With the relentless march of corporate globalisation, trendy, Instagrammable cafes and over-zealous bureaucracy edging out staples of Hong Kong’s societal tent-poles, it’s easy to forget about the traditional spots and pockets of culture that helped make this city what it is. From modest (in size) historical buildings, to Hong Kong traditions and old-style eateries that are still among the best grub in the city, take a look at the top ten must-see local gems before they disappear forever. By Caitlan Wong
10 quintessentially Hong Kong things on the verge of disappearing
Visit Lui Seng Chun
Before Hong Kong become the all-encompassing concrete jungle that we know it as today, classical veranda-style tong lau’s – also known as shop houses – used to elegantly fill the city streets, replete with Chinese and European-hybrid architectural character. Modernisation has meant that these historical tenements are either being refurbished or redeveloped, but a few lucky ones have managed to preserve their aesthetic essence with this 1931 built tong lau being a prime example. Lui Seng Chun, 119 Lai Chi Kok Road, Mong Kok.
Eat at a dai pai dong
The quintessential Hong Kong dining experience. These super local, family-run outdoor restaurants are on the drastic decline due to the government’s refusal to issue new licenses due to – let’s be frank – ridiculously over-fussy hygiene laws. But with an inimitable atmosphere that cannot be bought by fancy dimmed restaurant lighting, food from these outdoor cheap eats does not get any more authentic. Check out our feature on Hong Kong’s best dai pai dong’s here.
See a dim sum cart in action
Another Hong Kong dining institution. It’s shameful if you come to the SAR and don’t try dim sum. Although there’s no shortage of restaurants serving up these local assortments of delicious goodies, the traditional way of ordering dim sum from a cart is slowly being phased out, replaced by a mundane order sheet. If you want the proper trolley treatment, we suggest hitting up Lin Heung Tea House in Central or The London Restaurant in Mong Kok.
Lin Heung Tea House, 160-164 Wellington Street, Central.
The London Restaurant, 612 Nathan Road, Good Hope Building, Mong Kok.
Get some hand-carved Mahjong tiles
Now considered a dying art, there are only three major mahjong carving professionals in Hong Kong. In particular, you should pay a visit to Sister Mei, the only female carver in the city whose down-to earth and chatty persona has made her something of a local legend.
2 Bulkeley Street, Hung Hom.
Eat roasted chestnuts
Once ubiquitous on the streets of Hong Kong, this simple, yet tasty and healthy snack has now become a roadside rarity. A small bag of chestnuts that have been roasted on a rusty roadside cart has always been synonymous with winter in the city and is a special experience that shouldn’t be missed. Shantung Street, Mong Kok.
Look at neon signs
Hong Kong’s iconic lighting fixtures are slowly being stripped down and replaced by commercially-savvy – and boring – printed or plastic signs that we’re are all too familiar with. Despite their decline, these neon signs still ooze a kind of old-world, grimy charisma. Thankfully, they are still numerous enough that there’s a few spots around town where you can get a great snap! Or, just use your eyes to look. Just as good. Jaffe Road, Wan Chai; Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; Cheung Sha Wan Road and Lai Chi Kok Road, Sham Shui Po.
Appreciate hand-painted minibus signs
Mak Kam-sang is the last standing minibus sign painter, vying against the bland digitisation of bus signs. He single-handily provides local drivers with beautiful hand-painted signs. Although a dying trade, Kam-Sang is determined to keep the tradition alive. His 200-square-foot room is hard to miss on Battery Street, with hand-painted souvenir signs available on request. Battery Street, Yau Ma Tei.
Check out a local lantern and flower plaque maker
Paper artisan Kenneth Mo Cheuk-kei is one of the last standing professional paper lantern makers in Hong Kong, whose incredible craft has slowly been on the decline over the years. Most people now for a pre-packaged, factory-made option. But you can still see Cheuk-kei do his thing at his cubby workshop in Yuen Long.
Try some Hakka snacks
Hakka-style snacks are slowly fading out in Hong Kong but one lady is keeping the tradition alive with her homemade goodies that are sold in Sai Kung. The rice cakes that Hui Sai Ling sells are definitely worth a try – you can choose from a range of flavours including black sesame, orange or even a sweet potato filling. The lasting tastes of these simple foods are sure to give you a sense of nostalgia even if you aren’t of Hakka origin. Sai Kung Market on weekends.
Get a hand-painted ceramic
Known locally as Guang Cai, hand-painted ceramics and porcelain was once at the forefront of Hong Kong industry, in particular, Yuet Tung China Works – established in 1928 – was one of the true propagators of the craft in Hong Kong and is now sadly one of the last standing. This could be the last generation that gets to see the intricate splendour of locally-made, intricate handicrafts such as this so be sure to get one. Yuet Tung China Works Unit 1-3, 3/F, Kowloon Bay Industrial Centre, 15 Wang Hoi Road, Kowloon Bay.