12 Sep 2018 | Veronica
They’re loud, they’re chaotic, and potentially very overwhelming (especially if you have bad memories of your high school cafeteria).
They’re also very cheap, very fast, and usually delicious!
1. Getting There
Cooked food centers are usually on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th floor of a wet market. So getting into a cooked food center might involve passing through the wet market. This means past the half-alive fish and hanging meat butchers’ stalls. Still have your appetite? Good. Read on.
*TIP: most centers will have an entrance (stairwell or elevator area) that leads directly to the cooked food center. Use this to skip the wet market sensory overload!
2. Choosing a Restaurant and Finding a Table
Inside, each restaurant has their own designated tables. Take a tour around and peer at what people are eating. When you find something that looks good to you, find a space at a table in that area and squeeze in! There’s no private dining in here – if there’s any space at your table, expect that it will be filled. Likewise, you may be ushered to share a table with a whole family that needs to shift over to make room for you. But they’ll do it! Everyone’s gotta eat, and more business is good business!
*TIP: Don’t be afraid to look lost! There’s a time and a place for everything, and here is not the place to try to act like a local. You’re a foreigner, and you’ll stand out. People will genuinely try to help you – Embrace it!
How brave are you? The chances of there being an English menu are about 50/50, so best to be prepared to point randomly in the worst case! This is great when someone at your table is eating something that looks delicious. Don’t expect the servers to be patient, either. They’ve got a lot of people to take care of and customer service is not top priority. Luckily, a lot of locals get a kick out of seeing a foreigner in a cooked food center and are often very willing to help you out with the order!
*TIP: learn basic Cantonese! Find out how to order your favourite drink, to start, and work your way from there.
4. Still unsure? Start with these foreigner-friendly stalls
· Tung Po Kitchen, in North Point, was a stop for Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations. Menus have English, and both local and Western celebrities stop here! Prices are higher than average, but the food is made to match. Go with a big group to truly benefit from the menu range! Add in the throwback music, a few drinks, and it’s a great atmosphere.
· ABC Kitchen, in Sheung Wan, has become famous among expats for their mixed Western food! Wouldn’t expect to find a great plate of gnocchi or paella in a cooked food center, but there it is. Prices run quite a bit higher than the average stall.