As the mercury drops, a steaming hot claypot rice is one of the most warming foods you can have in Hong Kong

While Hong Kong winters tend to be on the mild side, the occasional chill and drop in temperature can come fast and suddenly, which is why it’s always good to have a few key places in mind for foods to warm you up. Hotpot, steaming bowls of soupy noodles and spicy Korean stews are reliable favourites when the mercury drops, but there’s one dish to rule them all during a Hong Kong cold snap: claypot rice. The gentle crackle indicative of a well-formed rice crust at the bottom is music to our ears, and that first whiff of fragrant steam as you lift the lid off a claypot? Ambrosial. The beauty of claypot as a vessel is painfully obvious—while keeping your food piping hot for as long as possible, the porous material is especially beneficial when used over charcoal, imbuing the rice with an unmistakably beguiling smokiness.

When digging into a claypot rice, be sure not to disturb the bottom crust for as long as possible while you mix in the soy sauce seasoning, coating the grains as evenly as possible. Most places will give you a thin steel spoon to scoop up the rice, which is ideal for prying off the prized toasty crust at the base of the pot. Try not to fight over it—easier said than done. This winter, head to any of these restaurants to sample a true taste of a heartwarming Cantonese classic.

See also: A Humble History of the Hotpot, and Where to Eat It in Hong Kong

The Originals

These time-honoured venues, where the claypots are lovingly weathered, offer an unmistakably Hong Kong dining experience.

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Four Seasons Pot Rice 四季煲仔飯

Certainly a five star purveyor of claypot rice, and its basic interiors and clouded plastic curtains do well to keep away anyone but true devotees. Expect to queue. Four Seasons is known for their wind-dried duck leg, eel and frog specialties and while these are the go-tos, the menu features more than 30 different variations of claypot rice to satisfy every palate.

What to order: Dried duck leg claypot rice, Chinese mushroom and frog leg claypot rice, and an order of deep-fried duck egg oyster cake.

Four Seasons Pot Rice, 46-58 Arthur Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong

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Hing Kee 興記菜館

This Temple Street institution is the definition of extra, with a handful of shopfronts and more than 60 varieties of claypot rice on the menu, cooked over roughly 40 charcoal burners that they have going at any one time. Regulars always make sure to get an order of the crisp deep-fried oyster cake, best washed down with a cheap lager.

What to order: The octopus and diced chicken claypot is a house favourite.

Hing Kee, G/F, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong; +852 2384 3647

See also: Everyone Should Know How To Cook Rice, Says Chef Jowett Yu

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Kam Tung Tai 金東大小廚

This family-run Shau Kei Wan restaurant is a beloved neighbourhood favourite, specialising in Tanka cuisine, which is heavy on both preserved, salted and fresh seafood. As such, their claypot specialties are reliant on umami-packed toppings such as dried shrimp, dried cuttlefish and dried fish. You can't come here and not order one of their other iconic claypot dishes either: clams with pork liver and a mountain of spring onions. 

What to order: The signature three treasure (featuring the above mentioned dried seafood) claypot rice with preserved sausages, the triple shrimp (shrimp roe, shrimp paste and fresh shrimp) claypot, or the salted fish and minced pork claypot rice.

Kam Tung Tai, Shop 5, 59-99 Shau Kei Wan Main Street East, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong; +852 2569 4361

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Kwan Kee 坤記煲仔小菜

Two branches of Kwan Kee exist, but most will know to go to the Queen’s Road West branch where tables are often brought out onto the wide alleyway—al fresco dining, if you will, and perfect during a Hong Kong winter. Make your orders as soon as you sit down, as each claypot is fired to order. Get an order of their spry, crispy Bombay duck while you wait.

What to order: White eel and spare ribs claypot rice, or a classic twin sausage (preserved sausage and liver sausage) combo.

Kwan Kee, Shop 1, Wo Yick Mansion, 263 Queen's Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong; +852 2803 7209

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Kwong Wing Bing Sutt 光榮冰室

While this diner is first and foremost known for their plates of silky scrambled egg and char siu rice, they have quite a cult following for their claypot dishes as well. It's a tiny place with warm service, and even warmer claypot rice. There are six other branches around Hong Kong, so a claypot fix is never too far. 

What to order: Eggs are a must here, and the minced beef with sunny yellow egg is the order most commonly seen during this time of year. 

Kwong Wing Bing Sutt, Shop 6, G/F, 5-6 Hau Fook Street, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong; +852 2422 6555

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Sheung Hei 嚐囍煲仔小菜

Over in Kennedy Town, this western district favourite is known equally for their dim sum as well as their claypot rice, and was opened by a former Kwan Kee chef. They too cook over charcoal for that distinctive smoky aroma. More than 30 varieties feature on the menu and they can take between 20-30 minutes to fire up.

What to order: The Tai O dried shrimp and pork patty claypot rice offers an intense flavour profile, while the Japanese eel rice is another popular dish.

Sheung Hei, 25 North Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong; +852 2819 6190

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Wing Hop Sing 永合成馳名煲仔飯

A bit of a renegade, Wing Hop Sing started life as a bing sutt before they eventually added claypot specialties to their menu—and they’ve become best known for them over the years. Unlike other claypot specialists, they opt to cook their rice in a large gas oven rather than over charcoal flame, favouring consistency and an even crust over anything else.

What to order: If you love the combination of beef, egg and rice, get the hand-minced beef claypot rice which comes with raw egg yolk that you mix into the hot rice, coating every grain.

Wing Hop Sing, G/F, 360 Des Voeux Road West, Shek Tong Tsui, Hong Kong; +852 2850 5723

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Yung's Bistro

Yung's Bistro is the more casual sister restaurant to Yung Kee on Wellington Street (which recently unveiled its multi-million dollar renovation) and presents a claypot rice that is as classic as they come—featuring the cured meats that the flagship Cantonese restaurant is known for, including the glassy and fatty preserved pork belly, and both preserved pork sausage and preserved liver sausage. The portion is for a minimum of two guests, as it's served in a large, deep-sided claypot rather than the more shallow claypots with a single handle.

What to order: The classic, but add an extra cured duck leg to the mix for HK$100. 

Yung's Bistro, Shop 701, 7/F, K11 Musea, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong; +852 3892 3890

The Contemporary

These restaurants put their own spin on tradition through new ingredients and presentations.

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The Chairman

You can always count on The Chairman to create thrilling renditions of traditional Cantonese signatures. For the winter season, the restaurant’s own made preserved sausages (prepared at their Sheung Shui farm) are ready just in time to appear in claypot dishes that are perfectly calibrated in texture, flavour and aroma.

What to order: A trio of preserved meats (pork sausage, liver sausage and pork belly bacon) adorns rice that is complemented with three types of Japanese sweet potato in their preserved meat and sweet potato claypot rice. The threadfin claypot rice is also a new classic.

The Chairman, 18 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2555 2202

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Wing

The menu at Wing, Vicky Cheng's fine dining Chinese restaurant, changes frequently both by seasons and depending on the diner (Cheng doesn't want repeat customers to have the same dish twice, unless specified). Make your request ahead of time, or you might be lucky enough to score a special claypot creation such as one with chargrilled honey-glazed wagyu with sunny side eggs, or even semi-dried squid and his own house-cured pork belly. Cheng will often finish off the dish tableside himself. 

Wing, 29/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2711 0063

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Chop Chop

When this modern Cantonese roast meat restaurant opened, it was famed for its array of siu mei favourites—most notably, the char siu as made to the recipe by chef Dai Lung, who worked on the iconic “sorrowful rice” dish in the seminal Stephen Chow movie The God Of Cookery. This season, the restaurant has launched a series of 10 claypot dishes including, of course, a sorrowful claypot rice.

What to order: New styles include foie gras and morels claypot, pork ribs and pumpkin claypot.

Chop Chop, Shop 3, G/F, 18 Wang On Road, Fortress Hill, Hong Kong; +852 3618 7718

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Yat Tung Heen

Eaton HK’s flagship Cantonese restaurant has launched a series of claypot dishes for takeaway, inclusive of a reusable claypot for future cooking and serving. 20 dishes are on the menu, from steamed mud crab with Chinese yellow wine and chicken oil to stewed eel and preserved duck with radish, though only three rice dishes are available.

What to order: For a fragrant feast, the pan-fried chicken with mandarin peel claypot rice is recommended; if you’re ordering for two, the preserved duck leg and air-dried sausages claypot rice is a good choice.

Yat Tung Heen, Level B2, Eaton HK, 380 Nathan Road, Jordan, Hong Kong; +852 2710 1093

This story was originally published on December 29, 2020 and updated on November 4, 2021