In Hong Kong, Your Palate Is In Luck

A kaleidoscope of cuisines is on view in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's food is a zesty celebration of a city that never slows down--except to eat. Nearly 4,000 restaurants serve cuisine from Guangdong and Sichuan to Hangzhou and Yunnan. I prefer casual, less expensive eateries to restaurants found in pricey hotels.

It's best to bring along a Chinese-speaking friend to order special dishes not on the English menu and talk to the waiter about seasonal specialties. If that's not an option, get your hotel concierge to write out dishes in Chinese characters.

CLUBBY. For starters, try Zen in Pacific Place shopping mall by the Admiralty MTR station (table). Its modern decor features a necklace of lamp-like fish tanks strung across the middle of the restaurant. But the real draw is Zen's great dim sum, the Cantonese snacks that often are a meal in themselves. They're served only at lunchtime.

My favorite is steamed chiu chow dumplings made with chopped pork, peanuts, and mushrooms and spiced with coriander and black pepper. Zen makes some of the best steamed shrimp dumplings in Hong Kong, cocooned in a thin, translucent wrapping. Lunch costs $40 for two without drinks. For a more down-home choice, head for the Ning Po Resident Assn. on the fourth floor of a commercial building in Hong Kong's trendy Lan Kwai Fung neighborhood. Set up as an eating and social club for residents from the coastal city of Ningpo, south of Shanghai, the restaurant is open to nonmembers. The English menu is a pale approximation of the delights the place has to offer. One of my favorites has the unappealing name of crispy rice with chop suey, a hearty noodle and vegetable soup over crispy rice cakes. The tender shredded chicken is a cold dish with clear rice noodles and a sesame sauce with hot oil. Try the steamed pork buns with vinegar sauce and the mouth-watering selection of tofu, including tofu skin with greens. I'm not a big fan of Chinese desserts, but I enjoyed the sweet red-bean paste in a crepe because it wasn't overly sugary. Lunch for two with tea is $32.

A few steps away is the venerable Yung Kee, with roasted poultry hanging in its plate-glass window. The restaurant has been dishing up its famous roast goose since 1942. In this bustling, three-story dining palace, waiters use walkie-talkies to get tables ready as diners ascend on an elevator. Not surprisingly, the goose is superb. During the winter, try dou miao, tender pea shoots stir-fried with garlic. Lunch for two costs $53.

In the same neighborhood is the more traditional Luk Yu Tea House. The turbaned Sikh Indians guarding the door and the weekly dim sum menus printed on a handset press are reminders of a bygone colonial era. The best bet is to come at lunchtime and pick a selection from the dim sum menu. You can't go wrong with any of the dumplings. Tea and dim sum for two is about $30. For a change of pace, travel just over a mile west of the Central district to Spring-Autumn Shark Fin Restaurant. Located in the shadow of an expressway and next to Hong Kong's new cross-harbor tunnel, it's an exuberant dim sum eatery. At lunchtime, hundreds of people jam the restaurant. A seven-course lunch for two costs a mere $25. In Hong Kong, you don't have to walk away from a meal hungry or broke.

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