Dai pai dongs or street hawkers in Hong Kong are a dying breed, passed down through generations but now a rare sight in the city. The city struggles to maintain the few for the sake of collective memories and the tourists that visit. They only congregate mostly in the Central district and in the street markets of Sham Shui Po. Dai pai dong means a lot to me, it's about Hong Kong's food culture. I've gradually come to regard the street-side food stalls with a tinge of nostalgia as more of these traditional eateries are being forced into extinction by a government eager to clean up the streets.
Built from scrap-metal sheets, Sui Kee's 70-year old kitchen shack and six folding tables with stools sat on a sloping street off Gutzlaff Street in the city's Central District. The dai pai dong, its tables balanced precariously on the steep grade, was just a short walk from the gleaming heart of this global financial hub. Sui Kee specializes in cow offal served with noodles in broth. Deep-fried wontons are also popular options.
This elderly chef is one of the unsung heroes of the dai pai dong. They aren't in it to get rich or famous. It's a way of life, and a part of Hong Kong tradition that is slipping away.
Affordability has always been the dai pai dong's appeal. The first stalls were commissioned by the British colonial government to provide cheap eateries to the poor after World War II, and many Hong Kongers like to see the eateries as part of the city's heritage.
Just as in the '50s, the attraction of dai pai dong is more than just cheap food. The fun of sitting on the street, watching the world go by, is a big part of it. If someone asks me what they should do to understand Hong Kong culture, I always say go to a dai pai dong. Nothing captures the spirit of Hong Kong like sitting at the table having a big meal surrounded by people. You're sitting outside, too, between all the buildings, so it's the real Hong Kong.
Wonton noodle soup with giant meaty chunks of beef brisket – it had an incredible pure taste of beef to it. Beef brisket is seriously yummy business in Hong Kong. Most noodle stores and restaurants will sell this dish and that’s one thing to be exceptionally thankful for.
When it comes to signature local Hong Kong food, a bowl of warm 'wonton' noodles will certainly be on the list. For many people living in Hong Kong, a bowl of wonton noodles is the among the great comfort foods. The dish may look simple, but it takes a lot of attention because each of the three elements need to be right – rich broth, eggy, springy noodles, and goldfish-like wonton filled with shrimp and pork all combine to make the perfect bowl.
The Dai Pai Dong is a huge part of Hong Kong’s culture that is unfortunately on the verge of extinction. There are currently only 28 licensed Dai Pai Dongs left in Hong Kong. With majority of them in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, I strongly urge you get a taste of this cultural dinosaur before it leaves Hong Kong’s shores for good.
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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