanp at New Punjab Club - the most expensive dish on the menu

Indian restaurants outside India are normally very similar, and while you get the satisfaction of seeing an Indian setup, listening to some badly played ragas over an old sound system, and ordering your meal in Hindi, the food is best not spoken about again. Hong Kong has its share of these but one restaurant that stands out as a clear winner with very high-quality food and an overall memorable dining experience, is the one Michelin star restaurant in Central called the New Punjab Club. The fact that getting a reservation is as hard as getting a chance to meet Jackie Chan speaks volumes of its popularity. The staff is very professional and knowledgeable about the cuisine and will correctly guide you on what and how much to order. The food is amongst the best Indian that I have eaten in a restaurant. Simple things like the Samosa Chaat are a well-controlled explosion of savoury, sweet, and spicy in your mouth. The Keema Pau was also cooked to perfection but the highlight was the Masalewali Chanp. These Australian lamp chops were mammoth in size and the wife gulped at the sheer size. But these were cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection and were a tad under-spiced to cater to the local palate, but this was not something that crunching into a green chilli could not solve. It is a place I will certainly visit again if I can get a table!

Lifestyle Insider The one Michelin star Qi

Unfortunately, there is no chance of getting Gobi Manchurian or even Chilli Chicken Chowmein in Hong Kong. Nor can you find your friendly neighbourhood Big Boss or Red Dragon cart with a Nepali churning our greasy chowmein and fried rice loaded with ajinomoto. What you can find however, are top-notch Sichuan and Beijing cuisine restaurants that serve authentic fare which tops our version of Chinese food and transports you to a whole new dimension of Chinese cuisine. Prominent Sichuan restaurants offer the principle of Mala in their repertoire, which is Ma (numbing) and La (burning). The one Michelin star Qi restaurant is frequented by Indian patrons who, like me, look for the spice and ‘kick’ in Chinese cuisine. The universal favourite, Kung Pao Chicken, is prepared to perfection and this almost dry entrée goes down well with jasmine rice. Other favourites at Qi include Wok Fried Pork Collar with Balsamic Vinegar and Pan Fried Fillet Fish in Sweet Chilli Sauce. The Cumin Lamb with Roasted Chilli proved a bit much even for the wife who left most of it for me to relish.

Lifestyle Insider Kung Pao Chicken at Qi Lifestyle Insider Chilli Fagara serves Sichuan fare

Chilli Fagara is another Sichuan specialty restaurant, and on my very first visit I was introduced to something called the Dry Hot Pot. This is a combination of pork, chicken, lotus stem, and bamboo shoots, and is dry-roasted in a bed of Sichuan chillies. While it packs enough heat to turn the faint-hearted into a panting puppy, the spiciness is a little different from what we are used to and this chilli imparts a different flavour that may not be very agreeable to the Indian palate. I would, however, recommend people with a sense of adventure try it. Of course, safer options are available, like Twice Cooked Pork, Braised Pork Belly, and General Tso’s Chicken.

Lifestyle Insider Thrice cooked Pork at Chilli Fagara

Other Chinese restaurants that appease Indian tastebuds include Peking Garden in the upmarket mall, Pacific Place. The menu here is very extensive, and even though the spice level does not quite match the Sichuan restaurants, the flavours are just right for us Indians. The Pot Stickers, Sautéed Pork with Green Pepper and Sautéed Chicken in Chilli Sauce are well worth a try. The specialty here is Peking Duck and I strongly recommend that any Indian visiting Hong Kong should try this delicacy at least once. There are several restaurants that serve this time-consuming and difficult to prepare dish, but few do it as well as Peking Garden. This roasted duck has delicate flavours which are very much in sync with what Indians like. For spice you can always add some chilli paste but don’t be surprised if you get some unapproving stares from the staff and other diners!

Lifestyle Insider Peking Duck at Peking Garden

Fast food Chinese restaurants like Din Tai Fung and Crystal Jade also have a few items on their menu that go down well for Indians. Looking for the word ‘chilli’ in the menu is helpful in identifying something suitable!

There are several authentic Italian restaurants, bistros, and cafes in Hong Kong but none tick the box for the Punjabi Italian flavour of Karol Bagh or Connaught Place. My personal favourite which is authentic but with strong flavours just the way Sweety Kaur of Punjabi Bagh would like it, is Pici. This is a chain of restaurants scattered across Hong Kong and they have a limited menu but the line outside is a clear indicator of their popularity with people of all nationalities and cultures.

Lifestyle Insider Peking Garden Cucumber

At the end of your culinary experience, when you have satisfied your adventurous quest to experiment with different cuisines, and are lying in your hotel room missing mother’s daal, subzi and roti, don’t lose hope! The same food that you turn your nose up at every day at home saying – not again but dream of having it as soon as you go back home, is available in Hong Kong and is one phone call away. Maharaj Home to Home is the freshest home-cooked food you can find for delivery outside of India. The only catch is that the runner will bring it to a metro station closest to you and you have to go to the metro station to pick it up. This Thali comprises of two items (vegetables or daal), a generous serving of rice, and two phulkas. You can also order aloo parathas that are very similar to what you used to relish at your grandparents’ home. For a satisfying South Indian meal of ‘tiffin’ items like dosas, uttapams and idlis, you cannot go wrong with Woodlands in Tsim Sha Tsui. The food is fresh and hits the spot every time!

Lifestyle Insider Iberico Pork Balsamic at Peking Garden

A global city like Hong Kong has cuisine to suit every palate, including our desi one. With the right research and planning, your culinary experience here can top that in most other cities. As a last note, like dessert which comes at the end of a meal, Indians love their softy ice cream (called soft serve internationally). Make the extra effort of locating a Godiva Chocolatier closest to you and go have their dark chocolate soft serve. You will think God broke off a piece of heaven and put it in your mouth. Softies just won’t be the same again.

Lifestyle Insider Samosa Chaat at the one Michelin star New Punjab Club


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

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