Tucked away in a Wan Chai mosque is an unusual fusion of food. The Islamic Centre Canteen serves up savoury dim sum to the city’s 300,000-odd Muslim residents – with the only difference being that it is completely halal.
Opened in 2005 by the Islamic Union of Hong Kong, the bustling canteen is located within the Masjid Ammar and Osman Ramju Sadick Islamic Centre – one of the city’s five principle daily prayer mosques. There, it transforms predominantly pork-based dim sum into a halal (“permissible”) version that excludes pork, lard, or meat that is not prepared according to Islamic law – instead, replacing it with Muslim-friendly chicken and shrimp imported from mainland China. The chefs are specially trained to handle halal food.
“Hong Kong did not have any halal dim sum at the time, so we saw the need [for it],” manager Maryam told HKFP. Now, the restaurant catering to Muslims boasts a wall hanging that declares it “the only place for Cantonese halal cuisine in town.”
Dim sum or “yum cha,” which translates literally into “drink tea,” is a popular style of cuisine in Hong Kong made up of multiple, bite-sized dishes, often served with tea to a large group of restaurant-goers. It is typically eaten for breakfast and lunch.
At the counter of the single-room restaurant lie stacks of dim sum steamer baskets, piled high with juicy steamed eggplant, chicken’s feet and beef meatballs. From 10am onward, its staff begin to dish out tender siu mai, stuffed with a seasoned chicken filling, followed by crispy chive-laden dumplings packed with shrimp, all washed down with piping hot tea.
For all of this, customers can expect to pay no more than HK$25 for a dim sum dish.
Underneath are meeting and prayer rooms, making the dining area a popular gathering spot for mosque-goers. On Fridays during the weekly congregational prayers, the restaurant offers free food and drinks to worshippers.
A lack of halal restaurants
Rizky Pane, from Indonesia, visited the Islamic Centre Canteen with his relatives on the recommendation of his uncle. Having visited Hong Kong before, he said he wanted to try something new: “It is quite hard for us to find halal food in Hong Kong,” he told HKFP. “In Indonesia, we’re used to eating Chinese food all the time… we heard about this place and wanted to try it.”
Pane added that the canteen is well-known for its unique fusion cuisine: “The food is good here. We came here to eat and pray, and this is the only place [in Hong Kong] that does halal dim sum,” he told HKFP.
Maryam told HKFP that the canteen’s customer base grew gradually as more local Muslims heard about its distinctive menu.
According to government statistics, the majority of the 150,000 Muslims living in Hong Kong are from Indonesia, many of whom are domestic workers, while an estimated 50,000 are Chinese and 30,000 are Pakistani.