Hong Kong is recognised as an international gateway to Asia, with multicultural cuisines from almost every far-flung corner of the globe right at your fingertips. One kind of restaurant that might be harder to find — or require more in-depth research ahead of your visit — are ones that are halal.
In your culinary adventures across the city, you undoubtedly would have come across a South Asian or Middle Eastern eatery claiming to dish up authentic recipes. A majority of them do — even if the flavour profile has naturally evolved for East Asian tastes. For instance, chefs have been able to showcase local produce combined with their own culinary techniques. But that evolution has also presented challenges for the communities that brought the food over in the first place.
What is halal?
One of the main attributes of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine is that ingredients used are usually halal. This means that they do not contain any porcine products, have zero alcohol content and feature meat from animals slaughtered using Islamic religious rites — although interpretations can differ.
For the 300,000 Muslims living in Hong Kong, this means that there are a limited number of places they can eat out, should they chose to follow the practice. While there are official lists maintained, more often than not, restaurants are recommended by word of mouth with additional caveats where not every dish on the menu can be consumed.
If you’re dining at a South Asian or Middle Eastern restaurant, your best bet to discover authentic recipes and cooking is to go somewhere that is halal-certified. For the best halal restaurants to check out, here are our top five recommendations.
Now located in both Kennedy Town and Sai Ying Pun, Egyptian restaurant Aziza was founded and is run by chef Mohsen Gaber Ibrahim. The dishes featured on the menu are upscale versions of family recipes perfected in Giza before being brought over to Hong Kong. Appetisers include a wide array of vegetarian-friendly hot and cold mezzes; meaty mains such as oxtail tagine or the shawarma lamb. There are a variety of side dishes to pick from, but we recommend Aziza’s homemade cous cous. For dessert, guests can choose between four different traditional desserts at the Sai Ying Pun location or between the Baklava and the Kounafa (shredded pastry with ricotta cheese) in Kennedy Town.
Any South Asian food connoisseur who has sampled the cuisine in Hong Kong knows that sometimes, the dishes tend to tone down the heat. Bombay Dreams (a Bib Gourmand Restaurant for ten years), however, claims to be able to “excite the adventurous, yet satisfy traditional tastes” with its menu that features a mash-up of various Indian classics. Although named after the West Indian city, the menu crafted by Chef Ahmed Qureshi includes delicacies from all over the sub-continent. The North Indian Lukhnowi Gosht Biryani features Mughlai cuisine at its finest while the Mirch Baingan Ka Salan (a spicy curry featuring aubergines) will transport you to the palaces in Central India. The Kashmiri rogan josh naturally makes an appearance and dedicated diners can opt to place an advance order for the ‘Raan-E-Dream’ — a marinated spring lamb leg slow cooked in a tandoor. There are also no less than fifteen different types of bread to chose from to accompany your delicious meal.
Sahara Mezz Bar brings North African and Moroccan cuisine to Hong Kong. With a good balance between vegetarian and meat dishes, the menu showcases traditional appetizers like Zaaluk (roasted aubergine puree with garlic, coriander, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil) and Moroccan Cigars — a creative name for filo pastry filled with feta cheese and mint. With a variety of tagines to pick from, signature main courses include the Lamb Tagine served with glazed olives and potatoes and the Cous Cous Sahara (roasted lamb shank served with couscous and vegetable soup). If you happen to have a sweet tooth then Sahara Mezz Bar will not disappoint with three different options of Banana Filo, Baklava Pastries and Chocolate Cake to pick from for dessert.
Known as the successor to the first authentic Lebanese restaurant Zahra in Hong Kong, Zahrabel relies on traditional El Mahmoud family recipes in its extensive menu. With a focus on communal dining, customers can opt for either a shared meal among friends from the four different sharing menus (available Tuesday through Saturday) or order individual dishes from the A La Carte Menu (available Tuesdays through Thursdays). Starters at Zahrabel are quintessentially Lebanese, featuring dishes like Babaganouj, Fatoush or Jos Mahrouse to be enjoyed alongside complimentary pickles and freshly made bread. For mains, diners can expect to enjoy classics like the Kibbeh b’il Laban (garlicky meatballs with bulgur wheat) or the Arnabit Batata b’il Tahini (crispy cauliflower and spiced potatoes in a creamy tahini sauce). Some dishes have vegetarian and vegan alternatives to choose from as well.