San Po Kong’s selfless restaurant owner, Alice Wong, talks to Haidee Chu
Admit it – $26 doesn’t get you far nowadays. If you want some grub, this paltry amount won’t even buy you much at Mickey Ds. And with all the big industries crowding the city, it’s easy to overlook small, selfless businesses that exist just for the wellbeing of others. But, tucked away in the Cooked Food Centre at Choi Hung Road Market in San Po Kong, far from the city’s hustle and bustle, 휭記 (Yung Kee – no affiliation with the roast goose specialist in Central) is championing the selfless sentiment. This eatery is the epitome of the idea that ‘food brings people together’, charging only $26 for a meal.
Working in the kitchen is owner Alice Wong. A single mother and former beneficiary of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance benefit – a government ‘safety net’ scheme for those who can’t support themselves financially – Wong knows better than most the struggles of living in Hong Kong. So, when she took over this venue from its former owner seven years ago, she was determined to make life more affordable for others. “I run the business keeping in mind how much society has helped me,” she explains. “The CSSA helped me a lot and so did the many people and friends who surround me. They understood how hard it was for me to take care of my son alone and how hard it was for my son to grow up under our circumstances. You know, I really feel the the kindness around me and I want to give back.”
Although Wong’s food at Yung Kee is cheap, she isn’t. Despite inflation making ingredients more expensive, she continues to serve up about 15 classic Hong Kong comfort dishes with excellent ingredients. All the customer does is choose what they want with their rice and then cough up $26. Favourites include tomatoes with fried eggs and stir-fried pumpkin. The rising costs eat into her profits, of course – but she forges on nevertheless. “I make just enough to pay for the business and for my family,” she says. “Sometimes people come up to me and tell me that they can’t pay the full $26. And so I tell them to just pay me back when they have the money. Sure, they can’t pay. But they shouldn’t starve either. My son and I have been there. And let me tell you, it’s not easy. Feeding someone in need is something that’s within my power and when I can make sure that people aren’t going to starve – I do what I can. I might as well help others support themselves while I still have the energy to.”
It’s evident from the smiles on her patrons’ faces that they love Wong as much as she cares for them. A satisfying meal and a priceless complimentary lesson on how to show unsparing generosity for others, all at a budget rate of $26. Forget about McDonald’s. This is the only happy meal you’ll ever need.
2/F, Choi Hung Road Market and Cooked Food Ctr, Sheung Hei St, San Po Kong.