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Aeroplane olives
Photograph: @friendlyleung

Rare Hong Kong snacks and dishes to get nostalgic about

Take a trip down memory lane

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

Do you ever just sit and reminisce about your childhood days? Or do you always hear a lot of 'back in the day' stories from your parents? Things move fast in Hong Kong, and as time goes on, many of the city's trades and practices get lost. Even the food that we – or our parents – grew up with is becoming rare, if not extinct. So, before more of these local treats completely disappear, we’ve put together a list of unique and nostalgic Hong Kong food that you should get to know, or maybe even try – if you still can. By Andrea Wong

RECOMMENDED: If you’re looking for the full childhood throwback experience, we’ve got you covered with the 10 best childhood snacks in Hong Kong.

Nostalgic Hong Kong food going extinct

Sarsae (沙示)
Photograph: Courtesy Shiu Fung Hong

Sarsae (沙示)

Sarsae was featured in the film It’s a Drink, It’s a Bomb (1985) starring mega names like George Lam, John Sham, and Maggie Cheung. The film is about a hand grenade that's been disguised as a Sarsae drink. Doesn't ring any bells? Then maybe you’ve heard of Sarsae simply due to the name’s resemblance to the 2003 SARS epidemic, which needless to say, conjured up a lot of stigma around it at the time. Sarsaparilla is a soft drink, made from the smilax ornata plants commonly used for old fashioned-style root beer. In Hong Kong, the most popular brand is Sarsae. And though it’s still available in the market these days, it’s definitely one of the less-known soft drinks out there. If you want to get your hands on this underdog, root beer-esque soft drink, head over to ParknShop and give it a try! 

Chicken biscuits / phoenix cookies (雞仔餅)
Photograph: Calvin Sit

Chicken biscuits / phoenix cookies (雞仔餅)

Like many other traditional Cantonese dishes and snacks, the origin of chicken biscuits come with a story. Dating back to 1855, the story goes that a Cantonese restaurant owner asked her servant to prepare treats for her guests. Having realised there were only leftover ingredients, she utilised leftover fatty pork and marinated it with salt, sugar, seasoning, and preserved vegetables, before wrapping it all into a round, bitesize dough and sticking them in the oven – thus, the chicken biscuit was born. This accidental creation has now turned into one of the most nostalgic and well-known Cantonese treats in Hong Kong.

One of the best places to get authentic chicken biscuits in Hong Kong would be Kee Tsui Cake Shop in Mong Kok. The constant crowd around the shop indicates the quality of their baked goods, so drop by early before they’re all sold out!

Rice with lard and soy sauce (豬油撈飯)
Photograph: Courtesy Cherry Hui

Rice with lard and soy sauce (豬油撈飯)

We know, it doesn't sound appetising at all, but hear us out. Back in the 60s and 70s, low-income families couldn't afford to buy meat. As a result, they would purchase fatty pork and deep fry the lard, mix it up with soy sauce and rice, and call it a meal. It's also because of how easily and long-lasting lard can be preserved in the freezer that it became a household must-have at the time. As of now, Hongkongers are increasingly becoming health-conscious, so rice with lard and soy sauce is only a nostalgic dish that we'll have once in a while.

Pay a visit to Tso Choi Restaurant in Kowloon City for a childhood throwback. Or you've never had it; you can now tick it off your must-try food bucket list!

Aeroplane olives (飛機欖)

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Originated from Guangzhou, 'aeroplane olives' are olives marinated and seasoned with salt, liquorice, and traditional herbs – its tangy, sweet yet has a savoury taste. You may be wondering, “well, that explains the olives part, but what about the ‘aeroplane’ part?” The name 'aeroplane olives' was coined due to how they were sold back in the 70s in Hong Kong. As houses were only a few storeys high, buyers would simply throw change down the street from their balconies to the street vendors. In return, the street vendors, mostly carrying an olive-shaped bucket, would throw the bundled olives up to their flat, just like an aeroplane.

As buildings get taller and taller in Hong Kong, it's no surprise that these are no longer sold. Or at least, not the way it used to. A few years back, on very rare occasions, you may find vendors still carrying these green, olive-shaped buckets around the streets, but we haven't seen them around anywhere as of late. If you are ever lucky enough to come across them, try them. Though instead of any throwing, the olives are simply handed to you.

Steamed glutinous rice buns / cha guo  (客家茶粿)
Photograph: Kiki H.

Steamed glutinous rice buns / cha guo (客家茶粿)

This gooey and chewy treat is made of glutinous rice flour (duh) and a variety of herbs such as argyi, nivea, and foetida for different flavours. There are also ones that are made out of beetroot or pumpkin for a splash of colour. These rice buns, or cha guo, are usually sweet (but not overbearingly) with a peanut or red bean paste filling, but there are also savoury options made with mung bean, fried pork, mushrooms, or dried shrimp.  

Nowadays, it’s quite rare to be able to find authentic cha guo unless you head up to the New Territories or venture into Tai O, where Cha Kwo Choi offers this traditional treat in both sweet and savoury variations.

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