HONG KONG – After queuing on the street, diners sit next to strangers inside the cramped Ho Hung Kee (Ho Hung’s restaurant) eatery in Hong Kong before rinsing their own cutlery. Welcome to the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred experience.
Ho Hung Kee was first awarded a coveted star in 2011 and on any given day is packed with local and foreign diners ordering bowls of wonton or fried flat noodles with beef for around 35 Hong Kong dollars — less than $5.
Wontons, a traditional dish served in Hong Kong and in China’s southern province of Guangdong, are similar to dumplings but their skin uses less dough, into which succulent shrimp and pork servings are wrapped.
Like hundreds of other Hong Kong “tea restaurants” or “Cha chaan teng” in the Cantonese dialect, Ho Hung Kee also serves quick, simple dishes ranging from congee (rice porridge) and fried rice to a selection of Western-style sandwiches.
Squeezing onto tables with strangers is a normal dining experience in the cramped restaurant that seats about 50, which is nestled between towers of retail in the teeming shopping district of Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island.
Chefs start from 7 a.m. to batter shrimp and wrap wontons for the roughly 1,000 customers served daily at the family-run restaurant, which began life as a humble street stall in the 1940s before it opened up as a full shop in 1964.
Patty Ho, the daughter-in-law of the restaurant’s founders and its current owner, said she has stuck to original recipes because she wants customers to experience a “traditional eating culture.”
“More modern restaurants have already changed the culture of making wontons, where they only use shrimp, but we have continued to use our original recipe which includes pork, which preserves the meaty flavor,” Ho said.
She believes that staying true to tradition is one of the reasons Ho Hung Kee was awarded a star.
“They must have recognized our methods,” she said of the anonymous Michelin inspectors. “The fact that such a local shop was awarded a Michelin star, it is a recognition of Hong Kong’s dining culture.”
Taiwanese diner Jerry Lin, 55, arrived at the restaurant early to avoid the lunchtime crowds.
“I have tried other Michelin restaurants in Shanghai, but this is a restaurant that is very accessible for normal people, we really like it,” he said.
“The price is great for a Michelin-starred restaurant and the taste is really good,” 45-year-old Riamida Ichsami from Indonesia said, while waiting outside Ho Hung Kee with her family.
Michelin awarded 10 new restaurants with a one-star rating in the fifth edition of its guide for Hong Kong and Macau for 2013.