No trip to Hong Kong is complete without trying their street food. No doubt, there’s a lot of good food in Hong Kong, be it dim sum from the tea houses or roast goose and char siew at the Cantonese restaurants but for many of us, what characterises the cuisine of a place is its street food. It is eating what the locals eat that makes travelling to these places a truly remarkable experience. And Hong Kong is not short of good street food. Everywhere I went, it is always easy to pick up some local delights. I came back again during my recent trip to reprise the roadside dining experience at an old long-time Dai Pai Dong 大排檔, something truly Hong Kong!
The Tai Hang 大坑 neighbourhood of Hong Kong Island has experienced a renaissance of sorts - it has always been a close knit quiet residential area with charming older residential buildings and narrow streets but in the past two years a large number of small restaurants, bars and coffee shops have moved in. Bing Kee (located along Ormsby Street) is a traditional Chinese tea "Dai Pai Dong" which boasts retro cool and long lines during the weekend. It is a must for anyone seeking a good old-fashioned Hong Kong brew.
Sporting an increasing number of new coffee haunts and tapas joints, the soul of the whole street in the Tai Hang district remains in its local inhabitants and strong heritage architecture. A place often overlooked by people who visit more well-known hotspots, it has undergone a revival in recent years, with new ventures replacing the old mechanic shops. The contrasts make for a compelling spot for both the wanderluster and the enthusiast snapper.
Diners from all walks of life crowd together at Bing Kee's few tables to munch on simple eats and linger over a fragrant cuppa. It doesn't matter if they drive a Benz or a concrete mixer, everyone loves the creamy tea here.
Bing Kee's menu is succint. It lists a handful of instant noodles, rice vermicelli and sandwich options. The drink is always milk tea.
People flock here for it.
Hong Kong cuisine owes a lot of its characteristics to dai pai dong culture. Many Cantonese dishes are cooked in a wok, which is the main cooking vessel in a dai pai dong. The Cantonese often speak of a dish having wok hei, or the “breath of a wok” that ever-elusive quality to a dish cooked at high heat in a wok over an open flame. The “breath” is the same word as 'qi' in Mandarin — energy, life force. And indeed, imparting wok hei into a dish requires the skill, deftness, and expertise of a master. A dish with wok hei has a slightly charred taste but is never burnt. The high heat immediately vaporizes moisture, so the food has just the barest crisp edge to it. And it’s not supposed to be greasy. I imagine a dish with wok hei tastes like it’s been cooked by a dragon. The quality is that mythical.
Milk tea is Hong Kong's undisputed king of drinks. Stemming from the British colonial practice of adding milk to black tea, the Hong Kong version is strained through a sackcloth to encourage smoothness.
A medley of flavors in a simple, affordable meal at Bing Kee.
炳记茶档最重要的茶水档，也不过在铁皮屋外一张简单的折叠桌上。香港茶餐厅的奶茶，黑白淡奶几乎一统天下，不过这里却是原产新加坡的双喜牌淡奶，洋红的双喜字样似乎也让这杯奶茶多了不一样的中国情结。我看了很久，想要闹明白究竟奶茶的冲制是否需要什么技术标准，不过似乎没有，完全都靠手劲的拿捏，而那是时间带来的经验直觉吧。要说绝对口感上的好喝，其实谈不上吧，只是满足了基本条件，不涩、顺滑、回香回甘。茶没有那么多花哨的拉茶动作，甚至只是从热水瓶里直接冲到铺了淡奶底的玻璃杯里，简单到让人脑子出现空白，一时忘记港式奶茶里 “先茶后奶” 还是 “先奶后茶” 的各种争议。
Bing Kee as a long-time operating Dai Pai Dong is undoubtedly an indispensable element in Hong Kong due to the collective memories. The main reason why traditional Dai Pai Dong is so popular, it is because it relates to old Hong Kong. Most Dai Pai Dongs which were set up by old-aged people from grass-root families. The cheap and delicious food attracted many people to have meal at that time. As an intrinsic attribute of collective memory, that’s why people in Hong Kong endeavor to preserve Dai Pai Dong because it is not only an eating place but also a symbol of lower class life in Hong Kong in 60’s to 70’s.
Nowadays, Dai Pai Dong still remains popular among the public. Many office workers would like to have lunch in Dai Pai Dongs once a week. They think that a group of colleagues have a meal in there like the family union. It shows that Dai Pai Dong as the family provided warm and comfortable feelings to the public. They do not fear of the hygiene problem, contrary they have the collective memories in there because when talking about Dai Pai Dong, it evokes resonance among the public. As an important feature of Hong Kong’s dining culture, it has accompanies the growth of Hong Kong citizens and become part of their memories an passion.
A freelance Singapore-based travel photographer / photojournalist. I seek the extraordinary, but finds beauty in the everyday. Life is interesting, capture it.
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