ultramarinus – beyond the sea

LEGACY OF TRIANGULAR PIER : Street of Dried Seafood (海味街), Sheung Wan / Sai Ying Pun (上環/西營盤), Hong Kong

Smell of the sea fills the air between concrete building blocks along both sides of Des Voeux Road West. In the midst of busy traffic, wholesale workers quickly unload truck loads of dried seafood and large plastic bags of herbs at curbside and trolley them to different nam pak hongs (南北行), skillfully avoiding pedestrians, trams and buses along the way. Watching these hectic actions from the upper tram deck as a child, I used to dislike all the disorder on the Street of Dried Seafood (海味街). Revisit these streets three decades later, my feelings have completely changed. What I considered chaotic in the past actually looks full of life and energy to me now. What I saw as untidy now seems to be a precious connection to a bygone era, when the bustling docks at the Triangular Pier area was just right around the corner. Not to mention that I now find the natural odour of dried scallops and mushrooms smell much better than the artificial fragrances in shopping malls. The Triangular Pier and other Sheung Wan/ Sai Ying Pun piers are long gone. Where the shore once was has become an arterial road and concrete overpass. It is amazing to see that after a century of urban transformations, the seafood shops and nam pak hong wholesale companies are still thriving. Time may have changed, but the demands for traditional taste seems to have passed on.

Since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) in China, a large group of merchants, mainly from Chiu Chow (潮州) in Eastern Guangdong, have migrated to various locations in Southeast Asia. The growing diaspora communities generated a great demand of Chinese goods in Southeast Asia, while there is also a strong demand in China and elsewhere for rice, spices and other products from Southeast Asia. As a free port situated right in the middle between China and Southeast Asia, Hong Kong was the perfect place for Chinese merchants (especially Chiu Chow businessmen) to set up their trading companies. These have become the original nam pak hongs (南北行), literally means ”south north companies). Situated in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun, these nam pak hongs were the most influential Chinese businesses in the first century of colonial Hong Kong. With fleets of junk boats and aid of the monsoon winds, these companies established Hong Kong as a hub in the midst of trading routes. Some of their shipped products, such as dried seafood, were also sold by wholesale and retail shops in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. Clustered in several streets near the former Triangular Pier, many of these shops survived till the present day and have been promoted as the famous Street of Dried Seafood and Tonic Food (海味參茸燕窩街). As time goes by, some of their merchandises have also evolved to cater for modern lifestyle, but dried seafood, herbs, and traditional tonic food (such as ginseng) still remain popular along locals, especially as gifts during Chinese New Year.

Situated about 300m from the waterfront, Bonham Strand and Bonham Strand West marked the original shoreline of Sheung Wan before the colonial government began the massive land reclamation of the north shore of Hong Kong Island. [2021]
Nicknamed “Nam Pak Hong Street”, Bonham Strand West is still full of traditional trading companies specialised in tonic products and dried seafood. Ginseng, deer velvet antler and dried seafood (參茸海味) is the general term that describes the products available from these nam pak hongs. [2021]
On Bonham Strand West (文咸西街), the abundance of Asian tonic food and Chinese medicine wholesale companies signify that there is a decent demand of traditional dietary supplements, such as products made from deer velvet antler, in the city. [2021]
In the old days, it was common to see seafood and herbs being sun dried on roofs and streets in this part of the city. Today, drying seafood on the sidewalk remain as a common sight, while the roofs of buildings are probably occupied by modern mechanical equipments. [2021]
Good for making Chinese soup, ham from Southeast China is a highly popular product in the area. [2021]
Ko Shing Street (高陞街) is the hub of Chinese herbal medicine since late 19th century. [2021]
Within the rich visual context of Ko Shing Street, even a series of chaotic ductwork would not appear too out of place. [2021]
What is interesting about the street scenery of Hong Kong is that just a kilometre or two from the luxury shopfronts in the business district of Central, one can enter a completely different world surrounded by dried seafood and aged old shops. [2021]
Between Des Voeux Road West and Ko Shing Strret, dried seafood and herbs shops open right to the pedestrianised Sutherland Street (修打蘭街). [2021]
Probably won’t please the customers nowadays, some shop owners still sun dry their products in back alleys behind their shops. [2021]
Queen’s Road West, the western stretch of the city’s first main road, continues to present a nostalgic ambience from a bygone era, especially when the nearby nam pak hongs take out their products to dry on the sidewalk. [2021]
Dried octopus is another popular ingredient for traditional Chinese soup. [2021]
Nicknamed ”Bird Bridge” (雀仔橋), the iconic bend of stone wall at Queen’s Road West in Sai Ying Pun was originally part of a coastal embankment. Today, it stood at about 450m inland from the waterfront. [2021]
Across from ”Bird Bridge” (雀仔橋), a series of shops selling Chinese medicine and herbs were making final preparation of moving out their old premises due to urban redevelopment projects in the area. [2021]
The ”Bird Bridge” area is undergoing the process of urban redevelopment. A number of its herb stores will be moving away. Along with the shop owners, probably their elderly staff and shop cats will gradually disappear in the area. [2022]
Apart from Sheung Wan, the adjacent Sai Ying Pun also lies in the heart of the bustling scenes of the Street of Dried Seafood. [Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2022]
For most people, the stretch of Des Voeux Road West (德輔道西) west of the former Triangular Pier is essential the Street of Dried Seafood. [Photo: Des Voeux Road West, 2020]
Despite being a major thoroughfare busy with all kinds of vehicular traffic from buses and trams, to private cars and trucks, this stretch of Des Voeux Road still maintains a nostalgic ambience, as dried seafood such as (sea cucumbers and salted fish can be found everywhere on the sidewalks. [2021]
Some of the dried seafood shops on Des Voeux Road West have been around for over a century. [2022]
Cantonese salted fish was once a popular local dish in Hong Kong. Studies in recent decades have revealed that salted fish is a kind of carcinogen harmful to a person’s health with a constant intake. Sales of salted fish has significantly declined since then. [Photo: Des Voeux Road West, 2022]
A wall full of Chinese dry cured ham on Des Voeux Road West is certainly eye catching. [Photo: Des Voeux Road West, 2022]
A dried seafood shop has participated in the HK Urban Canvas shutter art project organized by Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation. [2021]
Hong Kong was once famous for dried golden oysters. the industry has suffered significant setbacks due to the deteriorating water quality at Shenzhen Bay. [2021]
At a road crossing, a staff trolleys a cart of merchandises across Des Veoux Road West. [2020]
Entering the third year of Covid, some dried seafood shops have decided to terminate their business. [2022]
It is strange to see a stuffed deer is being used to promote a number of traditional tonic food made from various parts of a deer. [2020]
Wherever there a cluster of old dried seafood shops in Hong Kong, sighting of the feline shopkeepers would almost be a guarantee. [2022]
These shop cats seem to know the area of the Dried Seafood Street very well, and would often greet customers after their afternoon naps. [2022]

2 responses

  1. “Watching these hectic actions from the upper tram deck as a child, I used to dislike all the disorder on the Street of Dried Seafood.” This was also how I felt when I saw a chaotic scene unfolding before my eyes when I was little. But today, I have a completely different feeling toward it, especially after living in Jakarta for more than ten years. I guess as we age, the way we see the world mellows out.

    March 14, 2022 at 2:32 am

    • Yes. Perhaps as we age, we have developed certain patience and understanding we need in order to appreciate a more complex world, and would see things beyond just their chaotic appearances.

      March 14, 2022 at 4:01 am

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