The picture above is of one of the dai pai dongs on Stanley street and it is everything that I love and will miss about Hong Kong. It is, quite frankly, the best of it. It might seem strange to heap such praise on a ramshackle pile of plastic chairs and tables but please hang on.
To give these dai pai dongs a brief introduction to those of you who aren’t familiar with them, they are the remnants of Hong Kong’s once thriving street food scene. As with many Asian cities there used to be an array of unlicensed food stalls operating straight off the streets. After World War II the government issued ad hoc licenses to families of deceased and injured civil servants to operate “dai pai dongs” so as to earn a living. These dai pai dong were bigger than the other unlicensed food stalls and it literally means “big license”.
And ever so sadly they are nearly extinct in Hong Kong. The reason for this can be found in the younger generation of more chi-chi Hong Kongers who when I suggest eating there go “ew cockroaches” and the expats who go “no air-conditioning“. The government is of the same frame of mind and since the 1980s has in a concerted effort driven them off the streets into Cooked Food Centres.
However, those few that remain are some of the world’s greatest places to eat as they ram together food, culture and history into one spot (and you kind of feel like you are in Blade Runner).
You typically sit there late at night, plonked on the street, on some buck legged plastic stool and you sweat. On days like this, with 90% humidity and temperatures over 30 degrees it is like some ritual form of torture. You are soaked immediately and the smells and debris from the nearby wet markets hit you. In the distance you can see the concrete overpass of the Mid-Levels escalator and the neon signs of LKF beginning.
You order some beer from one of the beer girls and start to soak in the character of the dingy backstreet. And then the food starts rolling out, Hong Kong classics like beef and tomatoes or eggs with shrimp; stir fried dishes from cooks who are undisputed masters of the work and can ensure the character of the wok or wok hei arrives with each dish. The food they churn out is immediate and fresh and fragrant. It is immediate and local. It is the best of Hong Kong.
Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the food from any of the numerous times I have been there, as several beers in, humidity taking its toll and great food arriving, there is nothing you want to do less than pull out a DSLR. However, trust me, it is magnificient. Just go.
- Price – 200HKD a head if you order everything and try to drink a beer girl’s entire stock
- Location – Stanley and Graham Street in Central, Hong Kong
PPS for other posts on HK’s best click here.