Not sure where to start when shopping at your local wet market? Here’s where to go, what to buy and what to expect.
If you share our enthusiasm for fresh, locally-sourced, ingredients, this wet market guide is written just for you. A unique and much-loved addition to the Hong Kong food scene, we’re covering what’s on offer, and where to find the freshest produce, along with a couple of tips and best-kept secrets in this foodie guide to wet market shopping in Hong Kong.
Quick tip: A catty is 600g and a tael is 1/16th of a catty.
Catty (斤) is pronounced gan1 in Cantonese, and tael (兩) is pronounced leung2
Buying pork can be a little tricky. Hong Kong’s butchers carve their hogs quite differently from British or American butchers, and names of cuts here aren’t the same as those on the mainland. Here are a few of our favourite cuts available in wet markets in Hong Kong.
The First Cut (第一刀): This is the first cut taken from a pig at the butcher’s. Located between the head and the shoulder, this small cut of meat is very popular and sells out pretty quickly. It’s beautifully marbled and tender, great for cutting into small chunks for stir-fries and steaming. Usually priced around $50 to $60 per catty.
Five flower belly (五花腩): One word – bacon. Good cuts of five flower bellies have five alternating layers of meat and fat, ensuring that your slow-roasted pork bellies stay juicy and well-basted in its own fat. We absolutely adore this cut for making our own bacon, porchetta, or siu yuk.
Mui tau pork chop (梅頭豬排): Fattier and more marbled than your average rib chop, the mui tau pork chop stays juicy and tender even when thinly sliced. This cut is a closer to the shoulder than the rib chop, which is a little further down the loin. As lovely as double-cut pork chops are for weekend brunches, quick-cooking thin slices are best for weeknight dinners when you just want to get food on the table as quickly as possible.
Sassy tip: Try talking to your butcher as they can give great recommendations. Wet market butchers are also known to save the best cuts for regulars, so it might be better to stick with one butcher if you’ve found a good one.
Chicken and Eggs
Chilled and frozen chickens can be easily found everywhere in Hong Kong, but the true foodie knows that nothing can beat fresh birds in terms of flavour and texture. We’ve done our research and have compiled a list of our poultry picks commonly available at wet markets for various methods of cooking.
Ka Mei chicken (嘉美雞): Smooth, silky, tender meat, low in fat, high in collagen. Developed by the University of Hong Kong and the Kadoorie Agricultural Research Institute, and reared in Hong Kong without hormones, antibiotics, or harmful chemicals. Best for low-temperature cooking, eg. steaming, poaching, sous vide to maintain its silky tenderness.
Lung Kong chicken (龍崗雞): Generally larger than other breeds. High in fat, great for high-temperature cooking, eg. Roasting or deep-frying, as the fats keep the meat moist.
Ching Yuen chicken (清遠雞): Smooth, silky, tender meat. Robust and flavourful. Best for steaming and poaching or using in dishes where you’d want the chicken itself to shine.
Silkie chicken (烏雞): Black-skinned, sweet, flavourful. Believed to have medicinal properties. Often used in Chinese broths, best for making stock and soups.
Where to find fresh chicken:
Sometimes you just really want chicken that tastes like, well, chicken. With an increasing number of stalls selling live chickens after the Avian flu ban, here’s where we go for some of the freshest birds in town:
Kowloon City Market, 102 Nga Tsin Wai Road, Kowloon City, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Lok Fu Market, Wang Tau Hom South Road, Wang Tau Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong
(The market’s official website lists 198 Junction Road as its address but you’ll end up at least 7 minutes away from the actual market if you follow their directions.)
Fa Yuen Street Market, 123A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Nelson Street Wet Market, 5 Nelson Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Wan Chai Market, 258 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Chun Yeung Street Market, 91-103 Chun Yeung Street, North Point, Hong Kong
Some usual phrases to keep in mind:
Free-range chicken: 走地雞
Locally-farmed chicken: 本地雞
Organic chicken: 有機雞
Chicken livers: 雞潤
Chicken gizzards: 雞腎
Chicken fat: 雞油
No head: 走頭
No neck: 走頸
No butt: 走屁股
We’ve fallen in love with Hubei eggs (湖北蛋), which are free-range, intensely eggy and contain a deep amber yolk. These eggs can be pretty big in size, but smaller ones are generally more nutritious as they’re sourced from younger hens.
Beef isn’t as popular as pork or even chicken in wet markets, but if you’re looking for fresh, flavourful meat, you’ll still find a good selection of cuts. Again, cuts are quite different from Western ones, but if you’re looking for mince (牛肉碎) or brisket (牛腩), wet markets are still a great place to go.
When to buy:
Seafood is usually cheaper and more abundant right after China’s fishing ban, a three-month ban on trawling to conserve local fish supplies and to protect the ecosystem. The ban usually begins in May and ends in mid-August, so summer months aren’t typically the best time to buy seafood.
How to buy:
Fish: Look for bright red gills, plump, clear eyes and shiny, glossy scales. Don’t be intimidated by the fishiness – really inspect the fish with your fingers as most wet market fishmongers don’t mind as long as you’re careful.
Shrimp and prawns: The freshest shrimps and prawns are definitely the ones that are still alive and swimming. If those aren’t available, find ones that are glossy and firm to the touch with heads that are not dark or dangling off the body.
Crabs: Choose ones that are still alive and kicking (literally!), as dead crabs tend to be mushy. Go for the ones that are bound by wet straw instead of other types of string as straw doesn’t soak up as much water and won’t add to the weight from which the price is calculated.
By choosing local and seasonal fruit and vegetables over imports, you’re being easier on your wallet, while also cutting down on your carbon footprint. Check out our list of local specialities, organised according to the seasons:
Sugar snap peas (蜜糖豆): Sweet and crunchy pods best served barely cooked to preserve their bite. Great raw with dips or stir-fried.
Snow peas (荷蘭豆): Much flatter than sugar snap peas but still good raw or stir-fried.
Carrots (紅蘿蔔): Not exactly a speciality and available all year round (though still at their peak in spring), we had to include carrots in our list because it’s important to go for the muddy, fat variety. They’re much sweeter and more intensely flavoured than the clean, skinny ones.
Morning glory (通菜): Often found stir-fried in Thai cuisine, the morning glory (aka water spinach) holds sauces really well with its hollow stems and paper-thin leaves. These must be used as soon as possible as morning glory wilts easily once picked, and are absolutely delicious stir-fried over high heat with garlic, chillies, and fish sauce.
Melons are at their very best during the sweltering months of summer. Aside from the regular cucumbers and watermelons, here are a couple of local favourites:
Jade melon (翠玉瓜): The zucchini’s Chinese cousin. Jade melons are pretty similar to the zucchini in flavour and texture, but a bit denser, sweeter and not as watery. There are also very cheap when in season and lovely grilled, stir-fried, or made into zucchini (or jade melon?) noodles.
Winter melon (冬瓜): Despite the name, winter melons are at their peak in late summer. Considered a cooling food in TCM, winter melons are great for beating the summer heat. Peel it, dice it up and use it in broths for a cooling remedy.
Bitter melon (苦瓜): It’s an acquired taste, but this incredibly healthy melon does wonders for your gut. It’s also a staple of Okinawan cuisine, where it’s found in Chanpurū, a stir-fry of tofu, eggs, bean sprouts, pork, and of course, bitter melon.
Sweet potatoes (蕃薯): Wet markets are the best place to stock up on this super healthy, fibre-rich spud. Most stalls stock at least three different varieties of them, in all sorts of hues. Rich ambers, pastel yellows, striking violets – you name it, you’ll find it.
Pumpkin (南瓜): Chinese pumpkins are flatter than the orange variety you’re probably used to. They also have a dark-green skin but aren’t that different in flavour or texture.
Choi sum (菜心): This quintessential Chinese vegetable needs no introduction. We love both the adorable baby choi sum shoots (菜心苗) for their tenderness and the regular-sized variety for their sweetness.
Gai lan (芥蘭): Also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, gai lan is slightly bitter with crunchy stems and are a great substitute for broccolini or broccoli rabe.
Pea shoots (豆苗): One of our favourite vegetables of all time, Chinese pea shoots are tiny bundles of mini leaves which leave an interestingly meaty aftertaste. Simply stir fry them with garlic or use the really tiny ones in place of microgreens.
Napa cabbage (黃芽白): The napa cabbage is at its peak during Chinese New Year, when it is so abundant that wet markets can sell one for as little as $5. Make your own kimchi with it or just use it in stir-fries. Also delicious blanched and served on its own.
- Ask for a few stalks of scallions or a small handful of small red chillies if you’re buying vegetables already. Greengrocers are usually happy to include some with your purchase for free.
- Interestingly, broccoli and round-headed cabbages tend to be cheaper in supermarkets.
Some of Our Favourite Wet Markets
Kowloon City Market
Kowloon City Market is Hong Kong’s biggest wet market, but it’s also one of the city’s most expensive ones as it mainly caters to the affluent residents of Yau Yat Chuen and Kowloon Tong. Despite the prices, groceries are of great quality, and you’ll also find a good range of fresh herbs and lettuce varieties for salads. Also, check out the Thai grocery stores on South Wall Road for southeast Asian ingredients like tamarind and fresh pandan leaves.
Kowloon City Market, 102 Nga Tsin Wai Road, Kowloon City, Kowloon, Hong Kong
South Wall Road, Kowloon City, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Wan Chai Market
A short walk from Wan Chai MTR station, Wan Chai Market consists of a building at 258 Queen’s Road East and a vast sprawl of stalls on the neighbouring streets. We usually skip the building and head straight to the streets as we love the bustling vibe and huge selection at very reasonable prices.
Wan Chai Market, 258 Queen’s Road East and along Stone Nullah Lane, Tai Wo Street, Triangle Street, and Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tai Po Wet Market
A massive complex that serves Tai Po Hui and multiple nearby villages, this market houses our favourite frozen food grocer Leung Kau Kee. Ever crowded and chaotic, Leung Kau Kee boasts one of the city’s best selection of frozen U.S. steaks, French poussins, lamb racks and more, all at incredibly low prices. We’ve seen some of their items for sale at regular supermarkets for double or even triple the price, so you know you’re getting a good deal. You must also get their John and Jill’s New York cheesecakes, which are rich, cheesy, and pre-sliced into small portions.
Tai Po Wet Market, Heung Sze Wui Street, Tai Po, New Territories, Hong Kong
- Always visit the most popular stores as high turnover rates guarantee fresher groceries. Crowds are also a fair indicator of quality.
- If you’re concerned about the language barrier, rest assured that most grocers have at least a basic command of English.