“Dai pai dongs”– a phenomenon that used to be one of the most iconic elements of Hong Kong’s food scene – are now an endangered species.
Frequently labelled as old and unhygienic, these outdoor eateries, which first set up shop in WWI, now amount to less than 30 non-renewable license holders scattered around Central, Sham Shui Po and the New Territories.
To pay tribute to all the unbelievably cheap and delicious Cantonese cuisine (and a bottle of Tsing Tao, please) on offer in these nostalgic alfresco eateries, Coconuts HK selects Hong Kong’s top 5 dai pai dongs and their signature dishes.
So head out and relive old school Hong Kong life, or at least the last time you were a little strapped for cash.
Sing Heung Yuen
Opposite the long queue of tourists outside the beef brisket place, this equally packed dai pai dong started in 1957. Central changed over the years, but Sing Heung Yuen remained thanks to its uniqueness in the neighbourhood. During rush hour, you’ll have to get cosy with businessmen, office workers, hipsters and tourists around the small green tables, but it’ll be well worth the squeeze for a delicious bowl of macaroni with thick juicy tomato broth and a crispy bun. There’s also a choice of ham, bacon or a fried egg to top your bowl. Noodles start at HKD22, while a lavish meal of chicken wings, pork chop and sausage comes in at just HKD35.
Sing Heung Yuen, 2 Mee Lun Street, Central, 8am-5:30pm, (+85) 2544-8368. Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays. Budget: HKD40 per person
Located on Stanley Street, Sing Kee is probably the best living refection of an authentic dai pai dong – amazing stir fries, seats by the wet drains, and a chef who does all the cooking in one big wok. Try the fried pork ribs in sweet and sour sauce (HKD55) and the beef in salt and pepper (HKD55), of course throwing in an extra HKD20 dollars for a Tsing Tao. The food here has a distinctly local flavour, but the portions are slightly smaller than you might expect for the price. Order an extra bowl of rice and we promise you’ll leave feeling happy and full.
Fried Pork Rib and a bottle of Tsing Tao
Beef in salt and pepper
Sing Kee, 9-10 Stanley St, Central, (+852) 2541-5678, daily 11am-3pm and 5pm-11pm. Budget: HKD80 per person
Oi Man Sang
Despite being situated around 10 minutes walk from Sham Shui Po MTR, a trip to Oi Man Sang is worth the journey and the queue for a seat. We were shoved on a table a block away from the original shop and outside a public trash collection point with no fans, but the food was so good we left with no complaints. Oi Man Seng offers a variety of seafood and meat, the best of which is recommended by the waiter. The sweet & sour pork (HKD78) – a classic dai pai dong dish – is the one to try here, as is the stir fried beef and potato with black pepper sauce (HKD78) if you’re after something salty and filling to pair up with a beer.
Stir Fried Beef and Potato with Black Pepper Sauce
Sweet and Sour Pork
Oi Man Sang, 215 Lai Chi Kok Road, Sham Shui Po, (+852) 2393-9315, daily 6pm-1am. Advance bookings accepted on weekdays only. Budget: HKD110 per person
If you’re a self-proclaimed chicken and seafood lover, Keung Kee is the dai pai dong destination for you. Amble though the Sham Shui Po fabric district and Apliu Market and you’ll soon stumble across tables of satisfied local workers and families near a busy metal stall. The je-je chicken pot (HKD88) is on top of our must-try list thanks to its flavour, tenderness, and of course the famous “je je” sizzling sound that expels from inside the clay pot. The homemade cuttlefish cake (HKD58), golden, crispy and with plenty of genuine cuttlefish, is also a winner. The palm-sized fried oysters and fish sausage also come highly recommended.
Keung Kee, 219 Ki Lung St, Sham Shui Po, (+852) 2394-0894, 7:30am-9:30pm. Budget: HKD100 per person.
Photo: Emy Lam via Flickr
Take a walk up Elgin Street in Central one night after dinner and end your evening on a sweet note with an authentic local dessert in a clean and decent dai pai dong. Choices include black sesame soup, red or green bean soup and even seaweed soup if you’re feeling adventurous (all HKD12 hot, HKD13 for cold). Oddly for a restaurant with “dessert” in the name, you can also get classic “cha chaan teng” style noodles here (HKD24) if you’re looking for the whole package.
Playing it safe with the Sago with Coconut
Leaf Dessert, 2 Elgin St, Central, (+852) 2544-3795, 12:30pm-12.30am. Budget: HKD12 per person.
Header Photo via WikiCommons