ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Bo Tai Hong

THE COMMUNITY SOUL, Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), Hong Kong

Nowadays, there is a common development model in Hong Kong: erecting a series of residential towers atop a multi-storey shopping mall, and a transport interchange underneath for buses, minibuses, and the MTR metro. Everything from supermarkets, retail chains, food and beverage franchises, healthcare services, beauty and personal care, entertainment venues, community services, etc. would all be housed within the mall. Without much site specific character and community connections, a typical mall environment with the same group of shops that can be found everywhere in the city, essentially replaces the high street in a neighbourhood. Knocking down low rise buildings, erasing small alleys, and replacing with huge malls and high rise residential estates is luring business for developers, and is happening in many neighbourhoods across the city. So far, the majority of Sai Ying Pun has been spared from this large scale redevelopment force. Its century old urban fabric remains largely intact despite rapid gentrification in recent years. Within its grid street system, quite a number of shops have been serving the community for more than a generation. According to a university study, about 50% of Sai Ying Pun’s 35,960 population actually works in the same district. Residents have a high chance to interact with their neighbours while visiting the 700+ shops on street level. The recent arrival of foreign expats, along with new lifestyle shops, fine dining restaurants, pubs and cafes seem to harmoniously coexist with the traditional businesses of the community, reshaping the soul of a century-old neighbourhood in an interesting way.


Living in close proximity since 2019, we have become regular visitors to Sai Ying Pun. Every week we would walk over to drop off our household recyclables there, pick up grocery from our favourite tofu shop, vegetable stall, local sauce store and fishmonger, get restaurant takeouts, enjoy a traditional dim-sum breakfast or a Chinese dessert, and occasionally get haircut at an one-man salon. Sai Ying Pun has essentially become a part of our lives. Seeing the recent changes of Sai Ying Pun and the aging shopkeepers make us wonder how many of its unique old shops would remain in a decade’s time. Before all is lost, we felt it would be nice to document the urban scenery of this traditional neighbourhood as of today. With the humanistic scale and close knitted relationship within the community, this is essentially the soul of Sai Ying Pun that no shopping mall can ever replace.

Established in 1855, Yuen Kee Dessert (源記甜品專家) on Centre Street is the City’s oldest dessert restaurant. Traditional Chinese dessert is usually served hot. We sometimes drop by Yuen Kee after grocery shopping, especially during winter when we crave for something warm and sweet. [2022]
Nothing inside Yuen Kee seems to be over a hundred years old, as the dessert shop has moved three times during the course of history. [2022]
Yuen Kee is well known for a number of traditional Chinese dessert, especially the sweet herbal tea with lotus seeds and egg (in photo right to the bowl), and the steamed egg cake. We usually ordered one of the more common ones such as almond soup, black sesame soup or walnut soup. [2022]
On Western Street, Tuck Chong Sum Kee Bamboo Steamer (德昌森記蒸籠) has become a tourist attraction in recent years, thanks to handicraft fairs, blogs, magazines, and social media, and the fact that it is one of the last handmade bamboo workshops in Hong Kong. [2022]
Not every product is handmade by the shop. For the ones that are, they will be reflected in the price tag. [2022]
The shop sells all kinds of bamboo steamers from large to mini. Some foreign tourists would get the small ones as souvenirs. We got a medium size handmade one for steaming dishes at home. [2022]
Snake King Hoi or She Wong Hoi (蛇王海) has been serving the Sai Ying Pun community for over thirty years. In the evening during winter months, there are usually two lines queuing in front of the shop, one for sit in dining and the other for takeout. [2022]
Snake soup, mutton stew, smoked chicken and glutinous rice are the signature dishes. [2021]
Cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) or Hong Kong style cafe is a type of local restaurants emerged after WWII, providing fusion dishes in economical prices for locals who couldn’t afford Western fine dining. Signature dishes of cha chaan teng include Hong Kong style milk tea, yuenyeung or coffee with tea, egg tart and pineapple bun. Every neighbourhood in the city has its collection of cha chaan teng. 60-year Luen Wah Cafe (聯華茶餐廳) on Centre Street is probably most well known one for Sai Ying Pun. [2022]
With a row of banquette seating and a mezzanine over the main dining area, Luen Wah Cafe maintains a typical cha chaan teng layout from mid 20th century. [2020]
Out of all the shops in Sai Ying Pun, Kwan Hing Kee (關興記) on Third Street is probably the one that we have visited the most. Opened in 1928, Kwan Hing Kee is specialized in tofu, soy products and a range of local ingredients. We often come for tofu, tofu dessert, tofu skin, beansprouts, fish balls, beef balls, etc. [2020]
Being one of the 20 old shops participating in Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation‘s Hong Kong Urban Canvas project, the shutter of Kwan Hing Kee has been painted with the image of the owner and her cat. The NGO aims to promote traditional shops in Sai Wan, Central and Wanchai with art and tours. [2020]
Forgot since when, there would always be a bottle of Yu Kwen Yik (余均益) chilly sauce in our fridge. Recently we just found out that Yu Kwen Yik is going to celebrate their 100th anniversary this year in 2022. Starting from a market hawker, this famous shop on Third Street has become a Hong Kong classic, serving the community of Sai Ying Pun and beyond for generations. [2022]
Recommended by Michelin Guide, Ying Kee (英記) on High Street is a well known noodle in Sai Ying Pun famous for beef flank noodles, BBQ pork noodles and deep fried wanton. We sometimes come here for late lunch or afternoon light meals. [2022]
As a “southern goods” store (南貨店), Ming Kee (銘記) on Third Street sells all sort of traditional condiments and food products that are originated from south of Yangtze River. We used to get our sauces and cooking wine here. Sadly, like many small shops in Hong Kong, Ming Kee Sai Ying Pun is closed down for good during the pandemic. [2021]
It is sad to know that we won’t be able to see the big cat of Ming Kee again. [2021]
As a traditional rice shop, Sing Tak Lung (成德隆) on First Street has become a rarity in Hong Kong, as most people would get package rice from supermarkets nowadays. Nonetheless, this old shop is still serving restaurant clients and elderly residents in Sai Ying Pun, who come for their “house blend” mix of rice. [2020]
Hing Kee Wine Shop (興記酒莊) on High Street is a traditional convenient syore selling everything from Chinese and Western alcohol to snacks and soft drinks. [2020]
Between 1973-85, Hong Kong was the biggest garment manufacturer in the world. At its peak, the industry employed between 250,000 and 300,000 skilled workers. As factories began to move elsewhere where wages were lower, some former garment workers have switched to become garment alteration specialist. Occupying the space below the stair of an old tenement apartment, Gum Sha Garment Alteration (金莎) on Queen’s Road West has been around for quite some time. [2020]
Compare to the adjacent cafes and restaurant on High Street, the shopfront of Lei Kuen Plumbing and Construction (利權) presents another kind of chaotic beauty that is down to earth and causal. [2020]
Established in 1960’s as a street vendor, Tropical Fish Aquarium (熱帶魚水族) on Second Street is the last remaining aquarium shop in Sai Ying Pun. Aquarium shops have seen better days when keeping fish and turtles at home was a popular hobby, and there were more than ten aquarium shops in Sai Wan alone. [2022]
At night, the violet lights of Tropical Fish Aquarium adds a dreamy feeling to the tranquil street. [2022]
Access from a side alley off Queen’s Road West, Wong’s Hair Salon (亞黃理髮), a traditional hair salon attracts pedestrian’s attention with delightful colours and friendly prices. [2022]
At the corner of Western Street and Second Street, the no-frills barber shop Wing Kee (榮記) offers affordable haircuts to the community, HK$40 (about US$5) for haircut only. [2022]
Apart from Wing Kee, there are quite a number of small hair salons in the area, including MW Hair Design on Second Street, an one-man salon richly decorated with objects that the owner gathered from flea markets in different countries. [2022]
Traditional Chinese medicine is quite popular among the elderly. Opened since 1977, Fung Wun Gam (馮煥錦) Chinese bonesetter and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner on Second Street has been serving the community for over forty years. [2022]
Lau Ying Leung (劉英亮) bonesetter on Queen’s Road West is another traditional medical consultant in Sai Ying Pun. [2021]
But perhaps the most well known traditional bonesetter should be Chiu Sing Nam (趙醒楠) on Queen’s Road West. [2022]
Established for half a century, Chiu Sing Nam is famous for its massage oil to treat minor bone injuries. [2022]
Other traditional shops in an old neighbourhood includes zhizha (紙紮鋪) or Taoist ritual paper shop. These shops sell everything related to traditional Chinese religious rituals (combination of Taoist and Buddhist). First established in 1933, Wing Sing Ho (永盛號) has been at its Pokfulam Road location since 1973. [2022]
Jun Sing Hong (俊城行) on Queen’s Road West is probably one of the biggest zhizha (紙紮鋪) in Hong Kong. Traditionally, people would burn paper products (usually paper miniature of objects from the real world) in funerals as gifts for the deceased, believing that the products burnt would be received in the afterworld. [2021]
While there is still demand for this tradition, over 90% of paper products are now imported from China. Zhizha craftsmen in Hong Kong have almost disappeared in recent years. Even as big as Jun Sing Hong, only one craftsman remains in the shop. Imported paper products for the deceased have been evolving over the years. Today, for a few hundred HK Dollars, customers can get paper miniature of a Lamborghini, or a house with a pretty housekeeper, or a 5G Iphone. [2021]
Adjacent to Jun Sing Hong, Bo Tai Hong (寶泰行) also sells zhizag paper products. Their craftsman master Mak has been making custom paper products from Toy Story figures, grand buildings to even football stadium. These zhizha stores also sell traditional decorations for Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Festival. [2021]