HK 2013 – Graham Street Dai Pai Dong @ CentralNovember 22, 2013 | 5,988 views
Sing Kee @ Graham Street/Stanley Street – The last of the “Dai Pai Dong”?
Thanks to this article on Graham Street highlighting the grim future of the oldest street market on the island; an enduring 160 years (!), I was drawn to the street located in Central, Hong Kong almost like a moth to the lights. Immediately I plotted this in into my itinerary and vowed to pay the morning market a visit, and subsequently a ‘dai pai dong’ (this term literally translates to ‘big license stall’ actually refers to ‘al fresco’ food stands or stalls set up usually at back alleys or by the side walk) dinner at one of the most iconic ones out of the less than 30 now still licensed in the country!
If you have at least watched one TVB drama or Hong Kong movie in your life, you must have caught a glimpse of the characters joyfully tucking in to their plateful of fried noodles (dry fried beef kuey teow is one of them), fresh clams cooked with black pepper, steamed fish and stir fried beef with tomatoes; then downed with bottles of beer.
And we did just that. Read on for a rather unconventional food stop in Hong Kong, but one that you REALLY should pay a visit before they are vanished forever.
Central Mid-Level Escalator must have saved a lot of limbs; connecting you uphill from Queen’s Road Central all the way to Hollywood Road; and a few bisecting streets.
First of all, to get to Central in Hong Kong is not hard at all. The MTR red line (Tsuen Wan – Central) and MTR Island Line (Sheung Wan – Chai Wan) runs almost every other minute in each station, and you should really buy an Octopus card (like our Touch N’ Go) for easier travel. Refundable deposit of HKD50, and chargeable HKD9 for service fee. You can purchase this at any MTR station (recommended) or convenience stores (7-11, Circle K, etc but not recommended as the Octopus card sold here are non-refundable.
*Btw, the current exchange rate is HKD100 = RM42
From Central MTR station, just take the D2 exit to Queen’s Road Central/Graham Street and you should reach there by walking for about 10 minutes. Graham Street is an uphill climb from Queen’s Road Central all the way to Hollywood Road. The Dai Pai Dong area consists a handful of stalls located behind some dingy, poorly-lit back alleys so don’t be expecting a bright, sterile environment like a food court or cooked food centre.
Even on a weekday, the place can be really crowded with people from all walks of life, including a healthy bunch of foreigners and tourists
By all means, come early for a better chance of grabbing a vacant seat or better lighting for photography. The dim neon lights from the stall and surrounding street lights may cast shadows to your shots. But on the other hand, this added character to the shots; infusing a certain element of street style to the food pictures.
The stalls are opened from day til night, so feel free to drop by anytime when you are around Central or Sheung Wan. The only catch here is that, do give lunch hours on weekdays a miss as the office crowd will swell to astronomical proportion.
Sweet & Sour Ribs was a delightful Hong Kong rendition of my beloved Sweet & Sour Pork (Gu Lou Yuk); simply paired with bell peppers and coated in an appetizing tomato-based sauce. The crunchy batter coating the pork was excellent.
Thankfully, they do have a menu in English. This is inevitable, with Central being the CBD (central business district) or financial district of Hong Kong. Naturally, you will be able to see many expatriates, Western tourists and even ‘bananas’ like us (Chinese but brought up with Malay/English education) gleefully joining the crowd yet without a clue on what to order.
Good thing that we watch Hong Kong dramas a lot. So we know that the few signature items include Salt & Pepper (‘jiu yim’) cooked meat or seafood (in our case, we had the squid), stir-fried beef with tomatoes and the vegetable in season; ‘tung choi’ or watercress.
This was utterly delicious; stir fried tender slices of beef with fresh tomatoes and onions, in a gravy laden with Worchestershire, pepper and soy sauce.
If you ever decide to pay Hong Kong a visit, come during the colder months; November – February will be excellent. The temperature looms around 18 – 24 degrees Celcius, and dining by the streets and walking for miles at end felt much more forgiving.
We had to share a table with strangers; those blue-coloured plastic stools surrounding a round plastic table easily foldable and stashed away when they cease operations. The wait for the food was bearable even when the entire vicinity was bustling with commotion from the mix crowd, clanking sounds from the wok and people (or vultures?) snooping around for a vacant seat. It took them a good 15 minutes before our food was served.
A popular dish judging from the amount of orders this got; Salt & Pepper Squid with red and green chillies came with extremely fresh squid; bouncy to the bite and cooked lightly in a relatively salty stock.
Savouring warm food in such weather is a blessing. Especially when our pot of watercress soup with tofu and half a fish (the tail portion was served; studded with flesh yet possessing a slight muddy/earthy taste to it) arrived piping hot. The sweetness of the stock was evident, and the crunchy stalks of watercress provided us with much needed fibres for the essentially carnivorous feast.
The best dish was the Stir fried Beef with Tomatoes; followed by the fantastic Sweet & Sour Pork Ribs. Although the squid was fresh, the Salt & Pepper Squid paled in comparison in terms of flavours. Maybe this arrived much later; when we were almost satiated from the first 3 items.
If you cannot decide to whether should you order a plate of vegetables or a pot of soup, combine the selection and voila! Settled all your problems in one.
The meal came to HKD174/RM73/USD23 including plain rice and Chinese tea. A very reasonable price to pay I would say, given the prime location (Central) and this being Hong Kong after all. Most dishes are priced within HKD50/RM20/USD7 range, with seafood items on the higher end of the spectrum.
As most of the stalls should be closed after 7pm, you really need to look out for road signs pasted on the walls (look to the upper right of the picture) and then be alert for sounds of chopsticks, woks and pans.
The streets of Central still come to life after sundown, yet a far cry from how this picture would look like had I taken it 8 hours before.
GRAHAM STREET MARKET @ CENTRAL
Various shots of Graham Street Market @ Central, Hong Kong – Soon to be a missed sight; gone in history books.
Read more about Graham Street on Wikipedia.
SING KEE – GRAHAM STREET “DAI PAI DONG”
Graham Street – Stanley Street,
Central, Hong Kong
Opens from 11am – 3pm, 5pm – 11pm
Refer to the Hong Kong & Macau 2013 Food Map for location.