Hong Kong Series: Congee, noodles & rice

There are many eateries in Hong Kong which sell a combination menu of “jook, fun, meen, faan” (粥粉麵飯) – congee, (rice-based) noodles, (wheat-based) noodles and rice. The origins of these were originally, of course, on the street – first by trolley vendors, then “dai pai dong” (大牌檔) street-side stalls and now either in temporary markets or permanent shop spaces.

Congee, steamed plain rice noodle rolls, stir-fried noodles and deep-fried dough sticks

“Jook” () or congee is a good place to start as it is a common breakfast choice although, as with many Asian foods, it can be enjoyed any time of day. Once a way to make rice stretch further, congee serves as an introduction to rice for many Asian children and acts as a source of comfort as it is often eaten when feeling sick – a kind of chicken soup equivalent. When my mother was young, people would line up for congee from a trolley vendor with thermos pot in hand and the vendor would charge based on the size of the thermos. This was long before the days of foam or plastic containers seen in the photo above right, and was truly environmentally friendly. Coupled with congee – served plain or with meat, egg, seafood or vegetables mixed through – soy sauce stir-fried noodles (豉油王炒麵), steamed plain “cheung fun” rice noodle rolls and deep-fried dough sticks (油條) form a few breakfast staples. With serving sizes being smaller than in Sydney, the meal above left cost only HKD$40 (around AUD$5) but smaller serves equals an opportunity to order a wider variety, no?

Trolley noodles: wide egg noodles with chicken frankfurts & pigs' blood jelly (left), flat rice noodles with beef brisket & chicken giblets (right)

Trolley or cart noodles (車仔麵) are so called as they were sold by trolley vendors (licensed and unlicensed) offering a choice of noodles in soup with a certain number of toppings/accompaniments for a set price, allowing for customisation depending on the customer’s mood. People used to eat these standing or squatted on low footstools by the side of the road, before returning their bowls and chopsticks to be washed and the process repeated. Trolley noodles have all since moved into shop spaces with a greater array of accompaniments on offer, however the name remains despite the trolleys being long gone.

Wonton noodles (left), beef brisket noodles (right)

Wonton noodles (雲吞麵) are a Cantonese establishment with many purists believing that it should always be served with thin egg noodles. The wontons themselves should be smaller than a ping-pong ball and simply “squeezed” together to close, rather than being neatly pleated, to allow for the cooked result to resemble a goldfish with the excess wrapper forming a flowing tail. Smaller than a Sydney serve of wonton noodles, a bowl in Hong Kong should set you back around HKD$25 (approx. AUD$3.15). Beef brisket noodles are a little pricier and are usually served with flat, rice “hor fun” noodles (河粉) which take on the flavour of the richer broth.

(from left to right) Dry stirred noodles with XO sauce, stewed vermicelli with pork & preserved vegetable, stir-fried flat rice noodles with soy sauce & beef

Then we also have “lo meen” (撈麵) or dry stirred noodles. Egg noodles – wide or thin – are cooked and placed on a plate in a pool of or topped with oyster sauce, soy sauce or a combination of both. A bowl of broth is served alongside to be added to the noodles and tossed with the sauce to achieve a desired level of “wetness”. Often seen with wontons or barbecued meats, they can also be eaten plain (as above) simply with XO sauce and Chinese broccoli. Stewed rice vermicelli (燜米粉) are similar to dry stirred noodles but use their rice-based counterpart and are tossed together in a wok so that broth is slurped up by the vermicelli noodles. The result is a noodle dish which is partway between a stir-fried one and one which is in soup. Which brings us finally to the “wok hei”-laden stir-fried dishes which can be made with pretty much any type of noodle.

With trolley vendors being patrolled for licences, typically green “dai pai dong” street stalls which would set up early in the morning and dismantle and pack up late at night became popular for having outdoor seating (ha!) and the freedom to order food from neighbouring stalls. Offering a mixture of Chinese and Western-influenced fusion foods, these along with Chinese iced-drinks parlours (冰室) became the combined forerunners to “cha chaan teng” (茶餐廳) commonly referred to as Hong Kong-style cafés.

(clockwise fromtop left): instant noodles with ham & egg, macaroni in soup with luncheon meat & egg, French toast, Hong Kong milk tea

Dishes such as instant noodles or macaroni in soup with fried eggs, ham or luncheon meat can often be found on “cha chaan teng” value menus, as well as Hong Kong milk tea and Hong Kong-style French toast – an egg-battered, deep-fried thing of golden glory served with a pat of butter to melt over and drenched in as much golden syrup as you like (served interestingly with a fried frankfurt alongside above as part of an afternoon snack set).

Most will also offer noodles and rice with barbecued meats, especially those attached to a barbecued meats store, with the price increasing with the number of varieties chosen and usually capped at a maximum of four. The husband and I indulged in a double pork affair (above) of “siu yook” roast pork with its crunchy crackling and fat-ribboned salty meat, as well as tender “char siu” barbecued pork with its sticky honey glaze. And as it was winter – albeit a mild one whilst we were there – that made for perfect weather for claypot rice (煲仔飯) with its crispy layer of rice at the bottom and sides, and meat juices soaked into the rice through the cooking process. Rows of gas burners, often located outside an eatery, dedicated to heating up pots of rice with the lid trapping in steam to cook the meat toppings are a sight to behold. A single worker is assigned claypot rice duty, making each to order and definitely something I don’t get to see in Sydney.

happy eating!


  1. Wow, an impressive post! My favourite noodles are the stir-fried wheat-based ones, but I've never tried congee or those fried dough sticks. Clearly this must be rectified!

  2. It all looks so good. After reading all your posts about Hong Kong my next visit is going to be completely different. Actually can't wait to return. The claypot rice looks awesome, the crunchy rice, oh yum.

  3. Great post! You make me wish I had the time to eat all of these things while I was in Hong Kong but I don't think I managed to eat a single one of them except for won ton noodles. Sad... but there's always a next time!

  4. I LOVE the congee you get at congee stalls in Hong Kong- you can't quite get the same thing in Sydney :(

  5. I just love this post! I haven't had giblets in ages, and now I'm craving some real HK food (and a hot coca cola with lemon).

  6. Fantastic post! You did a great job in describing all the different eateries in HK :) Seems like you had a great time and went to many local places :D

  7. I totally agree with the thin noodles for wonton noodle, sometimes when mum uses the wide flat egg noodles I actually skip the noodles and just eat the wontons, I only eat the thin noodles :D it's funny how Vietnamese cuisine has influence from various other cuisines and I can see the Cantonese influence from this :)

  8. I am salivating at the thought of all these scrummy, delish HK food. Ahhh! I need to go back.

  9. we are probably going to HK in a couple of months so it makes me excited to see this :)

  10. Wow, what didn't you eat in the congee, noodle, rice offerings?! I love the cheung fun they serve with a myriad of sauces: soy, hoi sin, peanut butter!

  11. I haven't been to HK in over 10 years but still vividly remember waking up and wandering, bleary eyed, down the street to the congee man for breakfast at about 10am each day. It was the culinary highlight of my trip ;)

  12. mm I miss the food in HK! I love how the noodles or stir fried dishes all taste of wok-hey :) noodles and luncheon meat for afternoon tea is so good yet so naughty cause of all the sodium&msg ><

  13. GASP_ you had me at congee! The pic with the two fried eggs look a little like an alien with then big ol' eyes LOL

    Geeze- how much butter is on the french toast, gaaawd I lobe HK>

  14. Loving this post (as well as the first of the HK series on street food) - can never say no to congee! Everything looks tasty, have to get myself to HK one day!

  15. Lol I'm kinda with Jacq, there are a few dishes there that I didn't get to try when I was there, guess I wasn't looking hard enough.. Missed out on the fried noodle places, mainly had soup noodles. I guess it calls for another reason to visit again hey? I had the clay pot rice one night but I was told it wasn't that great (it lacked the crunchy bits)

    Oh man... I miss the HK iced milk teas and french toast!

  16. Great write-up! I really love those Hong Kong cafeteria's. Sadly the only thing I'd pass on would be the congee. I just can't seem to appreciate it!

  17. I tried to make congee a few weeks ago but couldn't seem to come to terms with what it was meant to look like. A watery mess was what I got, but that seems normal? Fried doughnut sticks?! NOM!

  18. OMG! Its Chinese cuisine at its finest. Love to try that different kinds of noodles and my favorite milk tea. Yay!
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  19. 猪红!you got me craving for them >-<

  20. Omgosh drool.... your pics have me missing Hong Kong so much right now. It all looks so goddamn amazing!

  21. I'm reading this at 11.45pm. Almost time for a midnight snack. Noodles, noodles or noodles? Ok, you've talked me into it - noodles it is! Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Everything looks so delicious, I have been craving a good wonton soup lately, I think I will have to find a recipe, I don't think anywhere here sell such delicious food :(

  23. I'm craving for all this food right now after reading your post!! Haven't had nearly as much of it, living away from home!

  24. Looks at all the yummy food!! Thanks for sharing your photos and making us all jealous! :) It reminds me I haven't had congee in a long time.

  25. Hey JasmyneTea, the texture of congee's not to everyone's liking - it's a rice porridge of thin consistency.

    Hey Sara, being interested in food makes travels more food-centric, doesn't it? =p

    Hey Jacq, haha but I had 3 weeks to do this versus only 1 for you!

    Hey Von, I believe it all has to do with differing rice, water, salt levels...

    Hey OohLookBel, I hadn't had giblets in ages either! Not something I cook, but my mother does very occasionally.

    Hey Daisy, always go to local places! Where I eat is determined by which relatives I'm visiting and where they live haha.

    Hey Angie, my mum actually prefers the wide egg noodles in generally, but with slippery wontons I find the thin noodles are easier to sluuurp =p

    Hey Sophie, it's always cheap local eats that I miss when away from Hong Kong.

    Hey muppy, lots of fun!

    Hey Tina, oh yes, peanut sauce is glorious!

    Hey shez, because there is always something to eat no matter what time of day!

    Hey Vivian, the wok-hei is unbeatable! Luncheon meat and macaroni remind me of childhood =D

    Hey Adrian, never too much butter on French toast haha =p

    Hey jack, cheap, fast and convenient street food is a big gap in Sydney's food offerings!

    Hey Phuoc, but I had the advantage of time! Claypot rice is so comforting in winter, mmmm...

    Hey john, yeah, I have friends who can't get used to the texture of congee and go so far as to describe it as "slimy" haha!

    Hey Cass, good congee shouldn't be gluggy nor watery, but kind of like a thin paste? A little hard to describe actually!

    Hey chibiaion, I wouldn't say this is the ultimate in all Chinese cuisine, but definitely some highlights of Cantonese food.

    Hey sugarpuffi, ahhh yes! Pigs blood jelly is definitely smoother and lighter in Hong Kong than Sydney.

    Hey kerin, it's the simple and the cheap, isn't it?

    Hey The Food Sage, haha, I love noodles myself!

    Hey Gourmet Getaways, it can be hard to find places with a good soup base. There are master stocks in Hong Kong which are older the actual eateries here!

    Hey missklicious, this food reminds me of home and family *sniffle*

    Hey April, I'm about to make congee right now! =p

  26. Aw what a great post, my friends just came back and now I'm jealous I missed out on all these good eats!

  27. Hey minibites, when visiting places it's best to eat what the locals do, right? =)


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