Hong Kong is always in a hurry. It’s a city that has many ambitions and not enough time to achieve them. You can sense it in the manic streets during rush hour, in the perfectly punctual Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system and in the cha chaan teng at lunch hour, where harried workers wolf down their meals before dashing back to the office.
The city moves at a clip. And ordinarily, Hong Kongers would demand you keep up. However, these past few months have been far from ordinary. Like much of the rest of the world, residents have put much of their everyday lives on hold. But that doesn’t mean you have to press pause on your travel dreams, too. Here’s how to experience Hong Kong without ever leaving your living room.
Dim sum is best experienced with all the trimmings. And in Hong Kong, that means a Sunday brunch eaten in the company of family and friends. The dim sum is usually steamed in bamboo baskets or cooked in clay pots, before being piled high on steel trolleys and dextrously carted around a crammed restaurant floor. It’s a regular fixture in the lives of Hong Kong locals, and one you can easily recreate at home. Most Chinese home cooks will opt for ready-made frozen packets, but occasionally they’ll set aside an afternoon to prepare them from scratch. Har gau (shrimp dumplings), which are pleated into the shape of gold ingots, are the most difficult to make – so steer clear of those. Siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) are much simpler to do at home.
Hong Kong takes its health seriously. Most residents will subscribe to some form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM); whether it’s through food or acupuncture, it’s a widely used form of preventative healthcare. There are multiple permutations of TCM; perhaps the most common here is medicinal tea. Depending on your predisposition towards “cold”, “heat”, “dryness” or “dampness”, you can choose ingredients to bring your body back into balance. If that means little to you, you can also opt for all-purpose healing herbs, which, so they say, can aid your immune or even your digestive system.
It’s easy to learn to cook Cantonese food, but to understand its significance is a different matter altogether. The culture around food here is all-consuming; to eat well is to live well. And one film that captures this attitude in all its subtle nuance is Ann Hui’s A Simple Life. Ostensibly a comedy-drama about the tragic motifs of old age, the film is really a love letter to Cantonese cooking. Deanie Ip stars as an old maid who looks after a middle-aged film producer, played by Andy Lau. Food plays a key part throughout, used as a way for the two characters to express their affection, devotion and appreciation to each other – a familiar gesture to many who have grown up in a Hong Kong household.
More often than not, English-language books about Hong Kong are written by foreigners. Few Cantonese writers are translated from the native language, but Dung Kai-cheung numbers among them. The Hongkonger is best known for Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City (2012), a science-fiction novel that has drawn comparisons to Jorge Luis Borges.
Dung is also famous for his dystopian vision, but in Cantonese Love Stories, he takes his inspiration from the world he grew up in. Seemingly a compendium of love stories set in Hong Kong, the book actually features the city as the main character, with each vignette revealing a different side to this multifaceted locale.
In theory, Cantopop can be any song sung in Cantonese. But as a genre, it’s typically defined by soft-rock guitar and lyrics that speak to the everyday Hong Konger. It’s a tradition that began with Sam Hui, who took the essence of Cantonese opera and sang stories in an everyday, relatable vernacular. This grassroots genre is best appreciated in the city’s parks and open spaces, where talented locals like to wail into makeshift karaoke sound systems. For a more finely tuned listening experience, give Jacky Cheung Hok-yau a go on Spotify.