Monday, 15 August 2011

Sheung Wan – My Special Corner of Hong Kong

I’m sure you know what I mean… to know a place as a tourist, or even a frequent visitor, is very, very different from knowing it when you actually live there. So it was with me, and Sheung Wan.

This area of Hong Kong -- called Sheung Wan -- was the place you went to when you wanted some Chinese antiques, or some old trinket as souvenir. Period. That was how I thought of Sheung Wan for many years -- years when I was but a visitor, though a frequent one, to Hong Kong. That changed when Hong Kong became my home in 2007.

Practical considerations dictated my choice of Sheung Wan: it was walking distance to where I worked; rents were cheaper there than they were in nearby Mid Levels; and I loved the many old walk-up apartments in the area. I came to live in Sheung Wan for three years; years when I got to know quite intimately its nooks and crannies; its denizens; its moods, textures and contrasts…

Possession Street sits on the earliest settlement that was established by the British in Hong Kong in1842. In fact, the spot at the foot of the street called Possession Point marked the shoreline; but it is now several hundred yards inland due to reclamation.

By day, Hollywood Road and its side streets bustle with tourists and antique shoppers. Cat Street, the alley with the bulk of antique shops, attracts the droves: from the flea market bargain hunter, to the connoisseur who willingly parts with a small fortune for a prized Chinese antique.
Possession Street is getting a more modern face

The famous Man Mo Temple is also in Sheung Wan. The largest temple in Hong Kong devoted to the two deities, Man Tai and Mo Tai, and built in 1847, Man Mo acts like a sounding bell to me. Whenever I see a long snaking line of worshippers outside the temple doors, or the armada of cars parked on the road, I am instantly alerted to the occurrence of another of the seemingly endless stream of Chinese festivals in Hong Kong!

A glass-skinned skyscraper stands elbow-to-elbow with this 150-year old temple, dwarfing it and underscoring another of Sheung Wan’s charms – its piquant contrasts.

One moment, you may be wandering a warren of ancient roadside wet market stalls; the next, you’re in the midst of bars, restaurants, and the super-hip vibes of two of Hong Kong’s most cosmopolitan swing spots, Lan Kwai Fong and SOHO.

A five-minute walk from my apartment takes you to Connaught Road West and Des Voeux. I always tell friends: follow your nose, and the potent trail of smell will lead you to this hub of dried seafood shops. You’ll find sharks’ fins and dried seahorse by the sack, and an industry that has dominated this clutch of narrow streets for more than 100 years; and, just a ten-minute crawl away, the ultramodern towers and chic designer boutiques of Central!

Even day and night in Sheung Wan feel absolutely different. By day it’s all noise, bustle, and crowds; by night the only sign of life are stray cats and the occasional patrolling policeman. Even looking for a late night snack is a challenge come witching hour; the lone 24-hr McDonalds in Sheung Wan has become my best friend. Well, at least, this has busted one preconception that I (and I think most Singaporeans) have about Hong Kong – that it is definitely NOT a “you-can-find-food-24/7” kind of place if you, like me, don’t own a set of wheels!

Although not as generously endowed with knockout eateries as some other districts of Hong Kong, Sheung Wan has its glories. Several neighborhood restaurants and “cha chan tengs” amply deserve royal mention. In fact, Sheung Wan has some of the best traditional Teochew restaurants in Hong Kong. So, let’s bring out the chopsticks!

For Kee Restaurant (咖啡餐)
200 Hollywood Road
Tel: 852-2546 8947

This small 20-seat shop tucked on a side street does such brisk business on its famous pork chop rice it operates only between Monday and Friday – a luxury few eateries in Hong Kong can afford. Marinated with only soy sauce and sugar, the pan-fried pork chop packs them in every lunch. 

Without the crowds, you wouldn’t give this otherwise nondescript nook a second glance – that’s often the thing about Hong Kong food stalls. I also like their home-boiled soup, which changes daily. The soup’s free of msg -- another rarity for a neighborhood mom-&-pop joint.

Chan Kan Kee Chiu Chow Restaurant (记卤鹅饭)
Ground Floor, 11 Queen’s Road West
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2858 0033

This restaurant serves one of the best Teochew braised goose that I’ve ever tasted in Hong Kong. Was told the sauce that’s used to cook the goose is decades-old; the very elderly founder simply stirs in the new sauce on top of the old, thus giving to the meat an aged and mellow flavor. If you order a plate of braised meat with rice, look out for the accompanying preserved radish appetizer. It’s spicy and crunchy, with tiny bits of dried shrimps and meat in it. Yum!

My personal highlight, however, is the mixed pig innards in watercress soup. I used to enjoy this soup in Singapore until pig lungs and blood were banned. Without these two key ingredients, this soup has never tasted the same in Singapore; but at this restaurant, the familiar taste and aroma return in their full glory.

This place opens way past midnight
Full House Kitchen (厨)
Ground Floor, 13 Queen’s Road West
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

Their ala-carte food is not much to shout about; but the variety of porridge on offer is fantastic. The porridge is gluey in texture and filled with the so-called “breath of rice” and generous servings of meat. Best of all, they are open till 2am, making it a great supper joint in this part of Hong Kong where most shops close by 10pm

Our first taste of Teochew food in HK

Shung Hing Chiu Chow Restaurant (尚兴潮州饭)
Ground Floor, 37 Queen’s Road West
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2543 7794

Another favourite Teochew restaurant of mine; but be prepared to pay much more. Beside the famed braised meat, and ala carte dishes such as fried prawn roll, and yam paste with ginko nut, I love the chilled flower crab that’s served here. You’ll pay around S$140 for each big and succulent crab, but they are so much bigger than those you’ll find in Teochew porridge stalls in Singapore.
Zhong Kok Loong (中国龙)
Ground Floor, 283 Queen’s Road Central
Tel: 852-3158 0203

The owner actually deals in antiques and makes frequent business trips to China. Along the way, he developed contacts with the mainland food industry, and now, he imports produce from the best quality suppliers that he could find for his shop in Hong Kong. I frequent his shop for top quality sesame oil, preserved black beans, yam from Fujian, Fuji apples from Mongolia, and other premium stuff.

Because the produce he sells is mainly seasonal, you never know what you’ll find here. Be warned however that prices are not cheap, but worth every cent.

Lin Heung Kui (莲香居)
2-3/F, 46-50 Des Voeux Road West
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Tel: 852-2156 9238

A “subsidiary” of its much famed and much older parent restaurant -- Lin Heung Tea House at 160-164, Wellington Road -- and only ten minutes’ walk away. It evokes the same nostalgia. Old men carry on loud discourses with one another and huddle over their newspapers. Waiters in white-and-black uniforms carry steaming copper kettles to refill empty teapots and cups, and waitresses in aprons weave through the tables pushing trolleys of dim sum.

You get mostly locals here unlike the tourist hordes at the parent restaurant, and I didn’t have to keep a lookout for the food trolleys and wrestle with other customers for the baskets. I always enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere here, and the dim sum, which I daresay, is better than the other restaurant’s. Look out for “wor bao”, once available in Singapore during 60s but long vanished, and now, also a rare treat in Hong Kong.

At night, this restaurant serves ala carte Cantonese dishes of fairly high standard.

Soon Hing Hung (顺兴行)
61 Wing Lok Street

It is rumored that a famous roast goose restaurant in Central gets its supply of famous century eggs from this tiny provision shop. It’s so shabby looking you might walk right past it; the door is half-opened with stacks of cardboard cartons lining the entrance, manned by a grouchy old woman. She sells all kinds of eggs – fresh, salted, and of course, the famous century eggs.

The eggs are far cheaper than those sold in the restaurants; and their quality is as good or far better than most.

Assorted braised offal on sticks
Sun Seng Koon (新成馆)
87 Wing Lok Street

One of those stalls where you stand by the road and chew on meat-laden skewers, these stalls are a mainstay of the HK roadside scene. I pass by this one daily and never gave it a second look until KC Koo, a noted food critic, recommended its braised pig intestines on skewers. It proved cheap and simply delectable -- now I’m hooked.


  1. I love this post.
    It makes me want to visit this place soon.

  2. i'm going to mark this blog. great information! i like it how it's independent and talks about places other blogs are not talking about.

    if only i have found your blog before my trip to hk! one of my meals at sheung wan were pretty much a disappointment - bad porridge at some cafe since i didn't have info on where to go.

    should have went for the pork chop place!

  3. thank you for such an informative and well written piece! was thinking of visiting HK again later this year, and this sure comes in handy :)

  4. Definitely trying these one out on my trip this week! :) Thanks!