Stop on the streets

Stop on the streets

hong kong speciality

Stop on the streets

Whoever dreamt of a day when street food would crawl into the hallowed pages of Michelin Guide, which has hitherto restricted its list to classy restaurants! Well, Hong Kong’s street food has just managed that impossible feat. As many as 23 eateries in Hong Kong have been included in the 2016 edition of Michelin Guide, which has created a new category for street food. In short, the street food of Hong Kong has made history.

Fried pork-fat noodles, delicious Thai rice noodles, exotic soy-sauce-coated octopus, unpretentious rice rolls, Shanghainese pork buns, delectable burgers, fragrant satay, Korean fried chicken, mild Cantonese puddings, tantalising tofu pudding, famous Cantonese waffle, popular wonton noodles — you name it and it’s there on the list.

Popular, tasty and pocket friendly, street food across many Asian countries can give the classier restaurants a run for their money. But they have been denied their rightful place, till now.

Many takers

Like Singapore and Malaysia, the street food of Hong Kong has many fans. The vast repertoire is possibly one of the factors that have highlighted the Hong Kong street food. In the recent years, many adventurous tourists have begun crowding the tiny outlets or food carts to sample the fare that have earlier been known only to the locals. So much so that the undisputed Tsar among chefs, Anthony Bourdain, has claimed that Hong Kong is the world’s best city for street food.

Hong Kong is indeed a cuisine cauldron; right from the Malaysian satay to the Cantonese delicacies to Vietnamese and Korean fare, the city has adopted every kind of Asian cuisine.

Some districts in Hong Kong are more famous for their street food than the swanky restaurants in their neighbourhood. For instance, Mong Kok, which is reputed to be the world’s most crowded area, is famous for its street food. In the modest stalls there, you are likely to find the most delicious curried fish balls you’ll ever taste. The other neighbourhood popular for its offerings is Kowloon, where the night market draws hordes of people every night.

For an unforgettable experience, sample food at a dai pai dong (open-air street food stalls with discernible green-coloured kitchens), or a cha chaan teng (tea restaurant). These are no-nonsense type of eateries with cheap and tasty Cantonese cuisine. And, the boisterous setting is a bonus.

Sadly, these hectic and noisy places are a dying phenomenon, with just about a handful of them left in Hong Kong today. Some of the dai pai dongs, with tiny tables spilling over to the streets, began business during the 50s and catered to the working class. Unpretentious but popular food stalls still draw large working-class crowds to their cluttered tables during lunch hour.

The way forward

In the past decades, they have acquired a reputation for being unhygienic traffic blockers, which is why the Hong Kong government is chary of renewing the licences. Many enterprising dai pai dongs have moved into ‘cooked food centres’, which are akin to food courts. Some have refurbished their eateries into tiny but attractive restaurants.
In a typical dai pai dong, you can smack your lips on classic Cantonese fare like fried pork-rib, stir-fried beef noodles, noodles with ground beef and egg in tomato broth, sweet & sour pork, crispy buns, and pork rice rolls.

The cha chaan teng, although a tea restaurant, also serves food. The name came about as they serve all kinds of tea.

Local cuisine as well as Western cuisine are available here at affordable prices. One is likely to find baked chicken pies, egg tarts and bo lo bao (pineapple buns) along with wonton noodles, scrambled egg-and-ham sandwiches, together with drinks like black tea, coffee, lemon tea, green tea and milk tea, which are popular among the locals. Surprisingly, you’ll also find Horlicks and Ovaltine, and a drink known as yin-yang, which is a blend of tea and coffee.

The gai dan zai deserves a mention while writing about Hong Kong favourites. The traditional egg waffle, sometimes called ‘eggettes’, rose to popularity in the 50s, and has remained so.

Next time you visit Hong Kong, visit the traditional dai pai dong for a thrilling hole-in-the-wall eating experience. Who knows how long these gastronomic icons will continue to serve those who want to enjoy the old Hong Kong!

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