UrbanWhile Hongkongers are all proud to call this city home, almost everyone you meet will be able to trace their roots back to mainland China. Human settlements date back some 30,000 years and since then the city’s population has exploded with migration from across the mainland—with each group bringing its own culture, cuisine and traditions. Although these blend seamlessly into the cultural melting pot that is Hong Kong today, you can still see evidence of these enduring influences at every turn and even experience some of the more longstanding Chinese folk traditions firsthand.

Ko Shan Theatre
Hong Kong culture is underpinned by the Cantonese dialect and people: early immigrants from the southerly Guangdong region of China established Cantonese as Hong Kong’s main language, bringing with them a strong cultural influence that’s evident in the city’s food, music and festivals. For an artistic expression of this culture you only need watch some Cantonese opera: an elaborate art form that involves the singing of Guangdong melodies as well as a mix of martial arts, acrobatics, acting and incredible costumes. Ko Shan Theatre is one of the last remaining venues to showcase this art. First opened in 1983 as a semi-open air theater, it has since been renovated and now holds a 1,000 seat theater plus a 600-seat auditorium. Operas—some of which are free to watch—are held here on an almost daily basis, plus there’s an exhibition hall on the art’s heritage.

Chiu Chow Chan Kan Kee
Another notable cultural influence on Hong Kong comes from the city’s 1.2 million Chiu Chow immigrants. This group’s movement south from the Chinese region of Chaozhou in eastern Guangdong can be traced back thousands of years. One of the most interesting cultural traditions it brought was the Yu Lan, or Hungry Ghost Festival. In the seventh month of the lunar year, Chiu Chow people believe that restless spirits roam the earth—and so you’ll see them out burning incense and joss paper for their ancestors in public spaces across Hong Kong. You can also experience the culture through its cuisine at Chiu Chow Chan Kan Kee, one of the oldest Chiu Chow restaurants in Hong Kong and an old haunt of property tycoon Li Ka-shing. Don’t miss the Chiu Chow congee here—a porridge-style dish that’s enriched with meaty baby oysters—or other regional specialties such as marinated goose, steamed eel or deep-fried baby oyster omelet.
Another cultural influence worth discovering through its food comes from the Hakka population, some of the region’s earliest immigrants who arrived and set up rural abodes in walled villages in the north of the territory. Their culinary traditions have spread further south in the city, and Chuen Cheung Kui is a popular Hakka food spot that’s often packed out. Here you should try the deep-fried fresh milk, a famous Hakka dish that’s formed of a sweet dough wrapped in crispy skin.

Wan Kam Leung Practical Wing Chun
Your visit to Hong Kong could be packed full of cultural activities as there is so much to see and do. If you’re interested in traditional Chinese art forms, then why not try a spot of Wing Chun? This unique and scientific form of Chinese martial art is a style of kung fu that dates back to the late 1800s and was refined in Hong Kong by the late—and great—sifu (master) Ip Man. Wan Kam Leung Practical Wing Chun is a school teaching a modern-day version of the art developed by sifu Wan Kam-leung: learn more about this fascinating style in a group or with private lessons from the Grandmaster himself, Mr. Wan. Alternatively if you’re seeking a more peaceful inroad to traditional Chinese culture, look no further than Ming Cha Teahouse. This artsy retreat holds interactive tea tasting workshops that will educate you about five different types of tea, teaching you about the production process and correct brewing methods. There’s also a tea lounge and mini museum for you to while away the afternoon.

While there are many Chinese traditions that have left their mark on Hong Kong, it’s worth reflecting on the diverse ethnic make-up of Hong Kong from the 1800s onwards. The Hong Kong Cemetery has some fascinating stories to uncover surrounding the territorial wars, the colonial period and the expansion of the city: you’ll find epitaphs devoted to US missionaries, Japanese crewmen, colonial surgeons and entrepreneurs, including names such as Sir Kai Ho Kai—the barrister, physician and teacher who built the medical school that would become the University of Hong Kong.
Wherever you look in Hong Kong you will see how myriad groups of immigrants from around the world have impacted on the city’s culture: from its culinary tastes to its artistic forms and traditional festivals.