Lining up to slum it in Sheung Wan

A weekend stroll reveals my local temple packed out – not with the usual tourists slavishly obeying the guidebook, but with neighbourhood residents incense-burning and groveling to the gods for some last-minute help and fixing-of-affairs before the Monkey Year starts in exactly one week. Just round the corner, one of the area’s many narrow, dilapidated and trendy streets has similarly been deluged with (mostly) Hongkongers rather than visitors.

The street – Kau U Fong – has several supposedly outstanding hip and fashionable restaurants. Being outside the core Lan Kwai Fong/Soho Overpriced Themed Concept Dining Zone, thus in theory less burdened by high rents, they might be very good. But for some reason, they acquire a reputation that attracts people who are perhaps less interested in the food than in saying they’ve been to this or that chic new outlet. So those of us who are too cool to make reservations never get around to trying them, and stick to the dependable traditional outlets.

Except the old local places get catapulted past the up-market French seafood or BBQ-ribs joints as word spreads that something authentic survives among all the glossy and chic start-ups sprouting throughout Sheung Wan. So on one side of the street yesterday lunchtime, you get this…

KauU1

And directly opposite, you get this…

KauU2

Which ever way you turn, a line of lost souls stretches into the distance. Quite disconcerting.

The first is Sing Heung Yuen, which is basically a tent with little plastic stools in an alleyway. The house specialty is instant noodles in tomato soup, along with the ultimate in fine freshly-made toast. The secret (I suspect, without having tried the fare) is to lace the tomato with a bit of soy sauce and sugar. You could do this at home, except of course you don’t/wouldn’t have instant noodles there. Hordes of eager youngish types line up for ages in the cold to sample this vestige of old Hong Kong’s culinary heritage.

The second is Kau Kee, a renowned beef brisket and noodle place. I am not sure how you make beef brisket so exceptionally sublime that it surpasses everyone else’s in a city of 7 million for ever and ever. Maybe grandad’s recipe really is uniquely superb, somehow, or maybe the Gods of Marketing smiled on one above-averagely decent purveyor, and the place went viral to the extent that unthinking masses must wait in line for hours to try it.

Meanwhile, many of us have just days in which to sort out loose ends before the Year of the Goat expires and leaves us in the unfinished-business-at-Lunar-New-Year lurch. So a few quick links for anyone who missed them about what to expect as Xi Jinping leads China into a new Cultural Revolution – a man-made national catastrophe in the making, and how it plays out in little Hong Kong.

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4 Responses to Lining up to slum it in Sheung Wan

  1. Enid Ronay says:

    It’s because it’s cheap. Death concentrates the mind wondrously. Growing poverty builds queues outside budget restaurants. The people you see have not chosen. They have been sent by economic forces. The other explanation is that Hong Kong is full of misers. I have great eyes and can spot a bank balance at ten paces in an ATM queue. It’s always the ragamuffins who have the million dollar balances. Hong Kong people will queue an hour to save five dollars or to get something free they will queue all-day sometimes. Stop being so romantic.

  2. Cassowary says:

    You have to provoke your enemies so that you can show that you are fighting them, and you have to have a fight so that you can say you are winning. If you left your enemies alone, or god forbid, compromised with them, there would be no fighting. And if there is no fighting, then you must be a decadent wastrel who is in the pocket of suspicious liberal elements! Never negotiate with terrorists! Beat them with sticks! That is the only language those nasty little CIA-brainwashed brats understand!

  3. LRE says:

    I adore the delicious irony of the Chinese Communist Party trying to rid China of those wicked Western influences and values… perhaps they could start with Communism?

  4. Cha Siu Bao says:

    Sing Heung Yuen was filled with old men regulars when I first came here in 2003. It began to get trendy shortly after the Star Ferry terminal demonstrations, roughly paralleling the local identity movement among young people in Hong Kong. Eating any HK food that does not exist in the mainland (basically all the cha chaan teng specialties) is now hipster. Yup, slurping tomato broth noodles is a political act! Incidentally it’s not soy sauce in there, but a secret combo of fresh and canned tomatoes that makes the broth yummy, at least according to my sources. And I recommend getting the elbow macaroni version over the “gung jai mihn” instant noodles. In Cantonese you ask the lady for: “Mah-ka-loh-nee”.

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