Food

The tiny snack that kept Hong Kong moving

Oct 15, 2018

Although many people think of wonton noodle soup as a proper meal, the dish was originally introduced as a light snack to be eaten before or after the theater.

A few decades ago, folks in southern China would grab a tiny bowl consisting of a few bites of noodles and a couple of dumplings as a quick snack.

A bowl of wonton noodle soup.
A bowl of wonton noodle soup. / Photo: Shutterstock

In Hong Kong, the dish is called sai yung (細蓉), literally “small hibiscus.” There are many stories about the name’s origin, but the most common one has to do with a pun related to Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi's work.

Sadly, wonton restaurants these days only carry larger bowls because it’s harder to justify the bill per head for the small bowls, says Danny Chan, operations director at Chee Kei, a wonton noodle chain.

Together with Mak Noodle’s and Ho Hung Kee, Chee Kei is one of few places that continues to serve the little wonton bowl because “it’s part of Hong Kong tradition.”

Chee Kei is one of few places in Hong Kong that continues to serve the little wonton bowl.
Chee Kei is one of few places in Hong Kong that continues to serve the little wonton bowl. / Photo: Edmond So/SCMP

As with all wonton noodles, the dumpling wrappers should be as thin as possible, with a significant portion of the wrapper left unfilled, resulting in a “goldfish tail.”

The filling consists of prawns and pork (half fatty and half lean), lightly seasoned with salt, sugar and white pepper. Red rice vinegar, Yu Kwen Yick chilli sauce and XO sauce are offered as condiments.

Vinegar is the old-school companion for wonton noodles, as the acidity complements the noodles’ alkalinity.

Adapted from an original article first published in the South China Morning Post.