The sizzling dishes, the clatter, the aromas, and the crowds can all be found in the Dai Pai Dongs (literally “restaurant with big licence plate”). This is the name given to the official Government-licenced fast food stalls that form part of Hong Kong’s most amazing food experiences. Come along to people-watch, share a table with strangers, and indulge! Street food here goes beyond the exquisite flavours and electric atmosphere, as for Hongkongers, this is a serious business!
Having travelled in Hong Kong a couple of times, I have began to appreciate exactly what street food means to the locals. Food is a reason to get together and have a chinwag after work, with friends, family, and co-workers. In this regard, dai pai dongs in Hong Kong are similar to hawkers in Singapore or even pojangmacha in South Korea. Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon has a small collection of great dai pai dongs, and as this is a big tourist area, business is still booming! As a general rule, there isn’t much English spoken among the dai pai dong vendors, so just point at what ever dish looks good, or whatever your neighbour is having.
One thing that I was not aware of when sampling some local street food in Hong Kong is that you are kind of forced to share a table with other customers, which is very awkward at first – especially if I cannot speak Cantonese (or they cannot speak English!). Usually, you find a table and then order from the dai pai dong. You collect the food while you wait – there is no table service or waitresses! The vendors here have tasty and cheap offerings like fish balls, tofu, meats on skewers, and bowls of noodles – all for a dollar or two. All you need to do is point at the picture menu, and the vendors will boil/deep fry it for you on the spot while you wait!
Whatever it is that you fancy eating, you can probably find it in the dai pai dongs, especially in Central or Sham Shui Po. The vendors will be only too happy to
take your money help you get fed. Mainland Chinese and Japanese snacks (takoyaki, udon noodles, dim sum, youtiao) are extremely popular, but there are staples of Hong Kong cuisine that interested me most, such as the pork chop bun, egg waffles, put chai ko, eggs tarts, and milk tea. And yes, I did try them all!
Even though it is great to get a taste of the nation’s cuisine, caution is always advised when eating on the streets. Hong Kong’s dai pai dongs are not quite as hygienic as similar vendors in Japan or South Korea (and certainly not from Singapore). In fact, I would rate Hong Kong’s street food on par with Thai and Vietnamese in terms of hygiene. Always make sure your food is piping hot when it is served to you, and avoid foods that look like they have been sitting there for a while.