Snack Attack: Snack Culture in Hong Kong

Texy by Meghna Golder

From a culinary perspective, it’s hard to argue that India isn’t gifted in the snacks department. We have snacks for all seasons and all reasons. We have your standard on-the-go snacks and then we have more stand-in-one-place-and-eat-awkwardly snacks. There are dry snacks to eat by the fistful, wet snacks to dribble the length of your chin, and then there are snacks that are not quite snacks but rather entire meals.

However, I’m preaching to the choir. You, my reader, already know this, and no doubt you agree. In fact, you probably clicked on this link to broaden your snack horizons and have your palette tested. So here I am, ready to deliver. Figuratively speaking.

I was living in Hong Kong a few years back. It’s a wonderful place. It’s vibrant, incredibly safe, and a melting pot of different cultures. Now, I am a sucker for local food. As a result, I’ve had some big wins like takoyaki in Osaka and some not-to-my-taste losses like black pudding in London. Hong Kong’s multicultural nature meant that it had both its own snacks as well as those from countries in the vicinity. Once there, I knew I had to give these a taste.

Here I present my top few snacks in no particular order. In case you’re intending to travel there anytime soon, and I don’t see why not since they have a free visa for Indians up to 14 days, these are the things I would recommend you try. You can thank me later…

Bubble Tea

bubble tea_sam651030

Bubble Tea. Photo courtesy: sam651030

Bubble tea was a revelation to me who had only had masala chai and its variants. I think it’s a polarizing drink where either you swear by it or you don’t quite know what to make of the various textures. My bubble tea tale began at this hole-in-the-wall joint next to my house in Hong Kong that sold different types of bubble tea. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it the first time I got a mouthful of tapioca balls. But two more sips and I was a convert. I think it’s the texture that does it. The smoothness of milk tea contrasts well with the chewiness of the tapioca. Plus, you can buy both hot and cold varieties! I, for one, am all for all-season, all-reason drinks.

Grilled squids_Werasak

Grilled Squids. Photo courtesy: Werasak

Grilled Squids

All right, this one is neither for the vegetarians nor is it for the faint of heart. However, those with experimental palettes? Right, this way, please. The Avenue of Stars is a major tourist attraction in Hong Kong. You walk the avenue, take photographs of the stars, behold one of the best skylines in the world, and feel the sea breeze whip some life into you. You also notice the tiny shop selling grilled squid. The squid pieces are grilled flat and are ribbed. They are served in a paper bag to facilitate carrying. If not eaten quickly enough, however, they become increasingly chewy, and it gets tedious to eat. But I personally vouch for the taste of this dish. Don’t believe me? Then believe the fact that the shop has NEVER been without customers.

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Rice Crackers. Photo courtesy: MabelAmber

Rice Crackers

Straight off the bat let me tell you these things are a sin. They are packaged three to a small packet nested in a larger, mother packet, and they are this perfect combination of sweet and salty. The small serving size makes you think portion control would be a piece of cake. However, you begin with maybe one packet and suddenly you’ve eaten your weight in rice crackers and are near catatonic. Am I speaking from personal experience? Maybe.

Egg_Waffle_on_Hong_Kong_Traditional_Egg_Waffle_Hawker_Cart_(Model)_Ceeseven

Egg Waffles. Photo courtesy: Ceeseven

Egg Waffles

Right beside the place with the bubble tea that I had mentioned was this place that sold egg waffles. Now while Hong Kong is a very international city, a lot of people still speak Cantonese. Therefore, some difficulty communicating and understanding is not unusual. I saw the signboard for this particular food item, which was in Chinese, and told my mother I’d like to try some. She was sceptical (and rightly so, what if I had hated it and wasted it?). We ended up buying it because the pros outweighed the cons, the biggest pro being how incredible it smelled. It turned out to be well worth the cost of experimentation and was nothing particularly exotic. It was essentially waffles, just egg-shaped. The inside of the eggs was dense with waffle batter. You know what is better than normal waffles? More waffles per square inch.

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Supermarket Sushi. Photo courtesy: tookapic

Supermarket Sushi

At the cost of enraging sushi puritans, I shall declare that supermarket sushi is quite all right. It sounds a bit blasphemous. Sushi in India is exotic and expensive and with good reason. You are dealing with something that is incredibly perishable and prone to start smelling “fishy” if left out for too long, and you’re making it taste good despite the fact that it is served raw.

I found that those flimsy plastic boxes filled with sushi with their tiny packets of soya and artificial wasabi made for a great pick-me-up when you were peckish. Later in my stay, I found another readymade sushi place not too far from my house. They let me build my own sushi box. You best believe I went all out and loaded up on salmon, tuna, and tilapia; I also threw in some wild cards like eel. Since then, I have enjoyed the privilege of building my sushi box in other cities as well, but till date nothing has compared to that little store in a Hong Kong bylane.

jerky_AlbanyColley

Jerky. Photo courtesy: AlbanyColley

Jerky

I don’t really recall my first meet-cute with jerky, but finding myself in a mall in Macau, facing aisle upon aisle of different types of jerky, Khusrau’s words—if there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here—resonated deeply. So I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but you could not imagine my level of excitement. For the uninitiated, jerky is made from meat and tastes a little like you’re eating a thick and chewy but tasty piece of leather. Sure, it doesn’t sound appealing when described like that, but the flavour is nice and not too overwhelming. And on that fateful day in Macau guess who loaded up on jerky? Later, it became a problem because soon I reached a point of no return and swore off it entirely for a while. But did it lessen my enthusiasm the next time I had to try it?

Absolutely not.

Now, I agree six snacks are very few to do justice to the culinary landscape of Hong Kong. But consider this something of a beginner’s guide, an introduction to what you should try, if you will. Take it from me, next time you see something weird and wonderful food-wise, maybe give it a shot. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be the start of your next big snacking love affair.

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About the writer:

Meghna Golder

Meghna Golder

Meghna Golder is an editor, both research and otherwise. She’s an avid reader of both prose and poetry. She occasionally also fancies herself as a writer.

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