Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents Every Day is a Feast in Hong Kong

April 17, 2024
By Katherine Wang, SEAS '25

Katherine, one of the Semester Abroad Global Correspondents, shares her experience abroad during the Spring 2024 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

Creme brulee pancakes
Fluffy crème brûlée pancakes.

I could talk about the food in Hong Kong for hours. Being such an international city means that you can find pretty much any cuisine or type of food here: French-Asian fusion pastries from Bakehouse, Indian curries from Chungking Mansion, Italian food from Central, sweet Filipino delicacies from World Wide House, even Middle Eastern kebabs from the Ebeneezers on campus. 

bbq pork and duck rice
BBQ pork and duck.

I'm especially passionate about the diverse array of Asian/Chinese foods you can find here though: the chewy taro ball desserts (芋圆) that are a Taiwanese specialty, the crispy and juicy pan-fried soup dumplings (生煎包) that are a Shanghainese specialty, the mouth numbing cold rice noodles (凉皮) that are a Shanxi specialty, among so, so many others. My favorite is this customizable rice noodle dish (米线) where you can choose the soup base, noodle type, spice level, and toppings (I almost always get it with tofu puff, cabbage, and beef brisket)! 

macoroni and ham
Macaroni with ham.

Core to many Hong Kong locals' lives are Cha Chaan Tengs, diners that serve affordable "fast food" that seem to have hints of British influence (like macaroni with ham, which is very un-Asian, and of which I have mixed opinions about...), but that also serve quintessential Hong Kong delicacies like pineapple buns with a generous slab of butter in the center. What's most striking to me is the unimaginable efficiency of these Cha Chaan Tengs, one of the most well known being Australia Dairy Company (which maybe surprisingly is completely unrelated to anything Australian). Dining solo is normalized, and you'll likely get seated at a table with other customers (no seat is left empty!). As soon as you're seated, you're expected to know exactly what you want to order; if you don't, you'll probably get scolded by one of the women rushing from table to table to get orders in. And truly less than 30 seconds after you place your order, your food comes - simple, yet fresh and delicious. Right after you finish, you're expected to pay and depart, leaving little room for conversation or relaxation. I'm still quite baffled by how they're able to achieve such an incredible standard of speed and quality.

all beef hotpot
All beef hotpot. 

This isn't even unique to Cha Chaan Tengs; dim sum restaurants, cart noodle shops, roast meat stores, even fruit stands display similar levels of efficiency unlike restaurants in any other city I’ve been to. To me, the time and space efficiency of these food establishments are really a reflection of the fast paced, go-go-go, and practical culture here. This “no time wasted, no space unused” mindset can largely be explained by how big and prominent of a financial hub Hong Kong is, as well as how little land there is here (housing is wildly expensive, and literally every square foot of space counts). Seeing how Hong Kong culture and ways of life manifests in food here has also made me ponder the ways in which the mellow, laid back culture of the Bay Area (where I grew up) is reflected in the heavy presence of the chill coffee shops and minimalistic cafes. 

all you can eat
Cook-it-yourself BBQ.

And yet, despite the practicality of service and food here, the food is still extraordinarily delicious, and my feasting adventures or quests to find the best food here have seriously been core to my experience in Hong Kong. When I leave Hong Kong, I’ll always think fondly of and miss the juiciest and plumpest dumplings that I often get from Shek Mun before I go rock climbing, the cheap and refreshing grapefruit green tea that I get from the food stalls in Tai Wai, the 24/7 Dim Sum restaurant that reeks of cigarette smoke and college students (but that never fails to disappoint at 3am or any hour), and even the steamed bun chain inside nearly every MTR station that I frequent when I'm craving a hearty pickled veggie and pork bun. I sometimes wonder how I’ll be able to overcome the separation anxiety from all the incredible food and memories that have come with my food adventures, but for now all these moments will just live in the myriad of photos in my camera roll :-)

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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.

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