While pure jade is not for the light-of-pocket, the Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei - with its synthetic merchandise - offers an affordable alternative. This covered marketplace hosts 400 stalls, selling a diverse range of jade pendants, rings, bracelets, carvings and ornaments. All wares are up for bartering. Prices can start at HK$15 and rise to however much vendors think they can get from a buyer. Always haggle at half the price or less to come to an agreeable compromise. Once you start haggling, it is rude to not purchase the item, so only negotiate if you have true intent to purchase. Caveat emptor, not all stones, sold at the Market, are natural, so novices should make their purchases with a grain of salt.
Top quality jade is pure green and very expensive. Most pieces can have a yellow tinge, but the finished item should be devoid of brown or grey. The best jade is semi-transparent, while opaque jade with cloudy patches tends to be of less value. The Chinese character for jade translates to "beauty" and "purity". The stone symbolizes long life and good health, as such, many traditionalists wear jade to guard against illnesses.
The Jade Market is located on Kansu and Battery Streets in Jordan. Opening hours vary between the 400 vendors, but the Market is typically open daily, 9am-5:30pm. Jade Street is nearby, located on Canton Road between Kansu Street and Jordan Road. Shops on this street operate Monday to Saturday, from 10am-4pm. A giant jade stone that weighs three tons acts as a landmark at the junction of Canton Road and Jordan Road.
2. Original ChineseTea
The origins of tea are debatable, but the earliest written records credit China with the first brew in the 10th century BC. With many purported health benefits, tea has become a staple in many Western homes. Teas come in varying qualities and grades, as reflected in their prices. Those with limited tea knowledge should purchase from reputable vendors to ensure they buy the real product.
Tea can be bought anywhere in Hong Kong, but tourists flock to Ying Kee Tea House for their dim sum and tea fix. Dating from 1881, Ying Kee has become synonymous with quality tea leaves that transport well. This fourth-generation operation offers a diversity of teas, ranging from the typical black, green and white variety to the atypical for the Western palate, slimming and foggy teas. Tea prices vary with quality, ranging from HK$6 an ounce to HK$18,000 for a patty. Ying Kee also offers tea sets and utensils for the enthusiasts who want to have traditional tea parties back at home.
Ying Kee has 13 boutiques scattered through the major districts of Hong Kong, on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and the New Territories.
Where to find it:
Wah Shing Centre, 5 Fung Yip St, Siu Sai Wan, Hong Kong
3. Chinese Mailbox
Traditional Chinese mailboxes have become almost defunct in Hong Kong, but can be found in tiny villages scattered around its many islands. While it can be easily got with a five-finger discount, it is recommended purchasing it for HK$38 in backwater villages, such as Tai O. These metal square tins used to hang outside entrance-ways to homes and communities, but have since been replaced by more secure mailboxes reminiscent of those found in the West. Grey in colour, the words “Letter Box” can be found printed in red in traditional Chinese characters. A cut-out of ancient Chinese coins decorate the front, but leave the box’s contents exposed to the elements, making it more ideal for indoor decor, as opposed to outdoor usage. Measuring 32cm(h) x 18cm(w) x 4cm(d), these antique boxes are compact enough to fit in most suitcases and are light enough to curb the weight restrictions of major airlines. Small antique stores carry these post boxes for tourists and memorabilia enthusiasts.
These antique mailboxes can be found along Tai O Wing On Street in a non-assuming haberdashery, called Wing On Department Store. Not to be confused with the giant department store, this mini-version is a family-owned business. With indeterminate opening hours that cater to the tourist season, shoppers can find the store open during peak tourist times and in accord with the bus schedule.
Where to find it:
Wing On Department Store
211 Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong
+852 2852 1888
4. Shrimp Paste
Shrimp paste is a condiment made by families in coastal villages. As such, Hong Kong has a long history of shrimp paste manufacturing, especially in its coastal backwaters. An acquired taste, shrimp paste is made from sundried fermented ground shrimp. Not intended for immediate consumption, shrimp paste has to be fully cooked prior to eating, since it is raw. The paste is a light pinkish grey liquid with a pungent aroma, although those of higher grades are generally milder in scent. Extremely salty, shrimp paste is a common ingredient in stir-fries and sauces, as a salt supplement and flavour enhancer.
Hong Kong shrimp paste comes in jars of varying sizes and varying prices. Small jars retail for HK$22, medium for HK$27, and large for HK$32. Gift packs are available and packaged accordingly with decorative packaging that fits easily into suitcases. Shrimp paste companies in these coastal villages are small family-owned operations that date back to over 60 years in the industry.
The best places to purchase high-quality shrimp paste are coastal villages. Thusly, the fishing village Tai O boasts Hong Kong’s best shrimp paste. Two famous producers are located blocks apart. Yick Cheong Seafood Company dates back to over 60 years. Their shrimp paste is made daily in the shop’s adjoining kitchen. Their hours of operation are 9am-6pm daily and they are located at 44-48 Wong On Street, Tai O. Another producer is Cheung Choi Kee with over 40 years on the market. Their shrimp paste is also made in an adjoining family kitchen. Their hours of operation are 7am-6pm daily and they can be found at 41 Kat Hing Front Street, Tai O.
Where to find it:
Yick Cheong Seafood Company, 48 Wing On Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Pinwheels are a traditional part of Chinese New Year’s in Hong Kong. Many worshippers visit Che Kung Temple and purchase a pinwheel nearby to welcome the new Chinese year. A colourful toy for children, the pinwheel is also a powerful symbol that dates back thousands of years. The spinning wheel symbolises the ebbing and flowing of fortune. As the wheels spin, bad luck is cast out and replaced with good luck. Hence, this effortless spinning of the wheels in the breeze symbolises a smooth year, devoid of obstacles. Even if it is not Chinese New Year, a traditional pinwheel makes a nifty turbine.
The pinwheels range in size, according to the number of wheels, and the costs also alter in accordance. 4 wheels retail for HK$25, 9 wheels for HK$35-$88, 18 wheels for HK$198, and 28 wheels retail for HK$288. Bells adjoin the pinwheel to ring in the Chinese New Year. Pinwheels are mainly red, as the colour carries a largely positive connotation: courage, loyalty, honour, success, fortune, fertility, happiness and passion.
The Che Kung Temple is located near Tai Wai, in Sha Tin District, New Territories. The temple is open from 7am-6pm daily for worshippers and tourists. Built in 1993, this temple replaced the original Che Kung Temple that dated back to the Ming Dynasty. Admission to the temple is free, but it is customary for visitors to donate money to support the temple maintenance.
6. Temple Charms
A tour of Hong Kong is not complete without visiting one of its many ancient temples and purchasing a souvenir as remembrance of the visit. Hong Kong is rich with history, complete with temples that date back hundreds of years to the Yuan Dynasty. Although such temples have been renovated and rejuvenated to the point that they barely resemble their past selves, the ground is still sacred and potent with spiritual believers. Such temples are renowned for charms of luck, wealth, prosperity, health and such well wishes.
These charms are popular with tourists and locals alike to ward off bad luck and welcome the good. Charms come in an assortment of designs and prosperous wishes. Whether a believer or not, these charms are compact, affordable and a reminder of ancient traditions. Popular charms involve the Chinese zodiac and cost HK$38. Safety and well-wishes charms range from HK$18-88. Jade charms can cost as much as $268.
Most temples offer charms with varying designs, costs and effectiveness, but famous temples tend to offer more variety and be more effective. The Che Kung Temple, located near Tai Wai, in Sha Tin District, New Territories, is one of the most famous temples in Hong Kong, and offers such charms at tourist prices. The temple is open from 7am-6pm daily for worshippers and tourists. Admission to the temple is free, but it is customary for visitors to donate money to support the maintenance of the temple.
7. McMug (Animation)
McMug is an animated character, created in 1988 by Alice Mak and Brian Tse. Born and bred in Hong Kong, McMug has become popular with the local populace for its realistic depiction of life in Hong Kong. The comics look somewhat childish, but they cover the gravitas of Hong Kong society, including topics on death, poverty, unskilled labour and single-parent families. The plot lines reflect Hong Kong culture, drawing on local festivals and celebrations.
The major characters are two pigs, McMug and his distant cousin McDull. Their misadventures and daily lives in Hong Kong are chronicled and satirised to highlight social topics pertinent to the times. McMug stuffed toys are consistently popular and have made constant appearances in various boutiques and department stores in Hong Kong.
The character and his family and friends are renowned in Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities. McMug’s popularity has waned in recent years, but his iconic stature is still heavily regarded. At its peak, the characters appeared in books, movies, television programmes, stationary, home appliances and other commodities. McMug merchandise can still be found everywhere and its songs sung throughout the streets.
McMug memorabilia can be found throughout Hong Kong. Major department stores carry McMug merchandise and are the safest places to buy the real-deal. A notable department store, that carries McMug, is Apita. The popular McMug dolls can be found in the children’s department in any of the three branches: Apita Tai Koo, Cityplaza 2, 18 Taikoo Shing Road, Quarry Bay, open from 10am-10:30pm; UNY Lok Fu, Level 2-3, Lok Fu Plaza, Lok Fu Estate, No. 198 Junction Road, Kowloon, open 10am-10pm; and PIAGO Kowloon Bay, shop 401-402 & 501-502, Telford Plaza II, Kowloon Bay, open 10am-10pm.
Where to find it:
Apita Tai Koo, Cityplaza 2, 18 Taikoo Shing Road,
UNY Lok Fu, Level 2-3, Lok Fu Plaza, Lok Fu Estate,
No. 198 Junction Road, Kowloon
PIAGO Kowloon Bay, shop 401-402 &
501-502, Telford Plaza II, Kowloon Bay
8. Asiatic Houseware
The buzz word nowadays is “integration,” be it in industry, culture, or at home. Interior decor is trending towards integrating cultures and eras, particularly for pieces with traditional Asian flare. When in Hong Kong, why not bring back something to make your home the envy of the community? Hot designers are creating pieces and housewares to fit this trend, and one of the easiest places to find them in one location is G.O.D. Founded in 1996 by Douglas Young and Benjamin Lau, G.O.D. (Goods of Desire) is a concept store that capitalises on the recent trend for Chinese-inspired merchandise. G.O.D. integrates tradition with modernity, taking inspiration from historic and current-day Hong Kong culture. Specialising in housewares and furnishings, they update Oriental traditions and designs to cater to the modern home and lifestyle.
Their lifestyle products run the gamut from home accessories to furniture to fashion. Their most famous home accessory design is the Chinese “Double Happiness” character collection, which ranges from bedding to table decor, such as candles. Also famous for furnishings, G.O.D.’s major products utilise bamboo and traditional Chinese materials and motifs in tables, beds, cabinets and more.
G.O.D. items are not for those on a shoestring budget. Wares can range from a Chinese-character candle for HK$75 to coffee tables for HK$6790 and above, depending on the furnishing. However, their designs that push the envelope on Chinese traditions are still highly popular with expatriates and modernists.
G.O.D. boasts five stores in Hong Kong. The original store in Ap Lei Chau is defunct in lieu of the flagship store in Causeway Bay and their 4 other central locations in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, Shek Kip Mei and The Peak Galleria. Each location has varying opening hours. The flagship store, located on Sharp Street, East Entrance, Causeway Bay, is open daily from noon-10pm.
Where to find it:
G.o.d. - Tsim Sha Tsui
30 Canton Road, Hong Kong
9. Garden (Brand)
The staple Chinese diet has evolved from rice to more portable baked items introduced by the West. From early colonial times, Hong Kong has had a chance to develop its baking prowess, as such certain specialty items have become must-tries, when visiting. While you may have been thinking of a pineapple bun or egg tart, reading the last 50 so-odd words, the actual referring is to the airy breads and highly preserved Pop Pan Crackers from Garden.
A household name since 1926, Garden biscuits and candies are staples in many Hong Kong homes and lunchboxes. Best known for their Pop Pan Crackers and caramel candies, the Garden Company has branched to other food products, which are popular to varying degrees. Garden also specialises in bread, which can be found in many Hong Kong cafés. Very soft and airy, the bread is an affordable staple for students and travellers, although the nutrition content is minimal, as a processed carbohydrate.
Their famous Pop Pan Crackers have remained popular with children and adults throughout the years. Pop Pan Crackers now come in a variety of flavours, but their original, spring onion flavour still flies off the shelves. The crackers come in two rows of crispy goodness that have the magical ability to remain crisp for weeks, especially the more magical given Hong Kong’s humidity. A box of Pop Pans typically retail for HK$12.90. Invest in a few boxes for the flight home or there may not be any left for souvenirs.
Found in every supermarket, convenience store, canteen and mom-and-pop shop, Pop Pans and most Garden items are easy to purchase. The most economical place to buy them would be supermarkets. Wellcome is the most economical supermarket in Hong Kong and its 257 locations can be found throughout the city. Opening hours are typically 8am-10/11pm, depending on the branch.
Where to find it:
Wellcome, 16 Bowrington Rd, Hong Kong
10. Soy Milk
Soy milk, the staple elixir for the lactose intolerant, was created in China during the Han Dynasty. Long consumed for its health benefits and high protein content, soy milk popularity has reached global proportions. Since bottling and preservation practices became widespread, soy milk has been readily available with a longer shelf life. One of the first and most popular go-to soy sources is Vitasoy.
Vitasoy is a brand of beverages that originated in Hong Kong. Since 1940, Vitasoy has created soy beverages for health-conscious fans, as an alternative to carbonated drinks popularised abroad. Vitasoy has since branched out to other flavours and juices, but its iconic soy beverage is still the most popular.
Its current package is a soy off-white coloured carton with blue lettering. Different package options include glass bottles, PET bottles, Tetrapak boxes and aluminium cans. Glass bottles were recently brought back in vogue after its disappearance for many years. A warm version in a glass bottle is available for ready-consumption in convenience stores, harkening back to bygone days when the beverage was heated. Those opting for this souvenir should choose easier packaging to carry. A package of 6 Tetrapak boxes can cost HK$25.10. Taste-wise, traditionalists enjoy the heavily-sugared soy beverage, while the more health-conscious opt for the newer reduced-sugar option.
Found in every supermarket, convenience store, canteen, local café and mom-and-pop shop, Vitasoy is easy to purchase. The most economical place to buy them would be supermarkets. Wellcome is the most economical supermarket in Hong Kong and its 257 locations can be found throughout the city. Opening hours are typically 8am-10/11pm, depending on the branch.
Where to find it:
Wellcome, 16 Bowrington Rd, Hong Kong
11. Street Art
Now socially accepted and trendy globally, street art is finally gaining popularity in Hong Kong. Although the scene lacks the vibrancy and pseudo-approval that the West bestows upon it, certain artists and images have become iconic with Hong Kong street art. In a bout of irony, street art has become packaged and wearable, thanks to certain creative lines, such as GraphicAirlines.
Founded in 2002, GraphicAirlines is the brainchild of the creative Hong Kong duo, TAT and VI. Advocates of the burgeoning Hong Kong street art scene, GraphicAirlines caters to the “aesthetics of ugly,” finding art in the unorthodox. Best known for their t-shirts and bags, which sport the “Fat Face” character, GraphicAirlines has expanded their iconic character to jewellery and other easily portable merchandise.
Their iconic Fat Face character is aptly named. Its cheeks puff out, reminiscent of Buddha, replete with bulging stomach and folds of fat. Unlike Buddha, Fat Face is stylishly clothed in urban streetwear, fittingly printed on urban wear. Colourful in design and character, this aesthetic has taken the street art scene by storm. Its graffiti can be found dotting Hong Kong in a brilliant marketing strategy that caters to street artists. Depending on the store, bags can retail for HK$200 and up. Clothing can range from HK$150 for a tee-shirt to HK$300 for hoodies.
GraphicAirlines can be found in many local galleries and independent vendors.
12. Kitsch Merchandise
Long rivals with Japanese culture for kitsch, Hong Kong is replete with its own creative minds for sentimental art and cutesy merchandise. Hong Kong kitsch tends to border on the capricious, with a fusion of whimsy and despondency. Such ironical art has gained mass popularity and is readily available printed on fashion items, like clothing and bags. One such brand, known for its blend of mature and youthful themes, is Chocolate Rain.
Established in 2003, Chocolate Rain is the mastermind of Hong Kong designer, Prudence Mak. Each piece is a uniquely handcrafted design of childhood whimsy and adult nostalgia for such carefree moments. Best known for its handcrafted dolls and knickknacks, Chocolate Rain has expanded to bags and totes that are sported by many of Hong Kong’s youth. The images printed on Chocolate Rain merchandise recall childhood dreams and, as such, each colourful picture is highly fantastical with walking toys and towering mushrooms.
DIY Workshops are open to the public for them to create their own handmade pieces of Chocolate Rain designs. Workshops are HK$800 for 2 classes or $1250 for four, crafts include hat-making, jewellery creation, beadwork and doll making.
Products for purchase include its renowned handmade dolls that start from HK$100 and up. Bags and totes can cost from HK$390, for a basic canvas, to a shoulder bag for HK$480. Chocolate Rain has been exhibited internationally, including the MoMA, Tate Modern and Guggenheim Museum. Its flagship store can be found on HK Island at G/F, 64A Chung Hing Court, Peel Street, Soho, Central. The flagship store is also the location of the DIY workshops and is open daily from 1pm-10pm.
Where to find it:
Chocolate Rain, HK Island at G/F, 64A Chung Hing
Court, Peel Street, Soho, Central
Mooncakes are seasonal treats, served during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Highly calorific, due to its lard and sugar content, mooncakes are meant to be shared with family and friends, as is the tradition for this holiday. Mooncakes are round and rectangular pastries with a thick filling, typically made from lotus seed paste and surrounded by a relatively thin crust, imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony, bordered by the shop insignia or a Mid-autumn motif. Traditional mooncakes contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Many bakeries in Hong Kong create their own house mooncakes to varying tastiness and popularity.
One of the most famous bakeries for mooncakes, as well as other traditional Hong Kong baked items, is Kee Wah. Kee Wah is a family-operated bakery that has expanded to national proportions since its inception over 70 years ago. It specialises in traditional Hong Kong pastries, such as mooncakes, bridal cakes, egg rolls and more. Kee Wah is the all-in-one shop for a taste of old Hong Kong snacks and is the go-to store for mooncakes and bridal cakes. A tin of 4 Kee Wah mooncakes retails for HK$228.
Kee Wah has evolved from its beginnings as a small neighbourhood grocery store on Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei. With 48 locations throughout Hong Kong, Kee Wah has expanded its operations to make it easier for tourists and locals to purchase a taste of old Hong Kong. The original store is long gone, but visitors can purchase traditional Hong Kong baked goods in their two airport terminal locations: Terminal 1 – Unit 7T095, Level 7, Terminal 1, Hong Kong International Airport, open 7am-11pm; and Sky Plaza – Unit 5P034, Terminal 2 (Sky Plaza), Hong Kong International Airport, open 8am-11pm.
Where to find it:
Kee Wah Bakery
Shop TST 10, Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
14. Hong Kong Beer
Hong Kong does not have a strong history in the distillery business, but it has a consistent brew that those with a strong stomach can, well, stomach. Hong Kong Beer is the only beer still brewed in Hong Kong. Not for the beer enthusiasts, but rather for the beer adventurists, the acquired taste can be palatable.
Hong Kong Beer is handcrafted based on a traditional German lager recipe. The recipe calls for a single type barley brewing malt, Hallertau hops and Weihenstephan yeast to form the basis of this beer. Beer aficionados may know what these ingredients mean, but for the rest of us, it brews down to a tawny pale beer with a long bitter aftertaste. It has a smooth body and a light fruity aroma that belies its hard-to-acquire taste. At 4.5%, it will take quite a few to fall the average man. This beer can only be bought in select pubs at HK$47 a bottle.
The brewery is located on Hong Kong Island and is open to the public at Hong Kong Beer Limited, Unit A1, 1/F, Vita Tower, 29 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen. For beer enthusiasts, this local brew can be tried in Hong Kong Brew House, Lan Kwai Fong, LG/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, from 11am-2am (Mon-Thurs) 11am-4am (Fri-Sat) and 11am-1am (Sun).
Where to find it:
Hong Kong Beer
Limited, Unit A1, 1/F, Vita Tower, 29 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen.
Hong Kong Brew House, Lan Kwai Fong, LG/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham
HONG KONG BREW HOUSE
Lan Kwai Fong, D'Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong
+852 3582 6335
15. Goji Berry
The history of herbal medicine started in China, but many of its reliable practices and ingredients have been implemented in Hong Kong. For those wanting to offset their travel ailments, the goji berry is an affordable herbal supplement found in medicinal suppliers across the city. Popularised as wolfberries in the West, goji berries are often found in dried form and added to food and drink to enhance their nutritional content. Goji berries are cooked before consumption. They can be found added to rice porridge, dessert jellies, Chinese tonic soups, as well as herbal teas. Goji berries have a mild tangy taste that is slightly sweet and sour. They resemble raisins in shape and texture, and have been known to improve the state of health, strengthen the immune system and increase longevity and vitality.
Goji berries are one of the most affordable health supplements in Hong Kong and can retail for HK$40-HK$80 a bag, depending on the volume.
Found in all herbal stores throughout the city, goji berries are readily available for health enthusiasts.
A notable street with store-upon-store of goji berry availability is Wing Lok Street in Sheung Wan. This street is one of the major arteries for dried foods, ranging from seafood to herbs. Notable shops include: Wah Cheong, 204 Wing Lok Street, open 9am-7pm; and Wing Sing Sum, 130 Wing Lok Street, open 9:30am-7pm.
Where to find it:
Wah Cheong, 204 Wing Lok Street,
Wing Sing Sum, 130 Wing Lok Street,