In Hong Kong, street food is the great equaliser. Businessmen and elites join queues of students, tourists and taxi drivers to buy egg tarts, curry fish balls, noodles, crispy chicken and dumplings – and there’s no skipping the line, no matter who you are.
Sadly, dai pai dong, the open-air stalls where sizzling, fiery woks emit aromas that perfume the air, are dying out. The government stopped selling new licences in the 1970s, so only those passed down through generations of a family remain.
But they haven’t gone the way of the dinosaur just yet. Locals and visitors alike love the tasty, traditional and affordable fare found at the dai pai dong, many of which are open until late to fuel Hong Kong’s nightlife crowd. Here’s where to find them.
One of Hong Kong’s best-known dai pai dong, Leaf Dessert on Elgin Street specialises in traditional Cantonese cuisine. The menu is only in Chinese, and the stall owners don’t speak English, so unless you know the local lingo you’ll have to point and hope for the best. Leaf Dessert is famous for desserts – order a serve of hot, glutinous rice balls topped with a sugar, coconut and sesame seeds. For savoury starters, the cold green bean soup with seaweed and the beef brisket noodles are good too.
2 Elgin Street, SOHO, Central
Happy Valley’s Wong Nai Chung Cooked Food Centre
At this seafood market you can buy fish, squid, scallops, clams or whatever catches your eye and the stall holders will wok-fry it and top it with garlic, spices and vegetables, for you to eat right there and then.
2 Yuk Sau Street, Happy Valley
Hop Yik Tai
This street food restaurant earned a place in the Michelin Guide with its mouth-watering plates of cheong fun, a Cantonese dish of soft, smooth flat noodles wrapped around shrimp, beef or vegetables and topped with soy and sesame.
It’s also a local favourite for Siu Mai, classic Chinese steamed dumplings.
121 Kweilin Street, Sham Shui Po
Keung Kee Dai Pai Dong
This hotspot in the Sham Shui Po fabric district became internationally famous after Anthony Bourdain dined on drunken chicken, fish tripe and a quiche-like egg dish in his final season of Parts Unknown. If it was good enough for Bourdain…
Shop 4, Yiu Tung Street, Sham Shui Po
Cheung Heung Tea Restaurant
You can’t go to Hong Kong and not have an egg tart. One of the best places to find one is this unassuming take-away store on Belcher’s Street in Kennedy Town. Usually eaten for breakfast, they’re similar in taste and texture to a Portuguese custard tart. Eat one right away and stash a second in your bag for later on.
107 Belcher’s Street, Kennedy Town, Western District
Tung Tat Food Shop
Curry fish balls are the perfect street food to snack on while you look for somewhere to have a main meal. Savoury, spicy and chewy in a good way, the fish balls are deep fried then boiled in a curry sauce. They either come skewered four or five at a time on a stick, or in small container with a toothpick for plucking them out. Tung Tat Food Shop is known for its fish balls, but serves other types of street food too.
172 Yuen Street, Mong Kok
Master Lowkey Shop
You won’t miss Master Lowkey Shop since there’s always a long queue snaking out the door and down the street – and its egg waffles are worth the wait. The crispy, sweet, freshly made dessert can be eaten plain or topped with chocolate, ice cream, coconut or green tea.
Shop B3, 76A Shau Kei Wan Main Street East, Shau Kei Wan
Tai Po Market
Hong Kong has some of the best markets in the world, but fighting your way through the packed crowds at Ladies Market, Chop Alley and Flower Market can get tiresome. Tai Po Market is a less intense but still buzzing venue where locals shop for seafood and produce – and snack on street food while they’re doing it. There’s an array of vendors selling everything you can imagine, from roast goose to seafood and snake soup.
Connected to the Tai Po Market MTR Station, Tai Po
Hong Kee Restaurant
A quintessential dai pai dong in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kee Restaurant is known for its hearty braised lamb brisket, crispy skin chicken, garlic fried prawns and dim sum.
Kai Yip Estate, 8 Kai Yip Road, Kowloon Bay
Temple Street Night Market
Vibrant Temple Street Night Market has a food stall area where you can sample all the Hong Kong street food staples, including stinky tofu. The local take on tofu indeed doesn’t smell great to most noses – it’s fermented in milk, fish and meat for weeks or even months before serving – but once deep fried to crispy perfection, it tastes truly delicious served with sweet chili sauce and hot noodles.
Temple Street, Jordan
Follow your nose on Shantung Street, especially during winter, and it won’t be long before you meet a street hawker selling fried chestnuts from a cart. The nuts taste as good as they smell and are a delicious way to warm up on a ‘chilly’ (by Hong Kong standards) day. The busy, neon-lit thoroughfare is a popular spot for the fried chestnut vendors to set up shop, but keep your eyes peeled for carts at any street corner, MTR station or market in the city.
Shantung Street, Mong Kok