Header image courtesy of @vitasoy (via Instagram)
Winter nights call for snuggling up with a soft blanket and sipping on something steamy—it’s a universal concept embraced by nearly every culture. However, when it comes to the warming elixir of choice, every region has its own traditions, and Hong Kong is no exception. From childhood favourites to Chinese sweet dessert soups, we’ve rounded up the most classic Hong Kong winter soups and drinks that will keep you cosy and help shake off those winter blues!
Local soymilk company Vitasoy has been a stalwart in Hong Kong’s beverage scene since 1940. Originally born of a mission to offer a cheap and nutritious beverage supplement for refugees during the Second World War, the brand became synonymous with childhood memories in the generation to come, as their drinks were predominantly sold in local schools, tuck shops, and convenience stores.
Despite their ever-growing repertoire of products, what holds the dearest spot in many of our hearts is the OG bottled hot soymilk. The soda glass bottle, with its iconic red label, immediately harkens back to old Hong Kong while the sweet, milky concoction inside promises to warm both your hands and soul.
We may swear by the perky fizz of a freshly opened can of Coke to keep cool during the summer, but most of us can agree the chilly tingle has no place in the winter season. And yet, Hongkongers have managed to find a way to sneak Coca-Cola into our cold-weather diets. Boiling off the bubbles and adding in ginger and lemon, the beloved sweet beverage is turned into a hot drink and a nifty flu remedy—or so says the old wives’ tale! It can be easily found in a local cha chaan teng and is often consumed to help clear congestion, awaken the senses, and chase away the chills.
A classic Cantonese delicacy, snake soup has long been lauded for its medicinal properties, particularly in curing aches, promoting blood circulation, and bringing heat—or “yang”—to the body, making it an ideal winter warmer. Slowly simmered with snake meat and bones, pork, mushroom, ginger, and a mix of Chinese herbs, the thick stew enjoyed massive popularity among locals in the 1980s, with over 100 specialised snake soup shops dotted across Hong Kong. However, due to rising concerns of ecological sustainability and the hazardous nature of the profession, the industry has dwindled drastically over the past few decades. Nowadays, around 20 of these local snake soup shops are still ladling up the traditional wintertime staple in Hong Kong.
In a similar fashion to how Americans enjoy chicken noodle soup, Hongkongers look to double-brewed chicken coconut soup in search of warmth and to experience the cosiness of the season. Balancing the savoury flavours of chicken with the fragrant sweetness of coconut meat, the nourishing Cantonese soup is an exquisite marriage of light and hearty flavours. While the crux of the soup recipe is the two namesake ingredients, every household seems to have its own spin on the Cantonese classic, with variations featuring ingredients like snow fungus, carrots, ginger, pork ribs, corn—the list goes on!
Dessert soups are an essential part of every Hongkonger’s winter survival toolkit. Among the plethora of piping hot options, beancurd sweet soup is a menu mainstay for good reason. Chock-full of silky sheets of soft beancurd skin, nutty ginkgo seeds alongside other popular add-ins like boiled eggs and barley pearls, this delightful sweet soup will not only curb your sweet tooth in the most soul-warming way, it’s also loaded with nutrients and health-giving benefits! You can find beancurd sweet soup in almost any local dessert shop, but Kai Kai Dessert and Chiu Chow Hop Shing Dessert are fail-safe spots to hunker down for a stellar classic bowl.
It wouldn’t be a proper winter solstice feast without tong yuen (湯圓) with ginger soup. A strong family tradition in many Hong Kong households, these edible parcels of comfort encapsulate much more than just sweet black sesame, red bean, or peanut paste—they are equally filled with cherished family memories and sentimental joy.
The defining hallmarks of the perfect bowl of tong yuen are chewy and plump glutinous rice balls with a luscious, lava-like filling, and a punchy soup base made from fresh ginger and just the right amount of rock sugar to cut the spiciness. Fook Yuen in North Point delivers just that in their black sesame dumplings with ginger soup ($28). Compounded with the fact that they handmake their tong yuen fresh every day, it’s no wonder the neighbourhood dessert joint has earned itself an esteemed Michelin shout-out!
While most types of leung cha (涼茶; Chinese herbal tea)—literally translated to “cooling tea”—are used to remove excess heat from the body and generally avoided when winter sets in, Chinese pear herbal tea can be a true lifesaver in the cold months when it comes to nourishing the lungs and beating those dry winter coughs. Served in traditional herbal tea shops as well as some Cantonese dessert shops, the fruity tea is an especially great way to rejuvenate the body after a heaty hot pot affair. To boost its soothing and detoxifying properties, it is usually brewed with a mix of healthful ingredients like mandarin peel, ginger, dried figs, fritillary bulbs, and longan.