You may not be a typical Hong Kong foodie who snaps 20 different angles of their morning cereal, but you can’t deny that food triggers emotion. At the very least, you’ll get a little irritated when you’re hungry. Others will reach for that tub of ice cream when they’re sad, or gravitate towards a heartwarming bowl of soup and feel-good carbs when they’ve had a bad day at work. Whatever it is for you, comfort food is timeless. It’s a mood-enhancing food – not necessarily indulgent or calorific – that feeds the soul.
In Hong Kong, there are about a million and one different dopamine-triggering foods to enjoy, but street food is undoubtedly a top contender. Cheung fun, a simple Cantonese dish, is well-loved in this city and collectively, we eat it like it’s going out of fashion. You can get plain ju cheung fun (named for its resemblance to ‘pig’s intestines’ apparently) which is a blank canvas for the sweet, savoury, and spicy sauces; the filled variety which wraps the rice noodle around beef, pork, seafood, and more; stir-fried versions with aromatic xo sauce; the wrinkled kind that is scraped off the pan to create folds for more sauce to hold on to; and there are even colourful, sweet versions filled with cream and durian. The list goes on and on. Some Hong Kong restaurants create their own renditions, adding unexpected flavour and ingredients for a new style of cheung fun, but the traditional type, well that’s where the comfort comes in.
Looking for a sense of solace myself, I’ve decided to hit up some of Hong Kong’s top cheung fun spots. The first stop takes me to Sham Shui Po’s famed snack stall Hop Yik Tai. This small, nondescript eatery is loved by many for its simple and cheap ($10 for small, $12 for medium, and $16 for big) plates of ju cheung fun that come slathered in soy, hoisin, and peanut (along with chilli if you want it) sauce, before it’s sprinkled with sesame seeds and poked with a bamboo stick to use as a utensil to eat it with.
When the world had yet to meet Covid-19, Hop Yik Tai is said to have sold 5,000 plates of cheung fun, and while we’re not sure if they still dish out as many as that, the shop is still fairly busy and a queue forms almost every weekend. The shop gets its supply of cheung fun from a small local factory called Poon Kei in Tuen Mun which uses a blend of three-year-old rice from China and Thailand along with rice flour and wheat starch. However, Hop Yik Tai do have their own machine at the factory to make these bouncy rice noodle rolls that the city loves. “This is a neighbourhood business,” says one of the staff members as she swiftly snips the rolls with scissors.
Cheung fun is a quintessential Hong Kong dish and we haven’t increased our prices for the past two years because of the pandemic.
“People like our cheung fun because it’s hot, fresh and our sauce sets us apart. We add lard to our recipe and that’s why people love it so much." Customers here choose to stand outside in the back alley, rather than sit down inside, dipping their cheung fun in the sauce as they hover over their plates. This sacred street food ritual is what gives Hop Yik Tai’s cheung fun that genuine flavour of Hong Kong that they keep coming back for.
My next stop is Chan Hon Kee, a Tai Po institution that has been serving late-night claypot rice since the 1990s. The silky-smooth cheung fun (price ranges from $19 to $29) is made to order and the result is glossy and translucent. You can see the fillings of char siu, plump prawn, and a personal favourite: tender pork liver underneath. A perfect balance of sweet and savoury soy sauce is poured over the cheung fun that disintegrates as soon as you slurp it up.
Cheung fun is an ideal breakfast item, and on the day of visiting, I enjoy it in peace with only one other table occupied in the restaurant. I'm told it's usually busier in the evenings, but that's changed a lot now. Ms Wong behind the counter tells me that “it’s thanks to the support of local residents in Tai Po, and those coming in to visit, that business is still going."
But without tourists coming to Hong Kong… it's not quite the same.
In the final part of my cheung fun journey, I look for the pan-fried variety and head to Keung Kee, an eatery with more than 70 years of history. The shop, which began in 1951 selling snacks from the street side, moved from its old location on Marsh Road in Wan Chai to a new shop just a short walk away on Lockhart Road. The new space is larger, enclosed and comes with air conditioning and an expanded menu. The second-generation shop owner, Ah Sai, shared his fond memories of learning how to cook from his father and how his son will soon take over after him – a family business of three generations.
Keung Kee’s old spot used two silver carts on wheels which steamed their famous glutinous rice dishes and pan-fried their cheung fun. Now, their signature cheung fun ($25) with dried shrimp and green onion is stir-fried with a large cast-iron pan. You can add scrambled egg (+$6) which adds wonderful flavour and fragrance before you add any of the sauces.“My customers have been coming here for years,” says Ah Sai.
They’re customers that have always supported us and come from different generations of families. Like us.
The story of cheung fun is a humble one. It’s about family, tradition and local support, providing a very real sense of wellbeing that brings comfort, even in the bleakest of times. For these eateries especially, cheung fun is designed to comfort and satisfy, not impress, and its significance to the neighbourhood will continue on with the next generation.
Find out where else you can try Hong Kong’s most comforting carb with our pick of the best cheung fun in the city.