Ways to Save on Your Hong Kong Meals

Wherever you decide to eat, remember that a 10% service charge will be added to your food-and-beverage bill. There is no tax, however. You can save a few Hong Kong dollars when eating out by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Eat your big meal at lunch. Most Asian (excluding Chinese) and Western restaurants offer special set (fixed-price) lunches that are much cheaper than evening meals; their menus often include an appetizer, main course, and a side dish. Don't neglect expensive restaurants just because you assume they're out of your price range. If you feel like splurging, lunch is the way to go. For example, you can eat lunch at Gaddi's (one of Hong Kong's most famous restaurants) for HK$428 per person, including a glass of wine (dinner would be at least double that). Note, however, that set lunches may not be available on Sundays or holidays or may cost more on weekends.
  • Jump on the buffet bandwagon. Buffet spreads are another great Hong Kong tradition and bargain. I find the quality is generally much, much better than what you typically find in the West. Even the priciest hotels offer buffets (witness the Island Shangri-La's cafe TOO), and a big part of their popularity is the variety, from sushi to roast beef to noodles to fresh seafood. Almost all hotels offer buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; independent restaurants are more likely to feature buffets at lunch (some allow you to choose your main dish from a menu, complemented with buffets for appetizers and desserts). There are always reduced prices for children; the Salisbury and the Spice Market also give discounts to seniors.
  • Eat an early or late dinner to take advantage of special prices. A few restaurants offer early bird or late-night specials. If you dine before 7pm at trendy Felix, for example, a three-course meal costs only HK$448 as opposed to the HK$1,000 or more you could spend for dinner a la carte. At the Spice Market, come for the weekend tea-time buffet from 3:15 to 5:15pm, where you can fill up on finger food and pastries for only HK$148 and then eat a light dinner or skip it altogether. At the Greenery, a light supper buffet is available Thursday to Saturday from 10:15pm for HK$198, less than half the usual dinner buffet price.
  • If you want to imbibe, stick with tea. Hong Kong abolished import duties on wine and beer in 2008, making drinks with a meal even more enjoyable (in early 2007, the duty on wine was an astonishing 80%). That, coupled with a growing appreciative audience among young Hong Kong Chinese, has led to a much larger selection than ever before. Still, to keep prices down, stick to tea or try one of the two most popular and less expensive brands of beer: San Miguel (Filipino) and Tsingtao (Chinese). And speaking of beer, many bars and pubs also serve food.
  • Go the dim sum route. Dim sum, served mainly in Cantonese restaurants, is another way to economize on breakfast or lunch. Dim sum are usually served three or four to a basket or plate; three baskets are usually filling enough for me, which means I can have breakfast or lunch for less than HK$120. Some restaurants even discount their dim sum before or after the peak dining times or on weekdays. If you don't want tea, be sure to say so. Otherwise, it will be brought to your table automatically and generally costs HK$10 and up.

Meals & Dining Customs

Traditionally speaking, Chinese restaurants tend to be noisy and crowded affairs, the patrons much more interested in food than in decor. They range from simple diners where the only adornment is likely to be the Formica atop the tables, to very elaborate affairs with Chinese lanterns, splashes of red and gold, and painted screens. In the 1980s, a new kind of Chinese restaurant exploded onto the scene: trendy, chic, and minimalist, many in Art Deco style, and catering to Hong Kong's young and upwardly mobile. More recent years have witnessed a return to the nostalgic, with restaurants designed in Shanghai chic of the 1930s.

In any case, Chinese restaurants are places for social gatherings; because Hong Kong apartments are usually too small to entertain friends and family, the whole gang simply heads for their favorite restaurant. The Chinese, therefore, usually dine in large groups; the more, the merrier. You'll typically encounter these big groups at dinner, the main meal of the day. In smaller restaurants, sharing a table is a common practice, so if your party is small and a bigger group shows up, you may be asked to share your space or move to another table. As for ordering, the basic rule is to order one dish per person, plus one extra dish or a soup, with all dishes placed in the center of the table and shared by everyone. The more people in your party, therefore, the more dishes are ordered and the more fun you'll have. Dishes usually come in two or three different sizes, so ask your waiter which size is sufficient for your group.

Because most Chinese restaurants cater to groups and Chinese food is best enjoyed if there are a variety of dishes, lone diners are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to Chinese cuisine. A few restaurants make life easier by offering fixed-price course menus, but they're usually for parties of two people or more. An alternative is to dine at hotel buffets that offer Chinese and international dishes.

You shouldn't have any problem ordering, since many Chinese restaurants have English menus. If you want to be correct about it, though, a well-balanced meal should contain the five basic tastes of Chinese cuisine -- acid, hot, bitter, sweet, and salty. The texture should vary as well, ranging from crisp and tender to dry and saucy. The proper order is to begin with a cold dish, followed by dishes of fish or seafood, meat (pork, beef, or poultry), vegetables, soup, and noodles or rice. Some dishes are steamed, while others may be fried, boiled, or roasted. Many of the dishes are accompanied by sauces, typically soy sauce, chili sauce, and hot mustard.

At a Chinese restaurant, the beginning of your meal is usually heralded by a round of hot towels, a wonderful custom you'll soon grow addicted to and wish would be adopted by restaurants in your home country. Your eating utensils, of course, will be chopsticks, which have been around for 3,000 years and are perfect for picking up bite-size morsels. If you're eating rice, pick up the bowl and scoop the rice directly into your mouth with your chopsticks.

Keep in mind, however, that several superstitions are associated with chopsticks. If, for example, you find an uneven pair at your table setting, it means you are going to miss a boat, plane, or train. Dropping chopsticks means you will have bad luck; laying them across each other is also considered a bad omen, except in dim sum restaurants where your waiter may cross them to show that your bill has been settled. You can do the same to signal the waiter that you've finished your meal and wish to pay the bill. When dining in a group, avoid ordering seven dishes, since seven dishes are considered food for ghosts, not humans.

As for dining etiquette, it's considered perfectly acceptable to slurp soup, since this indicates an appreciation of the food and also helps cool the soup so it doesn't burn the tongue. Toothpicks are also acceptable for use at the table during and after meals; they can even be used to spear foods too slippery or elusive for chopsticks, such as button mushrooms and jellyfish slices. As in most Asian countries, good toothpick manners call for covering your mouth with one hand while you dislodge food particles from your teeth.

A final custom you may see in Chinese restaurants is that of finger tapping: Customers often tap three fingers on the table twice as a sign of thanks to the person pouring the tea.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.