Balancing on the crowded curb of a side street in Central Hong Kong, I lean forward to sip an ice-cold milk tea, trying not to spill it as people push past me in a rush to get to work. Like me, they're eager to escape the late morning heat. The man standing next to me chuckles as I mumble, "Mmm, that's good," under my breath. He motions with his arm for me to stand back as a massive minivan zooms by.

I'm sampling the classic local beverage at Lan Fong Yuen, one of Hong Kong's most historic dai pai dong, or open-air food stalls, which are now a rarity in the city due to a permit freeze. Once a Hong Kong staple, these hawker stalls are usually decorated with green walls and showcase steamy woks firing traditional dishes roadside, with fold-out tables and chairs lining the city's side streets.

The government stopped issuing new licences in the mid-1950s due to noise complaints and hygiene concerns. Now only 20 remain. This particular cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) dates back to 1952 and is said to be the birthplace of milk tea, a regional beverage made of black tea and milk filtered through a sackcloth bag to create a silky, smooth finish.

Hong Kong | Writer Bianca Bujan at Lan Fong Yuen
Hong Kong | A pineapple bun enjoyed with milk tea

I've come to Hong Kong for a taste of the city's best cuisine, and while I'm meant to be touring the must-try Michelin spots, this little local stand equally excites me. Here, I'm drowning in a sea of locals, many downing a late-morning snack of milk tea and Hong Kong-style crispy buns smeared with condensed milk before heading back to the office. This is the perfect place for people-watching, and as I sink my teeth into a squishy bun, my eyes dart back and forth, taking it all in.

Hong Kong | Cathay Pacific's The Pier First Class Lounge

My first taste of traditional Cantonese cuisine began before I even boarded my flight with Cathay Pacific — the first airline to connect Canada to Hong Kong with a direct route from Vancouver, over 40 years ago. Before departure, I dip into Cathay's newly reopened luxury lounge, which serves freshly made dan dan noodles, delicate dim sum and fluffy fish ball noodle soup à la carte.

On board, Cantonese-themed combo meals are available upon request, with many dishes created in partnership with local Hong Kong restaurants, like a wonton soup made by the well-known chain Mak's Noodle.

Hong Kong | Noodles served in the Cathay Pacific lounge

As a Canadian who was born and raised in Vancouver — a city known for its large Asian population — I was aware of the important impact that Hongkongers have had, but what I hadn't realized was that we've had an influence in Hong Kong as well. Throughout my tasting tour in the city, I constantly come across Canadian chefs and ingredients grown and imported right from my own backyard, such as soybeans and geoduck.

A late-afternoon lunch takes me to Mora, one of Hong Kong's most recent recipients of a Michelin Green Star. The award recognizes restaurants in the Michelin Guide that are leading efforts in sustainability.

Hong Kong | Upper Lascar Row

Strolling along Upper Lascar Row to the restaurant, I browse through tables upon tables crowded with collectible antiques and traditional trinkets, shaded by worn-out awnings. This side street is a well-known outdoor market with over 100 years of history, and I'm surprised when we arrive at our destination, its minimalist, modern exterior juxtaposed against the colourfully cluttered surroundings.

Hong Kong | Udon Noodle in Soy Milk Lobster Bouillon at Mora
Hong Kong | Chrysanthemum Tofu at Mora

I sample dishes from the seasonal Characters of Soy menu. The five-course experience takes my taste buds on a journey through the different flavours and textures of soy. As I crunch on crispy tofu with soy-braised mushrooms, pickled wood ear mushrooms and amber walnuts; chopstick bites of soybean paste hot stone rice with Cantonese salted fish into my mouth; and spoon icy scoops of black rice soy milk ice cream, I'm amazed at how many ways a simple soybean can be prepared.

Hong Kong | Inside Mora restaurant

I'm more surprised to learn from owner and head chef Vicky Lau that the soybeans used in all her dishes are sourced solely from Canada, "because they're clean — non-GMO," she explains.

As I leave the restaurant and continue down the alley, I'm reminded of Chinatown back home in Vancouver where the stores are steeped in colourful traditions that originate from this very spot.

Hong Kong | Inside Tin Lung Heen

I find more Canadian ingredients at Tin Lung Heen, a two-Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant housed at the top of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, one of the tallest hotels in the world. The restaurant maintains a traditional Chinese feel, with a large lazy Susan rotating each item towards my plate.

I receive each dish, scooped onto my plate as though I'm a guest at someone's home, as I take in the sweeping city views. Large windows reveal a smattering of tall buildings lining the waterfront, with green patches of nature in the distance. The landscape reminds me of the landscape back home in Vancouver, but on a much larger scale.

I offer to serve myself and am quickly refused. "This is how food is served in Chinese culture," the server shares with me. "You're our guest, so we serve you." While sipping on tea carefully selected by the in-house tea sommelier, and consuming mouthfuls of wok-fried razor clams, steamy shrimp dumplings and fried rice doused with diced abalone, I discover that the geoduck on their menu is sourced directly from the West Coast waters of B.C.

"This is a common ingredient found at many high-end Cantonese restaurants," our server says. Geoducks, or "elephant trunk clams," as they are often referred to in China, are the largest burrowing clams in the world. The delicacies—shipped live from Canada—are said to be delicious (despite their off-putting appearance). The more I explore the city, the more I realize that there are endless ties that bind our two cultures.

Among his many accolades in the industry, former MasterChef Canada judge and "Demon Chef" Alvin Leung owns restaurants on both shores. While the self-taught Cantonese chef was born in London, England, he grew up in Scarborough, Ontario. In Toronto, he co-owns R&D, a Canadian-Asian restaurant in the city's Chinatown. In Hong Kong, he's the chef and owner of two-Michelin-star restaurant Bo Innovation, along with his new dining concept Cafe Bau.

Throwback Hong Kong photos plaster the walls of the new restaurant's retro-chic interior. It all complements Cafe Bau's East-meets-West farm-to-table dishes, like the tenderly roasted Hong Kong-raised Ping Yuen yellow chicken served with wild mushrooms and yi o rice that's grown on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. As I take another bite of the chicken, I soak in my surroundings. Around me, diners nosh on fresh takes on traditional Chinese dishes while sipping on creative tipples like the caprese cocktail (yes, it's exactly how it sounds). I can both taste and see a merging of old meets new.

A hot Hong Kong strip known best for its lively nightlife, Lan Kwai Fong is home to over 90 restaurants and bars. This area got its start from a Canadian, too. Born in Germany and raised in Montréal, Québec before moving to Hong Kong, Allan Zeman was a fashion industry mogul in the 1980s. Referred to as the "Father of Lang Kwai Fong," Zeman recognized a hole in Hong Kong's hospitality space.

At the time, most restaurants and bars were housed in upscale hotels that required a suit and tie for entry. Zeman was one of the first to start opening modern nightlife destinations in the area in the hopes of creating an entertainment district. His concepts caused a ripple effect, with many more establishments popping up in Lan Kwai Fong.

On my flight back to Vancouver, as I sip on a cool cup of Hong Kong-style milk tea and nibble on one last flaky egg tart, I contemplate the connections between cultures and how Hong Kong and Canada are so closely tied in the culinary space. After my visit, I decide to dig deeper into Vancouver's close ties to Hong Kong. I've found a piece of home in a faraway place, and when I land, I look forward to finding more reminders of Hong Kong in my own city, too.