Hong Kong Food Isn’t Dirt Cheap

If you find this post, either you’re searching on the web for cheap places to eat in Hong Kong, or trying to find out how cheap it really is.  In my opinion, I found this comment to be one of the biggest disappointments before arriving in Hong Kong for the first time in the summer of 2009.  This isn’t to say you can’t “find” cheap food in Hong Kong, however don’t expect too much, because in the end you get what you pay for.  However, I have to say Hong Kong truly is a food paradise.  In this article, I’ll try breaking down my foodie experience in Hong Kong.

It Ain’t Super Cheap

Here’s my dilemma with people who told me food is cheap in Hong Kong.  Usually, I get into these arguments entirely over differences of value of food.  Like, some people are very price sensitive, so the cheaper the better, but quality is a no issue.  As a comparison, the cheapest meal in Hong Kong is general a bowl of breakfast noodles, which is usually instant noodles with spam meat or a few slices of ham.  You can get the very exact thing in Toronto for the about the same price; $3 CAD or $20 HKD.  That’s roughly only a 50 cent saving, not exactly the super savings I was expecting.  Chances are I probably wouldn’t eat that in Toronto, so why would I want to eat it there?  For the most part, most of the “cheap” food in Hong Kong isn’t THAT much cheaper, and the quality is, again in my opinion, at best the same as Toronto or worst.  I find if you want the same quality as Toronto, you often pay a lot more than you would in Toronto, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t leave Hong Kong Island.

Let’s define cheap now, cheap to me is basically buying something of equivalent worth and value for much less.  So, really a one or two dollar saving isn’t going to cut it if I’m flying half way across the world to eat something.  How about quality? Quality in food would include everything from the flavour of the food to the environment I’m eating it in.  I can understand the food is cheap at some Dai Pai Dongs (outdoor eating establishments) but do I really want to eat there? Probably not.  You might say, I’m way too White or I’m too used to Canadian culture, but I’ll say it right now, I generally don’t enjoy eating in those establishments out of concern for my health.  Nor do I enjoy eating in restaurants that have a high chance of cockroaches roaming around.  The food might be cheap but is it worth it?  I think the question you need to ask yourself to know where to draw your line.  Personally, I know great cheap places in Toronto, heck there’s even a café that still sells 50 cent coffees, and $2 gourmet sandwiches.  There are those who would argue, “But, you had to waste money to drive there.”  But, now you’re throwing in lifestyle expenses, you can’t use that in an argument where food is the main issue.  If that were the case, I’d say housing is too expensive in Hong Kong.

After returning in 2011, the price of everything in Hong Kong inflated like crazy.  Most food and restaurants inflated their prices anywhere from 10 to 30%.  I suppose this year was the golden year to travel though considering our dollar was so high, but I guess that only balanced out the inflation that was occurring.  Starting next year, things are going to be more pricey as our dollar falls and will only put more emphasis on food not being cheap on Hong Kong.  After adventuring around Asia for a while too, Hong Kong not nearly anywhere as cheap as some of the other places I visited; Singapore would be one of them.  However, let’s not forget we have some of the cheapest food nearby as well.  Our neighbours, the United States, has buffets that could fill your stomach for $3.  That ousts Hong Kong in cheap food any day.

Hong Kong is a developed city and is really like any other big city.  The price of food ranges and the range is HUGE.  In the end its about what kind of food you want and how you want to eat it.  If you really love food, I’ll tell you right now $10 CAD isn’t going to keep you happy throughout the day.  If you want actual cheap in a developed city, head to Singapore or Taiwan, they’re by far much cheaper than Hong Kong.  Dead drop cheap, head to the country side in Vietnam or Thailand, those prices make heads spin; even China has 2 RMB (33 cents Canadian) Shanghai Noodles.

But There is Some Cheap

Like a big city like Toronto, there is still cheap food to be found.  However, I’m not talking about finding the same Chinese you would in Toronto for a dollar or two less or street food that’s ridiculous expensive compared to Taiwan.  I’m talking about full on meals you can find for three dollars and less.  Here’s the first one:

University Canteens: Universities like PolyTech, CUHK, and HKU.  Here you’ll find tons of combos, similar to Café de Coral (大家乐), for under $24 HKD.  By far the cheapest in Hong Kong.  There’s a good reason for this too.  I’m pretty sure it applies to all of them, but the ones I went to, none of them pay for rent, as it’s subsidized by the government.  Rent is a HUGE influence on the price of food in restaurants but that’ll be explained a little later.

McDonald’s: Definitely check out McDonald’s if you need cheap food in Hong Kong.  It’s the cheapest McDonald’s in the world and always will be, mostly like because of McDonald’s huge investments in the Chinese economy.  But, when I was there last, I got 18 pieces of McNuggest for $30 HKD, I couldn’t be happier.  My favourite is the Filet-o-Fish for $10 HKD.

Favourite Value Foods of Hong Kong

Including the top locations here are a few other places I visited frequently and went to them because the value was definitely there.   Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Food Republic: This is a chain of food courts in various malls across Hong Kong.  However, my favourite locations are Silver Cord Mall near Tsim Sha Tsui, and Olympic Plaza at Olympic Station.  Prices generally range from $40 to $60 HKD but the general quality of food at these places are quite nice and they even offer napkins.  Offering napkins in Hong Kong is a big thing, generally you have to bring your own, even at big restaurants.

Crystal Jade La Mian: Probably my favourite noodle place despite being a chain.  Love the Dan Dan noodles, but overall great quality for the price.  I have to say, noodles are probably my favourite thing to eat in Hong Kong.  If there’s any food that’s worth it in Hong Kong it’s noodles.

CitySuper @ Sha Tin Plaza: The hot foods to go section is really nice here.  Honestly, if you’re in the area and in a rush I’d definitely check it out.  Great bentos and selection.

Shrimp Lo Mian (Noodles): You can usually find a decent size plate of this stuff in restaurants that specialize in it.  Usually around $30 HKD now for a plate of noodles with some meat, if you can ask for “Ging Dou Ja Gern Lo Mean” or Jing Dou Zha Jiang La Mian in Mandarin (京都炸酱拉面). Probably some of the best noodles you can have.

Fish: In General fish is something that’s well worth it in Hong Kong.  However, generally the really good places are booked a day in advance if you plan on eating at the more famous restaurants.  There are some that are out on the country side, so they won’t be accessible if you don’t have someone with you who knows which mini-bus to take or where to tell the taxi to go.

Reasoning for Food Prices

A couple things to mention about the prices in Hong Kong.  Some of you might know this, some of you might not.  Remember how I said McD’s was the cheapest McD’s in the world? Well, it’s technically the cheapest in New Territories.  If you compare prices from a McD’s on Hong Kong Island to one in New Territories, you’ll notice a difference of $5 to $10 HKD difference when buying a combo.  As mentioned before, rent determines pricing in Hong Kong.  A good rule of thumb when travelling in Hong Kong is, the closer you eat to an MTR station the more expensive the food gets for the same item.  This proves true even with items inside of a 7/11 or Circle K.  This is one of the major reasons food can never truly stay cheap in Hong Kong.

Most of the mentioned “cheap” places people are told to go to before landing in Hong Kong, are usually Hong Kong or Guangdong-style restaurants too.  As a foodie, you probably won’t want to eat at only those places.  Unfortunately, most international foods cost more than they should, considering where Hong Kong is situated.  For example, Vietnamese noodles are pretty expensive compared to Pho in Toronto.  Here in Toronto people consider it cheap food, over there, it’s like some fancy overseas food.  This is a big reason why I don’t consider Hong Kong cheap.  People tend to only be talking about local foods.  If I was talking about food in Toronto, I wouldn’t only talk about hamburgers and fries would I? I’d include Chinese food into the mix.  Not all these international foods are ridiculously expensive, most are reasonably priced.

Probably the biggest reason food in Hong Kong isn’t a cheap as it was, maybe 10 years ago, is because of the giant inflation of the Chinese currency and inflation of commodities in general from China.  This is probably the main reason for all the sky rocketing prices in Hong Kong right now, and is definitely felt all over the city, especially when watching the news.

Things I Missed while in Hong Kong

I did have a few foods I was lacking while in Hong Kong.  Granted you could say this is because I’m too in tune with the Canadian in me, but here are the things I missed while away:

Poutine: Yeah, I missed it.  They had a few places that said they made poutine, but man was I ever disappointed.

Buffalo Wings: Good flavoured wings were next to impossible to find in Hong Kong.  You’d think they have some crazy flavours like they did in Korea, but nope, nothing at all.

Salad: A well made and reasonably priced salad was really hard to find, for the most part I made them at home myself, but still, it nice to have it as an appetizer while I’m eating a big meal outside.

So in the end…

Hong Kong has a great selection of food.  But, if you’re on a hunt for the world’s cheapest Chinese food, skip Hong Kong and go straight to China.  You can find much cheaper food there and don’t worry, it is safe if you know where you’re going.   Definitely can’t be any worst than going to a Dai Pai Dong in Hong Kong.  Even other places like Singapore have much cheaper Chinese food.

If you’re looking for a variety of food in Asia and aren’t held down by prices that are similar to Toronto, then Hong Kong will definitely be a foodie paradise, like it was for me.  If there’s anything else I didn’t mention in the post that you would like to know about let me know in the comment section below.  Thanks for reading and let me know what you think as well.  Always open to a second opinion!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>