A Taste of Yesteryear
Trends come and go in this fast-changing metropolis, but these old-school eateries and vendors have proven their staying power. By Kei Ting; photographed by Lara Day
Published on Dec 17, 2010
+ CHEH JAI MEEN
Popularized in the 1950’s, cart noodles—named after the carts vendors would operate—were once a staple of Hong Kong life. But as the government began cracking down on hygiene, this iconic dish went indoors. Come out to this old-fashioned shopping mall-turned-hawker center on the northeastern shores of Hong Kong Island and you’ll find one of the best renditions at this stall with a yellow banner, where the sturdy proprietor throws together ingredients on order with almost acrobatic dexterity acquired after 30 years of experience. The etiquette is pretty straightforward: pick what you want and the vendor will cook it for you in a big boiling pot of stock. On offer are squid, beef brisket, dumplings, chicken wings and vegetables; if you’re feeling adventurous, try the assorted sausages, innards, meatballs, tofu puffs or curdled blood. This is the perfect dish to fortify yourself in winter.
Address: Tai On Building, 57–58 Shau Kei Wan Road, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong
Telephone: NA; 12 p.m.– 4 a.m.
Price: A bowl of noodles with three ingredients HK$19
+ TAI O EGG WAFFLES
Occupying a remote corner of Lantau Island, Tai O is a traditional fishing village that lures day-trippers with its stilt houses and locally made shrimp paste and salted fish. But the real reason to come out here is the gai dan jai, little egg waffles (sometimes referred to as “eggettes”) made from a thin batter of egg, sugar and evaporated milk that are a popular Hong Kong street snack. A handful of vendors on Tai O’s main streets make these puffy treats the old-fashioned way—wielding the waffle iron over a charcoal fire—but look out for Mr. Lei, who’s the undisputed master; locals call him the “egg-waffle uncle.” His waffles are heavenly: crunchy on the outside and spongy inside, with the irresistible aroma of rich custard mingled with the scent of smoke from the grill.
Address: Tai O Village, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Telephone: NA; afternoons only
Price: Egg waffles HK$10
+ KUNG WO DOU BUN CHONG
Buried behind a row of hawker stalls in Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, is this modest century-old shop specializing in soybean dishes. From the looks of it, not much has changed for the past few decades, including, thankfully, the delicate texture and taste of its handmade tofu. If you’re after something savory, order the pan-fried tofu topped with a fish paste seasoned with spices and dried orange peel. But the star here is the melt-in-your-mouth tofu pudding, or daofu fa—comforting when eaten warm, refreshing when cold. This spot serves the best in town, thanks to an age-old, time-consuming process that involves grinding the soybeans with a traditional stone mill—it’s slow food, Canto-style.
Address: 118 Bei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong
Telephone: +852 2386 6871; 7 a.m.–9 p.m.
Price: Tofu pudding HK$7
+ YEE SHUN DAIRY COMPANY
This Macau-based chain focuses on Chinese milk-based desserts, and has become a favorite among Hong Kong’s sweet tooths. The Causeway Bay branch has the advantage of being spacious, clean and quiet. Egg custards and double-layer steamed milk puddings, with or without toppings, are wonderfully rich, but we favor the ginger milk curd, which involves mixing hot milk with ginger juice (an enzyme in the ginger causes the milk to solidify). The version here is the ideal, pairing the rich milk with the ginger’s soothing heat.
Address: 506 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Telephone: +852 2591 1837; 12 p.m.–12 a.m.
Price: Ginger milk curd HK$20
+ LAU SUM KEE NOODLES
Once a mobile street stall, this 60-year-old establishment now has two storefronts on neighboring streets in Sham Shui Po. Décor is basic and expect to share a table with other diners at peak hours—but you’re not here for the atmosphere. The specialty here is traditional Cantonese bamboo noodles (jook sing mein), named after the bamboo poles used in kneading the dough—a technique that results in springy, fine, smooth-tasting noodles. They’re miles ahead of factory-made noodles, which often have the chalky taste of the alkaline mixed in the dough. Eaten mixed with oyster sauce and shrimp roe or in a soup, the noodles are paired with toppings such as shrimp dumplings, beef brisket and falling-off-the-bone pork knuckle. Impress the locals by ordering crunchy cow stomach or goose intestine, and don’t pass on the turnip pickles, a popular appetizer. Note that the beef brisket, pork knuckle and oyster sauce are all quite rich in flavor so avoid putting them in one dish.
Address: 82 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong
Telephone: +852 2386 3583; 12 p.m.–1 a.m.
Price: Noodles from HK$30
+ MIDO CAFE
Hong Kongers are proud of their char chan tang, affordable eateries that have been a mainstay here for more than five decades. But few have kept their original 1950’s décor. This iconic café, however, is one notable exception, and with its ceiling fans, booths and tiled walls, it’s served as a backdrop to numerous movies. The fare is as old-fashioned as the look: crunchy fried noodles with sliced pork, flaky pineapple buns and Hong Kong-style French toast (slices of bread soaked in beaten egg and deep fried, and then topped with butter and golden syrup). Must-haves include the baked pork chop rice in tomato sauce and the red bean ice, a drink of sweetened red beans, condensed milk and crushed ice.
Address: 63 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
Telephone: +852 2384 6402; 8:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Price: Lunch for two HK$120