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Posts tagged “Lan Fong Yuen

CULTURE OF DISAPPEARANCE: DAI PAI DONG (大排檔), Central (中環), Hong Kong

In 2016, “dai pai dong” was added as a Hong Kong English term in the Oxford English Dictionary, referring as “a traditional licensed street stall, typically with a small seating area, selling cooked food at low prices; (now more generally) any food stall of this type.” The term “dai pai dong” 大牌檔 literally means “big license stall”, which attributes to their bigger license paper compared to other street vendors. In Chinese, “dai pai dong” can also be written as 大排檔, meaning a “row of line-up stalls”. Street hawkers have been around in Hong Kong for over a century. The number of street hawkers increased dramatically after WWII, when unemployed citizens were eager to make a living by setting up all sort of vendor stalls on the street, including food stalls. In response, the government put forward “dai pai dong” licenses as a measure to regulate and standardize the food stalls. During its heyday between 1950’s to 1970’s, some say there were more than 3000 dai pai dongs across the city. To control street hygiene, avoid traffic congestion and give priority to urban developments, the government stopped issuing dai pai dong licenses in 1956, and restricted license transfer to spouse only, eliminating the chance of passing the business down the generation. As the city’s economy boomed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, dining options exponentially increased. Along with the government’s constraints and fierce competition of dining options, undesirable hygiene, absence of air conditioning, and the relatively crowded seating have all led to the dwindling of dai pai dongs. In 2011, there were 28 dai pai dongs left in Hong Kong: Central (10 stalls), Wanchai (3 stalls), Sham Shui Po (14 stalls), and Outer Islands (1 stall). From one of the most popular causal dining options in the 1960’s to a disappearing urban heritage that appears as diorama in history museums nowadays, the rise and fall of dai pai dongs reflects the rapid evolution of Hong Kong in the latter half of the 20th century.

Often promoted as a unique component of Hong Kong’s culinary heritage, scenes of dai pai dongs are often displayed as backdrops in museums and amusement parks. A typical dai pai dong consists of a 4′ x 6′ green metal stall used as kitchen, and a long bench topped with three small wooden stools as extra seating. In the past, the number of customers was restricted to two folding tables and eight portable chairs. Opened for breakfast, lunch, dinner or late night meals, dai pai dong may serve congee, noodles, stir fry, dessert, and/or coffee/tea. Despite street stalls are disappearing fast, dai pai dong dishes and their cooking techniques have been well preserved at many neighbourhood restaurants in Hong Kong. Often described as good wok hei (鑊氣), which literally means excellent “breath of wok” or the rich aroma and flavour of the wok, the spirit of dai pai dong cuisine remains as one of the essential aspects of the local cuisine. While the taste of dai pai dong may live long, it is the vibrant street ambience, the causal interactions with vendors and fellow customers, and the carefree dining experience topped with cheap beer and loud laughter that would certainly be missed.

Man Yuen Noodles (民園麵家), a former 80-year old dai pai dong in Soho, Central, was the spark that ignited the city’s attention on dai pai dong conservation. In 2005, there were 30 dai pai dongs left in Hong Kong. Wong Kwong Hing (黃光慶), the license holder of Man Yuen Noodles, passed away. The Lee brothers, disciplines of Wong’s father and the operators of Man Yuen for many decades, attempted to continue the hawker license but were rejected by the government. A number of district councillors, legislators, and 3000+ Hong Kongers made a petition, urging the government to let the Lee brothers continue with the business. Their petition failed, and the famous street stall was forced to close down. Yet, the 2005 incident successfully captured the media’s attention and brought out the issue of the dying culture to the public. The conservation effort gained momentum in the next couple of years, and eventually led to the change of license regulations in 2008, allowing non spousal license transfer to be considered. Despite the effort, the numbers of dai pai dongs continue to drop. Without anyone’s notice, the end of dai pai dong could become reality in less than a generation’s time.

After their dai pai dong was forced to shut down in 2005, the elder Lee brother of Man Yuen Noodles (民園麵家) reopened a 300 sq.ft restaurant just across the street from its former location. We visited this small noodle shop several times until the owners retired in March 2016. [Elgin Street (伊利近街), Central, 2016]
In 1990, Yuk Yip Dessert (玉葉甜品) moved to Elgin Street (伊利近街) right beside Man Yuen Noodles. From then on, the two stalls shared the same menu which included both noodles and Chinese dessert. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2021]
Today, Yuk Yip Dessert remains as the only dai pai dong left in Soho, Central. Some say Yuk Yip is now operated by the younger Lee brother of Man Yuen Noodles, and his wife, the fourth generation owner of the vintage dessert stall. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2021]
Today, Yuk Yip Dessert continues to serve beef brisket, pork knuckle, wanton and dumpling noodles (recipe probably from the former Man Yuen Noodles), as well as Chinese dessert. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2016]
In fact, the hundred-year-old Yuk Yip Dessert has been around in Central for several generations. They continues to offer traditional dessert such as tong but lut (糖不甩), a Cantonese dessert made of glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup and crushed roasted peanut. [Junction of Elgin Street and Hollywood Road, Central, 2016]
A long bench with small seats at Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) presents the old way of squeezing a few more seats beyond the official table and chair limits. These have pretty much become exterior decorations now as Lan Fong Yuen has moved into a fully enclosed restaurant space behind the street stall. [Gage Street, Central, 2014]
Despite Lan Fong Yuen has become an air conditioned restaurant, their metal stall on Gage Street (結志街) continues to serve simple takeouts, including Hong Kong style milk tea which is claimed to be an invention by the owner of Lan Fong Yuen decades ago. [Gage Street, Central, 2021]
Towering scaffolding and the tiny metal stall of Leung Pui Kee (梁培記) mark the entrance of Gutzlaff Street (吉士笠街) at Wellington Street (威靈頓街). Established in 1914, Leung Pui Kee Locksmith has been serving banks and shops in Central for over a century. Now the stall is being swallowed by the redevelopment construction. [Junction of Gutzlaff Street and Wellington Street, Central, 2020]
Further towards Stanley Street (士丹利街), Gutzlaff Street (吉士笠街) is home to Shui Kee (水記) dai pai dong. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
For over 60 years, Shui Kee (水記) has been serving beef brisket and entrails in Central. With construction cranes and scaffolding closing in from Graham Street and Wellington Street, over half of Gutzlaff Street, a pedestrian lane once dotted with street eateries, would eventually be demolished to make way for new hotel and office towers. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2020]
Shui Kee is situated on a slightly sloped lane. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Awning covers, folded tables and plastic chairs define the dining area of Shui Kee. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Lam Kin Wing (林健永), the third generation owner of Shui Kee, took over the business over two decades ago after his father retired. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Eating at dai pai dong offers locals and tourists a vintage dining experience. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Shui Kee is well known for its fresh beef entrails (牛雜). Unlike frozen ones, fresh beef entrails have a more chewy texture and richer favour. Due to the time and effort involved in cleaning and preparing fresh entrails, it’s quite difficult to find them nowadays. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
For those who is not a big fan of beef entrails (stomachs), beef brisket is another decent alternative at Shui Kee. [Gutzlaff Street, Central, 2021]
Stanley Street (士丹利街) is one of the last spots in Central where dai pai dong hawkers still set up folding tables and portable chairs daily to provide an affordable alternative to the restaurant franchises, fast food chains, and Michelin star restaurants in the area. [Stanlet Street, Central, 2014]
Dai pai dong offers some of the best opportunities for people watching and interaction with the locals. [Stanley Street, Central, 2014]
While dai pai dong offers a unique street dining experience, the summer heat can make it a sweaty one. [Stanley Street, Central, 2014]
In Central, dai pai dongs can only be found at pedestrian-only alleyways. [Stanley Street, Central, 2014]
Perhaps in less than a decade, this affordable dining culture will become history, and only exist in photos and movies like Chungking Express. [Stanley Street, Central, 2021]
Other than Gutzlaff Street, Staveley Street (士他花利街) is another alleyway that is facing the fate of demolition. Staveley Street was once dotted with dai pai dongs and small printing shops. Now they are mostly gone. [Staveley Street, 2014]
Small family owned printing companies once flourished in the alleyways of Central-Sheung Wan. Entering the digital era, most of these shop owners are calling it a day and close their business for good. [Staveley Street, 2014]
Most of Staveley Street will be knocked down and the alleyway would become a dead end. [Staveley Street, 2014]
Wah Kee Restaurant (華記食店) is one of the last businesses still in operation at Staveley Street. [Staveley Street, 2014]
The tri-colour cat of Wah Kee Restaurant (華記食店) watched the last customers leaving Staveley Street after lunch hour. [Staveley Street, 2021]

REVERIE OF CHUNGKING EXPRESS: URBAN ESCALATORS, Central – Mid Levels (中環-半山), Hong Kong

Moving up the hill on the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator is a pleasant way to experience the urban scenery of Hong Kong. [Escalator at Soho, 2014]
From vibrant city scenes to quiet residential neighborhoods, the escalator journey offers visitors a continuous sequence of moving pictures. [Escalator near Caine Road, 2014]
The higher the escalator reaches, the more residential the scenery gets. [Escalator near Mosque Street, 2014]

Whenever I flew with Cathay Pacific, I often selected Wong Kar Wai’s (王家衛) Chungking Express (重慶森林) from their entertainment system when I was about to take a nap. Indulging myself in the repeating music of Dennis Brown’s Things in Life and The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreamin’, and Christopher Doyle’s dynamic shots of Tsim Sha Tsui and Central always relaxed my mind. Chungking Express is undoubtedly one of my most favorite Hong Kong films. Chungking Express is lighthearted, complex, ambiguous, and beautiful. There are two stories in the film. The first story follows policeman 233 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a female drug smuggler (Brigitte Lin) at Chungking Mansion in Tsim Sha Tsui. The second story follows policeman 633 (Tony Leung) and a female staff (Faye Wong) at Midnight Express, a snack bar in the entertainment district of Central. Released in 1994, three years before Hong Kong was returned to China, the film did capture a mixed bag of sentiments and mood of that era: sense of uncertainty, ambiguity, loneliness, loss, affection, impermanence, desire to change, hope for a brighter future, etc. Without pretentious shots of the city’s famous skyline, Chungking Express is a visually dazzling film that captures the daily life of Hong Kongers happened in wet market, snack bar, old tenement apartment, convenience store, and the Chungking Mansion, a huge mixed use complex in Kowloon where new immigrants and tourists gather and stay the night. Director Wong Kar Wai describes the film as his love letter to Hong Kong. 27 years have passed. Chungking Express remains as an icon of Hong Kong cinema, and an exquisite documentation of the ever-changing city in that particular moment in history.

Perhaps it is because both protagonists Tony Leung (梁朝偉) and Faye Wong (王菲) are two of my favorite Hong Kong stars back in the 1990’s, or The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreamin’ is too overpowering, or the filming locations in Central are just a few blocks from where I spent my childhood, I always like the story of Midnight Express more. Every time watching the film would remind me the old Central before the disastrous urban renewal projects that have torn apart Graham Street Market and gentrification that have wiped out uncounted tenement apartments and small shop owners who can no longer afford the skyrocketed rent. 1994 also marked the first anniversary of the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator (中環至半山自動扶梯), a 800m escalator system from Downtown Central up to the Mid-Levels. Wong Kar Wai chose the escalator and an adjacent apartment unit (home of Christopher Doyle, the legendary cinematographer of many Wong’s films) as the major film set for Chungking Express. Wong’s selection prominently imprints the escalator in the cultural atlas of the city, and introduces such unique urban feature to the whole world. In fact, the success of Chungking Express has consolidated Wong Kar Kai’s name onto the stage of international cinema, paving the way for his triumphs in the later half of the 1990’s, including Happy Together and In the Mood for Love.

Today, the 800m escalators system remains the longest in the world, and a popular tourist attraction. In 2015, CNN website picked the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator as one of the coolest commutes in the world. The idea of building an urban escalator system began in early 1980’s, when the Hong Kong government considered various options to improve traffic and pedestrian circulation between Central, the business district of Hong Kong, and Mid Levels, the residential neighbourhood on the slope of Victoria Peak. Cable car and monorail were also considered, but an escalator system was eventually selected. After 2.5 years of construction, the system was opened to the public in 1993. Wong Kar Wai seized the opportunity and became the first director to shoot a movie there. The escalator soon became popular among residents and office workers in Central, and led to dramatic gentrification of the surroundings. Buildings along the escalator system were torn down for new apartments. Small shops were replaced by bars and upscale restaurants, forming a vibrant entertainment district that we now call Soho. For both good and bad, the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator has been a major catalyst that wipes out the old Central I have known as a child. Yet on the other hand, the convenience it brings us who live in the area has undeniably become an inseparable part of our daily routine.

Cochrane Street (閣麟街) is one of the hilly streets going uphill from Queen’s Road Central (皇后大道中). Today, the junction of Cochrane Street and Queen’s Road Central is where the Central – Mid-Levels Escalator begins to climb uphill.
[Cochrane Street: Wellcome Library, London. By John Thomson, 1868 / 1871. http://wellcomeimages.org. Creative Commons CC BY 4.0]
The streetscape of Cochrane Street (閣麟街) has completely transformed after the escalator was built in 1993. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Queen’s Road Central, 2014]
Looking down from the escalator, Stanley Street (士丹利街) is one of the last few spots in Central that dai pai dong (大排檔) or street eateries can still be found. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Stanley Street, 2016]
In Chungking Express, Tony Leung often comes here for lunch and Faye Wong would come by after getting grocery from Graham Street Market just around the corner. [Street eateries near the junction of Stanley Street and Graham Street, 2014]
Apart from distant traffic noises and pedestrian chattering, live music is occasionally heard on the escalator. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Wellington Street, 2018]
Stairs and elevators are provided at street intersections for access to the escalator system. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2020]
The escalator reaches Gage Street (結志街) at the end of Cochrane Street (閣麟街). Gage Street has long been part of the Graham Street Market, the oldest open market in Hong Kong with 160 years of history. Today, the once vibrant street market has been partially demolished by the profit making Urban Renewal Authority for residential developments. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2020]
Near the intersection of Gage Street (結志街), Cochrane Street (閣麟街) and Lyndhurst Terrace (擺花街), an old Hong Kong-style cafe called Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Established in 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is known as the place where Hong Kong style milk tea was invented. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
Below the escalator, tourists and locals queued outside Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2014]
Sometimes the Lan Fong Yuen queue can get a little chaotic, especially when there are trucks coming into Gage Street. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2014]
The two seats outside Lan Fong Yuen are probably the smallest dai pai dong or street vendors I have seen in the area. Watching pedestrians moving on the escalator would probably distract the customers from their meal. [Junction of Cochrane Street and Gage Street, 2014]
At many occasions, the escalator would get awfully close to the adjacent buildings. Sometimes, escalator pedestrians can make direct eye contact with people inside the building. [Junction of Cochrane Street, Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
At many occasions, pedestrians on the escalator system can make direct eye contact with people inside the building. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2021]
The one-way escalators move downhill everyday from 6 to 10am, and uphill from 10am to midnight. [Junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Gage Street, 2020]
When the escalator reaches Hollywood Road (荷李活道), the scenery from the escalator is dominated by the former police headquarters known as Tai Kwun (大館). Tai Kwun has been converted into a cultural and entertainment complex in recent years. [Junction of escalator and Hollywood Road, 2018]
A connection bridge was built a few years ago to link up the escalator and the side entrance of Tai Kwun. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Old Bailey Street, 2018]
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator and Soho entertainment district are popular among tourists ever since its completion. [Junction of Shelley and Hollywood Road, 2014]
The escalator brings office workers from the financial district up to the bars and restaurants in Soho. [Near junction of Shelley Street and Staunton Street, 2020]
In the heart of Soho, the escalators is cut off at Staunton Street (士丹頓街). [Junction of Shelley Street and Staunton Street, 2014]
Fancy restaurants and lively bars have transformed the once peaceful residential Elgin Street (伊利近街). [Junction of escalator and Elgin Street, 2020]
The pace of the escalator is ideal for a leisure wander in the hilly neighbourhoods. [Escalator near Elgin Street, 2014]
The Central – Mid-Levels Escalator is a modern alternative of the old ladder streets of Hong Kong. [Escalator near Elgin Street, 2014]
Above Hollywood Road (荷李活道), the escalator continues up the sloped Shelley Street (些利街) in segments. [Shelley Street as viewed from landing at Caine Road, 2020]
Above Caine Road (堅道), the escalator entered the district of Mid-Levels (半山), an affluent residential district right above Downtown Hong Kong. [Escalator south of Caine Road, 2020]
Before hitting Mosque Street (摩羅廟街), the escalator passes by the entrance Jamia Masjid Mosque, the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. [Jamia Masjid Mosque, north of Mosque Street, 2020]
Jamia Masjid Mosque is also called Lascar Temple. Built in 1849 and rebuilt in 1915, the beautiful mosque is listed as a Grade 1 historical building. [Jamia Mosque, 2020]
Built in early 20th century, the three storey building offered free accommodation to mosque worshipers. [Jamia Mosque, 2014]
Around Jamia Masjid Mosque, the escalator snakes through clusters of apartments. [Escalator at Mosque Junction, 2014]
Beyond Jamia Mosque, the escalator continued to climb up the slope towards Robinson Road (羅便臣道) and Conduit Road (干德道). [Escalator at Mosque Junction, 2014]