Noodle in Soup: A Must-Try Hong Kong Classic
Updated: Mar 20
A classic that is simple and loved across the generations. Here's a nod to this less-known pillar of Hong Kong cuisine - the fish ball noodle in soup.
This bowl doesn't look like much. In fact, it looks quite plain. There are no bursts of colour except for the sprinkle of chopped spring onions. Yet, appearances can be deceiving; this humble-looking bowl of noodle soup packs a surprising punch of flavours that is both clean and robust.
A shy classic
Out of the limelight but acknowledged by all.
When one thinks of noodle dishes specific to Hong Kong, quite a few come to mind. Wonton noodles, cart noodles, and stir-fried flat noodles with beef slices are a few internationally renowned classics. Yet, there is a classic that is often out of the limelight and that is the simple bowl of fish ball noodles in soup (魚蛋粉 yu dan fun) that is loved by all.
The landmark in Shau Kei Wan
A little eatery most famous amongst locals for their stellar fish ball noodles is On Lee Noodles. Located in the Eastern district of Hong Kong Island on Shau Kei Wan Main Street East, a road lined with restaurants of all types, On Lee Noodles is easily identifiable for one reason - the line.
Established in 1966 and run by family members of the founding chef, this restaurant is constantly filled at all opening hours. Classic of family-run restaurants that have been time-honoured, there are many regular patrons, some multi-generational, and all are welcomed in by the fun staff who readily treat you as their own - which means gruff in a familiar sort of way that is classic of Hong Kong.
About the bowl
Clean and flavourful, simple yet intense.
Clear broth, milky white flat rice noodles, a mix of fish balls and sliced fish cake, and topped with a little garnish of spring onions. That's as simple as it gets. Though, with the first sip of hot soup, you'll know that simple in flavour it is not. Salty, steeped with umami from the sea, the depth of flavour one can get from this clear broth will undoubtedly raise eyebrows and bring a startled laugh. The freshness of the spring onions compliments and highlights the intensity of the broth that has evidently been created with plenty of time and patience. Paired with silky smooth rice noodles and a bite of fish ball, every taste of this dish is a comforting yet exciting one.
What's more, if you simply add a little spade of home-made chili oil from the pot that sits idle in each and every table of the restaurant, the excitement this bowl can provide to your palate is instantly ramped up. Not available for sale, this chili oil is very hot, garlicky, earthy, and highly addictive. A few drops of it go a long way, so I suggest adding it with caution. You'll be in for another eyebrow raiser.
Honourable mentions from On Lee Noodles
When you're at On Lee, fish ball noodles is not the only star of the show. This eatery is well-established amongst locals for a reason, they do A LOT of things very very well. Take the sliced beef brisket for example. Have it in noodle soup or by itself, this brisket will fall apart in your mouth instantly and leave only a soft earthy trace of itself behind. Regulars of On Lee are usually battled with indecision when they have to choose been a bowl of fish ball noodles or that of beef brisket. I like to simplify matters and order fish ball noodles with the beef brisket on the side. Easy no?
A meal is also never complete without a cup of tea and a dessert, at least in my eyes. On Lee does both brilliantly. Grab yourself a cup of Hong Kong-styled milk tea and their famous butter slice & condense milk toast sandwich, and you'll be in food heaven. I like to order my toasts extra toasted, and my milk tea very lightly sweetened (少甜 siu tim) with condense milk rather than sugar (we locals call the type of tea 茶走- cha zau). Take a bite out of the toast sandwich that is hot and crunchy on the outside, cold, buttery and sweet on the inside. Follow that with a nice sip of earthy dark tea...now that's what I call a match found only in heaven. Aren't I glad On Lee is Jacob's Ladder with an express line to it.
Don't fear the line
Whilst there is perpetually an intimidating line in front of On Lee Noodles, don't panic! The line moves swiftly and you'll usually be seated after a half-hour wait. What's more, it's definitely very very worth the wait.
A heads-up, On Lee opens from 9am-7pm every day except for Thursdays and the family usually takes a break during Chinese New Year. But other than that, happy dining people!