Some observations I made while dining out in Hong Kong. HK has an awesome food scene, but there were a few adjustments I definitely had to make. So without further ado, here are my top 5 rules for eating out in Hong Kong!
№ 1. Bring napkins and tissue paper.
As I learned quickly in Hong Kong, most restaurants don’t provide any napkins. And if they do, they’ll sell Tempo packs at outrageous markups (just as Americans tend to call tissue paper “Kleenex”, Hong Kongers call them “Tempo,” the dominant tissue paper brand there.) or give you a translucent sheets, one at a time. So do the smart thing and carry some Tempo if you plan to dine out. BLASPHEMY, right? Actually, I see so many people waste napkins here in the States that this idea should actually be introduced here too.
№ 2. Be prepared to table share with strangers.
Or else you might have to wait in line twice as long. While table sharing concepts (i.e., strangers sitting at the same restaurant table) may be gaining traction in the hipper American restaurant scenes, table sharing is just a normal part of life in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s a pretty crowded island. And the good restaurants get super packed during peak hours. So waiters don’t hesitate to seat strangers in the same table. Conversation optional. I recall table sharing at both ends of the spectrum, from casual eateries like Australia Dairy Company to upscale restaurants like Modern China. Plus, it’s a fascinating just observing others right across the table. Just don’t stare. Or awkwardly attempt unwarranted conversation.
№ 3. Don’t mind the waiters.
While servers may call you “leng zai” (靚仔, “handsome boy”) or “leng leoi” (靚女, “pretty girl”), their service is likely going to be curt and to the point. And their attention span will be fleeting, even at upscale ones (unless you’ve booked an entire room for the night, in which case, a dedicated waiter will tend to every need throughout the evening). So don’t take it to heart. The emphasis is clearly on the food, not the service. My theory is that it’s part of the frenetic pace of life in Hong Kong, everyone constantly on the go. (Even the escalators revolve much faster than in most places). In any case, servers are not there to charm you or befriend you. And you don’t need to tip them in return (tips are not customary in Hong Kong, and higher end restaurants automatically tack on a 15-20% service charge). Amen to that.
№ 4. Don’t underestimate ‘mall’ food.
Some of the best restaurants in Hong Kong to be found are inside shopping malls. Asia’s food courts are eons ahead of their American counterparts, and Hong Kong is no different. Some amazing upscale eateries, including renowned dim sum restaurants (like the Michelin-rated Tim Ho Wan), are found in shopping malls, wedged in the most inconceivable places, between clothing shops and bookstores.
№ 5. Use OpenRice and Yelp for some good finds.
If you’re looking for a good place to eat and you haven’t a clue, start out by searching on Open Rice or Yelp. Hong Kongers are very passionate about their food. And they love to share their hits and misses online, including detailed commentary, ratings and photos. Open Rice (openrice.com/en/hongkong) came to our rescue on several occasions. The app is available in both English and Chinese. Late last year, Yelp also launched a Hong Kong version (yelp.com.hk) and has a pretty solid user base already.