A food tour offers a peek into Sham Shui Po’s heart

In Hong Kong, you have a choice of roadside venues, whether they be hawkers with street stalls, dai pai dongs or the slightly more upmarket noodle carts – open fronted eateries line the streets through Hong Kong and Kowloon, whether it be glass cabinets, shopfronts or simple table and chairs, each has its speciality.

Sham Shui Po is lined with stalls selling produce, flowers, snacks and a variety of household goods and clothing. Stalls are stretched along the length of the streets. It has a vibrancy depicting its working-class background with locals dependent on the market strewn neighbourhood. We rarely see westerners on our tour of Sham Shui Po, such is the nature of this district to the north of more popular Kowloon or Mong Kok. This place has a pleasantly worn aesthetic packed with personality. Decaying old apartment blocks exist untouched and illustrate the rich fabric life across this district.

Sham Shui Po has a rich history as a blue-collar neighbourhood, which brings with it simple pleasures. It became a centre for textile manufacturing. It is a place to experience Hong Kong that can’t be found elsewhere in the city. It is an area of Hong Kong that has a significant proportion of elderly residents and is also one of the poorest.

This is suburban Hong Kong – market vendors plying their trade and selling their wares, the older generation traversing the streets and paths clattering about with their walking sticks or gently carousing the wheelchairs off the streets. Old folk are pulling their trolleys, filled with fresh vegetables and meat or fish obtained from the local wet markets, enough for their nightly meal. And amongst all this commotion, sit old folk chewing the fat on what is topical for the day…or just comment on the ‘guai lao’ walking past.

Taking a walking tour has, for us, become a way of getting to know a foreign place better and embracing the history and culture. It allows us to explore a unique side of the destination and our walking tour through Sham Shui Po is no exception. Our guide, William, informs us that tourists rarely venture to Sham Shui Po, settling for Mong Kok. As this district becomes more known for its vibrant street food experiences, this will change. William takes us on a leisurely stroll through Sham Shui Po that exposes the richness of an era gone by.

This is a district with gritty streets and public housing blocks, once a haven from gambling and drugs.  But as we walk the streets, Sham Shui Po seems much less threatening as we eat in noodle cart stalls and experience traditional Cantonese street food. Walking the streets bombards your senses with the smells and sounds from roadside stalls and local eateries.

Sham Shui Po is emerging as a traditional foodie haven, where traditional restaurants and dai pai dong are thriving. Fortunately, for the moment, this district is yet to give way to high rise development. The atmosphere is real and traditions still live strong amongst local life. Getting around this district gave us a perspective and glimpse beyond the surface and allowed us to experience a unique element of Hong Kong.

A local favourite for this district is the cart noodle, but rather than a traditional noodle cart, the vendor has established himself in a narrow shop. This modern version of the traditional street noodle carts serves noodles with tender beef and pomelo skin in a delicious soup. A more pleasant way to experience the noodles. We had our introduction to the Sham Shui Po love for spices! We had spicy beef, spicy cucumber in garlic, and spicy duck!

Tofu puffs and soy milk just doesn’t get any better than this. This simple eatery is more than 50 years old. The staff are old and grumpy we are told but the experience and flavours are memorable.

Glutinous rice stuffed with peanuts – the humble family shop serves these winning snacks.

This innovative restaurant has all the traditional favourites plus some more contemporary choices. It is highly reviewed and simply delicious. Best experienced with a trusted guide as the menu and staff are not conversant in English

Food tours are always a great idea for those who really want to know the city beyond simply what they can see from the tourist sites. Visiting museums is one thing, but rubbing shoulders with the community and sharing in their daily lives is another. Old men sit and read the paper, families sit together and share meals, everyone hunkered down over a bowl of noodles or delicately eating dim sum straight from the kitchen.

Eating at a dai pai dong or noodle cart is a truly Hong Kong ‘dining’ experience. You will almost certainly share a table with complete strangers, getting a front-row view of the local street life. Woks sizzle and bang, voices rise above the kitchen din and customers converse over dishes. This is street food at its best.

These aren’t elegant establishments…and they do not pretend to be either. But this is not your reason for stopping by. You will enjoy an honest and flavoursome dish, with fresh flavours, maybe a kick of chilli, or a distinctive herbal flavour. This is unassuming cuisine, no-frills just delightfully simple eats.

These places live on their reputation, often handed down through the generations. Find a busy one, with a queue, and you will seldom have a bad experience. If the dai pai dong or noodle cart display their ingredients, check for the freshness. This will make your choice easier.  Then watch your dish being prepared in front of you, in a cacophony of sound and blur of movement.

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