One of the must local experiences in Hong Kong is eating in a Dai Pai Dong. In a city that revolves around luxury shopping malls and upscale enclosed culinary spaces, an affordable and simple outdoors eat is a refreshing experience. Though I’ve been in Hong Kong for a while now, I’m embarrassed to admit that my Dai Pai Dong experience were limited to the very low end Temple Street night market near Yau Ma Tei, once or twice in eastern Kowloon, a quick indoors DPD dinner at Sheung Wan and a couple of villages in the new territories. Living in the far east Sai Kung away from Central does have its disadvantages, and being away from the thick of things in Central on HK island is definitely one of them.
But, finally, I got a charming local to take me exploring a bit of what Central has to offer. Plenty of those in NOHO (north of Hollywood street), from Central MTR station towards mid-level escalators, and instead of going up towards SOHO just walk up a street or two.
So, yeah, you got it. Pijama dressed, at times half-naked old men serving as cooks and waiters. Food is cheap, beer is even cheaper, you can probably wrap up a large meal with a couple of beers for 50HK$pp (less than 10US$). Definitely reminds me of the Taiwanese night market experience, only smaller, tucked away at a hidden alley and surrounded by the posh Central HK life.
If you want a more official descriptions, Wikipedia offers the following :
Dai pai dong is a type of open-air food stall once very popular in Hong Kong. The government registration name in Hong Kong is "cooked-food stalls", but dai pai dong literally means "restaurant with a big license plate", referring to its size of license which is bigger than other licensed street vendors.
A dai pai dong is characterised by its green-painted steel kitchen, untidy atmosphere, the lack of air conditioning, as well as a variety of low priced great-wok hei dishes. Regarded by some as part of the collective memory of Hong Kong people, official dai pai dong are scarce today.
Although the term dai pai dong is often used generically to refer to any food stall operating on the roadside with foldable tables, chairs and no air-conditioning (like those on Temple Street), legally speaking the term can only refer to those 28 stalls which possess the "big licenses".
I think my definition of Dai Pai Dong is less strict than that of Wikipedia, but you get the idea.
What’s to eat?
Skol beer (labels one of 5 biggest beer brands in the world and made in Ceneda), some veggies, the pineapple sweet and sour dish, and another must casserole rice dish. Those are probably the safest options for a foreigner like me, but if you’re into things that are more exotic, there’s a very large menu of bizarre foods for you to choose from.
They all seem to speak basic Chinglish, and English menus are common, so there’s really nothing stopping you from trying it out. Better find a cool dry day, though, it gets really really hot in those narrow Central alleys on summer days and no amount of cold beer can help with that 😛
More on Dai Pai Dongs in Hong Kong :