Cover Mammy Pancake is chef Gisela Alesbrook's go-to for egg waffles (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

The Sri Lankan chef shares her top local ingredients and why eating noodles at a small Peel Street canteen is a quintessential Hong Kong experience

As part of our series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Gisela Alesbrook – head chef at Sri Lankan restaurant Hotal Colombo—tells us about the ingredient that reminds her of both Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, and why one of her most memorable dishes comes from a small canteen on Peel Street.

Tell us about some of your favourite Hong Kong food moments.

There are a few dishes in Hong Kong that I love and never fail to remind me of what a diverse city I am living in. As many people know, I have a bit of a sweet tooth and some of my favourite baked goods include the pineapple buns from local bakeries here. Perfectly crispy on top, they are best served hot with a thick slice of butter almost melting to the bun and sticking to your fingers; the ones at Happy Cake Shop are a particular favourite.

I also love Hong Kong’s signature, super Instagrammable egg waffles that can be found almost anywhere in the city; Mammy Pancake is my regular go-to when I want to treat myself with the chocolate-filled ones!

But the one food moment that really stands out for me are the thick flat rice noodles with sliced beef from this small canteen called Good Companion on Peel Street. It’s takeaway only and you can basically see their whole kitchen from the counter. Their chef is usually dressed very casually, but don’t let that fool you; the beef is tender like it has been marinating the whole day, and the noodles are so soft and filling. It’s such a Hong Kong experience – something so delicious being made in such a small space.

See also: A Taste Of Home: Chef ArChan Chan's Favourite Food Spots In Hong Kong

What are some of your favourite local ingredients?

One of my favourite local ingredients are sprats, which I usually buy from 4 Season Store in Sai Ying Pun. Sprats are a small dried fish, sort of like an anchovy. They’re a great form of calcium and a really versatile ingredient—you can fry and eat them on their own as a simple snack, but my favourite way is to make a powder from them that can be added to sambol, a traditional Sri Lankan condiment.

They can also be found in Sri Lanka and my mum used to cook them for us every Friday. She would fry and temper them with onions and a few other spices; it’s like a ritual at home. Whenever I eat or make them here, the smell fills my whole kitchen and never fails to remind me of both my homes—Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.

If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be—and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?

My last Hong Kong restaurant would need to be a Hong Kong icon, so I would choose Ho Lee Fook. There are so many dishes there that I crave—the dumplings, the wagyu short rib, the prawn toast… Fortunately we are neighbours, so that is an easy fix for me. I have so many happy memories of laughing a lot and eating too much with good friends down at Ho Lee Fook.

Gisela’s Picks

  • Happy Cake Shop, G/F, 106 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2528 1391
  • Mammy Pancake, multiple locations including Shop 1A15, G/F, 99 Dock Street, Whampoa Estate, Hung Hom, Hong Kong
  • Good Companion, G/F, 59A Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2540 2268
  • 4 Season Store, 164 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, +852 2528 5564
  • Ho Lee Fook, 3-5 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2810 0860


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