My first post about my favourite things in Hong Kong was about the dai pai dongs and I bemoaned how the Hong Kong government had driven them off the streets into Cooked Food Centres. Which is ironic, as my second favourite thing about Hong Kong is the Cooked Food Centres.
Now you may be asking yourself what the hell is a “Cooked Food Centre”? To explain: think of the worst building an architect could conspire to make, add extra concrete and tiles, make it massive, come up with a design that would have been too crude even amongst the 1960s heyday of Brutalism, add 30 years of humid weather and wear and tear to it; and you have it, a “Cooked Food Centre”.
Now you are probably thinking why the hell is this a good thing? Well the reason is that all that vibrant food and life that you see in places like Thailand is hidden away in these strange Communist-esque buildings all around Hong Kong. They come with vintage signing, massive food markets selling the full suite of meat, fish and vegetables down below and then the places to eat or “Cooked Food” on the top floor replete with shitty tables and plastic cutlery. They are profoundly local places to go, with not a glimmer of an expat and were built with scant regard to environment or surroundings all around Hong Kong.
Normally such a disregard as to situation would be a bad thing, but Hong Kong has taken these horrendous buildings and incorporated them into the fabric of its daily life. It is where you go to buy your groceries and then you come back to eat lunch or dinner. And the joy is all about the juxtaposition of the clunky surroundings with really good food. The reason being is that the Cooked Food Centres are less exposed to the draining effects of capitalism which guts the soul out of other restaurants around Hong Kong. There is no need for them to be vogue-ish or chase after mass turnover.
This means that Cooked Food Centres are where you can get real Hong Kong food. Not Cantonese or Chinese but Hong Kong style, where a magpie approach is taken and if it tastes good, not matter how strange it sounds, it goes in. This approach extends to “Indian”, “Thai” or even “Italian” food; it is run through the cultural grinder of Hong Kong and comes out tasting nothing like it does back home but eminently suited to Hong Kong.
For those who haven’t been to any Cooked Food Centres here are a few places to start:
- Queen’s Road Cooked Food Centre – this is probably the most accessible one because of its small size and is relatively famous as it has an Italian restaurant – ABC Kitchen – doing what can only be described as Canto-Italian fusion (ensure you stick to food you could equally order in a Cantonese restaurant). The Indian, Thai and Cantonese restaurants there are equally good.
- Java Road Cooked Food Centre – this is the most famous of the Cooked Food Centres in Hong Kong as it has Tung Po Kitchen which was featured in an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations episode. Quite honestly the food at Tung Po is pretty average but the experience is worth going for; hip hop music, great razor clams, a crazy Cantopop star like owner and a rowdy atmosphere.
- Mui Wo Cooked Food Centre – this is situated right on the beach overlooking Mui Wo (you can get a ferry directly there from Central). The food is, quite simply, f-ing amazing with some of the best seafood I’ve had in Hong Kong.
- Kowloon City’s Cooked Food Centre – famous as a place to get semi-authentic Thai food. Amporn Thai Food is particularly recommended.
- Sheung Wan Municipal Services Centre – this place is massive and full of Cantonese restaurants, all of which serve good Hong Kong style food. It can be entertaining to eat there in the evening with the locals putting serious effort in on the drinking.
PS for other posts on HK’s best click here.