Hong Kong is known for having one of the most vibrant culinary scenes in East Asia.
During China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, an influx of refugees from the mainland brought to Hong Kong a diverse range of regional Chinese dishes. They came from as far as Xinjiang in the far west, to northern Shandong, to Yunnan in the southwest, which borders Vietnam.
It’s not just Chinese food that Hong Kong is good at. The international trade hub and former British colony has for decades played host to a variety of famous global chefs and cuisines, both on the high and low end.
Yet, ask any local what they grew up eating and chances are that canned goods like spam and condensed milk will be on their list.
The manufacturing boom in post-World War II in Hong Kong meant a rise in factory workers looking for cheap food. Canned goods, which were in abundance because of the war, became a staple throughout the local restaurants and cha chaan tengs (Cantonese diners) here.
That affinity for canned goods has made its way to home kitchens as a staple. Here are five you’ll find in most homes.
Spiced pork cubes 五香肉丁
Spiced pork cubes are the epitome of umami and are usually put in instant noodles as a quick pick-me-up, perhaps with a side of vegetables. The pork cubes can also be utilized in a savory fried rice. It’s a versatile ingredient that adds a quick protein fix.
Condensed milk 煉奶
When it comes to condensed milk, there are two brands in Hong Kong that reign supreme: Black and White, and Longevity Brand. Both brands are owned by the Dutch company FrieslandCampina, and have been a regular fixture of Hong Kong’s culinary fabric for seven decades.
The former is found mostly in restaurants and the latter is the choice brand for the home cabinet. Condensed milk is most commonly used in tea, or even sprinkled on toast.
Fried dace with salted black beans 豆豉鲮鱼
Dace is a brackish water fish traditionally sourced from the Pearl River Delta. It’s always historically been a transportable food, especially for migrants who needed to travel to Southeast Asia for work. The delicacy began to be massed produced in 1893 and has since become dinner staple, usually eaten with rice as a tasty side dish.
Spam is a favorite ingredient across a lot of former colonies in the Asia-Pacific. In Hawaii, it’s spam musubi. In the Philippines, they eat spamsilog.
In Hong Kong, spam is usually ladled top of rice and a fried egg, boxed macaroni, and of course—instant noodles.
Corned beef 咸牛肉
Though corned beef in Hong Kong is not nearly as meaty as its Western counterparts, it’s still a beloved ingredient especially in breakfast dishes.
It can be found in omelettes at the cha chaan tengs or sandwiched between white toast and egg.
Additional reporting by Mario Chui.