With Chinese New Year just around the corner, we say Kung Hei Fat Choi to you and yours! Turnip cake is a staple for many households during the course of CNY celebrations, and it’s a truly luxurious experience when it’s paired with some XO sauce. The Hong Kong invention and local favourite is named after XO cognac, as the sauce mainly consists of the finest dried seafoods, including scallops and shrimps. The spicy and savoury taste comes from frying the roughly-chopped seafood with chilli peppers, onions, and garlic.
The many types of XO sauce out there can get confusing – which ones are the best, and where do we get them? Well, look no further, for we have composed a top five list that are worth the trip and the calories! Translated by Ashlyn Chak
RECOMMENDED: If you’re looking for a place to host your big CNY dinner, take a look at our list of the best Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong.
Best XO sauce in Hong Kong
There are many different stories pertaining to how XO sauce was invented, with the most popular being that where the famous food critic and writer Wang Tingzhi reinvented shrimp paste during his consultation for The Peninsula’s Spring Moon in 1986. Back in the day, the establishment’s XO sauce was just a staple sauce that was available to customers for free – yet it ended up being so beloved by diners that they decided to put it up for sale. So, if you want to have a taste of the OG XO sauce, get down to Spring Moon. Bear in mind that the price of the sauce is, unsurprisingly, high-end at $395 for a jar. It’s the most expensive XO sauce in town, and you can’t get it anywhere but here!
Nicole’s Kitchen boasts a selection of artisanal sauces made using the finest ingredients and presented in minimalist packaging. Adored by the middle classes and yuppies alike, the sauces are available at Eslite, City’super, Sogo, and other upscale supermarkets. Her handmade premium XO sauce ($260) shows promise with its main ingredients being Japanese sakura shrimp and Hokkaido’s first-class conpoy, complemented by local shrimp skin, shrimp roe, dried shrimp, jinhua ham, cone pepper, garlic, and shallots. nicoleskitchen.com.hk
Dashije, a student of the late Cantonese cuisine expert Pearl Kong Chen, is known for her detail-oriented cooking style. True to form, her XO sauce only makes use of the best ingredients, from top-tier conpoy to jinhua ham to fried flounder fish. The sauce comes in multiple variations such as the extra hot XO Sauce with sakura shrimp ($168) – with a very distinctive aroma– and the salted fish XO sauce ($168) which features salted threadfin and anchovy for that unique umami flavour. dashijie.com.hk
Devil Kitchen is an XO sauce brand operated by local sauce pioneer Diana and her nephew Joe. Diana first started making XO sauce for fun, only giving samples to her friends and family. Everybody loved it so much that she and her nephew decided to start a business together. The ingredients include such delights as Hokkaido conpoy and whole jinhua ham., and they even added in some fish sauce in the frying process. There are three versions of their XO sauce, from the original to the Mala flavour to a Tom Yum Kung flavour that’s sour and spicy with a lemongrass scent – it compliments Lo Mein perfectly! devilkitchen.net
As plant-based diets are steadily becoming mainstream, even XO sauce has been reinvented for vegetarianism. Introducing the vegetarian XO sauce from Yio Farm. Founded in 2013, Yio Farm focuses on rehabilitating agricultural land in Yio, and they have launched several products with the Yio crop since. This vegetarian XO sauce replaces dried seafood with enoki mushrooms, cordyceps flowers, and shiitake mushrooms roots. The texture is surprisingly similar to actual conpoy. The sauce is cooked on firewood for 2-3 hours – a product of effort, and a great way to support local businesses. yio.com.hk