Asia Hong Kong
Food: Hong Kong Comfort Food
Four great, inexpensive spots for pork buns, the mac and cheese of Hong Kong and Macau
Menu board at the Hotel Icon’s Market restaurant; steamed pork buns at Crystal Jade, in the Hong Kong airport; the Icon’s vertical garden.

The pork bun is the ultimate Chinese comfort food, widely available and democratically priced. This relatively simple dish performs complex voodoo upon a hungry or despondent soul. Oddly enough, it’s one of those rare foods of which the steamed variety (with its cumulus cloud of dough) is more inviting and tastier than the baked—with some notable exceptions (see Tim Ho Wan, below). Accepted wisdom has it that the steamed dough should be pillowy and soft but dense. The baked bun has a golden glaze and is flaky, more pastrylike. In either version, the pork is usually long-cooked and has a hint of sweetness and vinegar, and occupies a small, potent nest in the bun’s center.

You can enjoy a great pork bun the instant you step off the plane at the Hong Kong airport. Though Crystal Jade is part of a huge Asian chain, the restaurant keeps it real. You can watch the cooks handcrafting buns and other one-bite delights, like dumplings and velvety shrimp-stuffed wontons. Pork buns, their little bottoms browned, arrive in the bamboo basket in which they were steamed.

It’s true that hotels serve some of the best Chinese food in Asia. The Hong Kong hotel of the moment is the Icon, which has a lovely informal restaurant called the Market, designed by Sir Terence Conran. Among the dim sum array at the breakfast buffet, the pork buns are superbly spongy—almost as much a masterpiece of engineering as the vertical garden that swooshes up a wall in the hotel atrium. Don’t miss the pan-fried turnip cakes with dipping sauces or the terrific, improbably nongreasy dumplings, both shrimp and mushroom: The outline of the filling is visible through what looks like a delicate chrysalis.

Some say the world’s best pork buns are at Tim Ho Wan, a busy, unpretentious little place. There’s no English-language sign outside, but the long lines give it away, and the Michelin star comes as no surprise once you taste the food. Baked pork buns arrive golden brown and lightly dusted with sugar, the supreme combination of savory and sweet. The only way to stop eating them is to start eating something else, like the vermicelli roll, whose pig-liver stuffing has an unforgettably deep flavor.

From Hong Kong it’s a short ferry ride to Macau, the Las Vegas of China, a bizarre marriage of capitalism and communism that must be seen to be believed. Hidden away amid the hectic grandeur of the Venetian, the world’s largest casino, is Canton, a restaurant that transports you to imperial luxury far from the lives collapsing at the baccarat tables nearby. Here the pork buns are as serenely perfect as the service. They’re winners every time.

Hong Kong International Airport, Arrivals Hall, Level 5; dinner for two, $40*

Hotel Icon, 17 Science Museum Rd., Kowloon; brunch for two, $55

2-20 Kwong Wa St., Kowloon; dinner for two, $35

Venetian Macau Resort Hotel, Estda. da Baía de N. Senhora da Esperança, Macau; dinner for two, $60

*Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars and do not include drinks, tax or tip.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: May 30, 2012 
Photos: Hotel Icon (2); Crystal Jade Concepts Holding
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