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Hong Kong

dim sum hong kongIf you're a foodie, you've come to the right spot! Hong Kong's food lovers will match you bite for bite. From dim sum (little plates or steamer-baskets of tasty morsels served morning through afternoon) and Peking duck to exotic (and questionably ethical) items like bird's nest soup or shark fin soup, the entire city is one big banquet. But it doesn't stop there. Creative chefs are also playing with traditional foods and creating innovative new menus.

Food appears in every possible setting -- from elegant hotel and romantic alfresco dining to the basic "come-as-you-are" food stalls, called dai pai dong. Of course, the most popular type of cooking is Cantonese-style. But you'll find restaurants that specialize in cuisine from every region of China. You'll also find an abundance of Western dining options, including the usual fast food suspects.

Texture has a major role in Chinese cuisine, with items like pig ears and chicken feet playing to sensibilities very different from Western tastes. Behind many ingredients, though, is the Chinese belief that food is like medicine. It can improve your complexion, your virility or your luck.

Hong Kong is home to the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan. This dim sum hole-in-the-wall turns out spectacular items made to order. A line starts forming at least a half hour before the doors open at 10 a.m. If you're not lucky enough to get a table at the first seating, the genial owner will put your name on the list and give you the approximate waiting time, easily passed by investigating the nearby street market and surrounding food shops. Trust us, the wait is worth it -- items like the pork buns or steamed shrimp and spinach dumplings redefined dim sum for us. Tim Ho Wan has a second outlet in the train station, Central, Hong Kong Island. It's lacking a bit in character (a tad plastic) and conviviality, but the food is nearly as good there as it is at the mothership. At both, you check off the items you'd like to order on a paper listing. Closing times are variable, since they stop serving when they run out of food, usually later for the island outlet.

A five-minute walk from the cruise terminal, Jade Garden (up the escalator at Star House on Salisbury Road) serves classic lunchtime dim sum in a vast room. (Dinners are regular Cantonese fare.) There are no carts; just check off your choices on a paper list, with help from photos on the menu.

For a memorable splurge, head to Michelin two-starred Bo Innovation for lunch or dinner. Alvin Leung, known as the "Demon Chef," applies modern culinary techniques to create captivating twists on traditional Chinese dishes (or, as he calls it, "X-treme Chinese cuisine"). His radical take on soup dumplings is one of the world's great bites, and dishes like oysters served with a vapor that evokes the aroma of Hong Kong's harbor make dining a multisensory experience. Reserve in advance, and if you're able to book the "chef's table" (actually a bar overlooking the kitchen), it's likely the Demon himself will serve you while describing the origin of each dish.

The InterContinental Hotel's highly regarded SPOON by Alain Ducasse is an excellent choice for a contemporary take on classic French cuisine. You can order from the ever-changing a la carte menu (recent offerings include steamed cod fillet with caviar or French pigeon with polenta) -- or you can opt for the "SPOON Experience" menu, a six-course degustation option personalized by the kitchen.

Just more than a mile from the Ocean Terminal (best to take a cab) in the Kowloon district of Hung Hom is the 45,000-square-foot "concept" dining plaza, Whampoa Gourmet Place. More than 300,000 diners flock each month to the complex's myriad establishments, which serve traditional cuisine in settings reminiscent of Hong Kong dining establishments of the 1940's and 50's. Service is friendly, the prices are extremely reasonable and it's another good place to sample dim sum.
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