This post is part of the Between Bites China travel series.
Compared to the mainland, Hong Kong is strikingly civilized. You won’t find squat toilets, people spitting in the streets, or restaurants filled with cigarette smoke. There are a lot of people everywhere pretty much all the time. Under normal circumstances, massive crowds can make me fantasize roller derby-style rage. But here, if I was bumped the offending person would say “Mm ho yee see” and look truly repentant. No one wants to push, but the reality is it’s just a cluster.
Eating, shopping, and existing among the throngs is at the same time crazy and systematic. Sprawling interconnected shopping malls dominate, where the floors are polished meticulously and continuously. Many excellent restaurants, sleek and modern, are housed here with long waits managed by elaborate numbering systems. Mall-dining isn’t exactly desirable in the states, but apparently there are just not many other places to put them in Hong Kong.
I grew hungry for a grittier experience — straight up cooking that is about nothing but serving up damn good food.
I walked through mall after mall connected by hallways and footbridges on my quest. Eventually the crowds thinned out and the stores became high-rise apartment dwellings. After winding through one last mall and out to a kind of parking lot area, there it was.
If you could imagine the loudest most crowded and raucous place to eat, the “Cooked Food Stalls” would be it — definitely not suitable without a Chinese-speaker, and not for the prissy or timid. This of course made it all the more appealing!
At the cooked food stalls in Sha Tin’s Wo Che Estate Market there are a few different “restaurants” to choose from. Each occupies a separated area of the sprawling concrete outdoor patio covered with corrugated steel. Our party headed straight for Chan Kun Kee (陳根記), which I’m told is the most famous and best here (it’s certainly the most packed).
There is a constant stream of people coming in and out through a field of packed round tables. Pushing our way upstream, we are soon engulfed by the roar of the dining hall. A few empty stools catch our eye, and we pounce to snatch the half table.
After lots of yelling, dramatic gesturing, and the eventual realization that only the servers in light green polo shirts bring drinks, we wrangle some cold beers. A few healthy swigs help us relax into the chaos. Servers snake through in a Zen-like state, swinging overflowing trays, as customers holler requests in surround sound.
Crisp pancakes with extra crunchy browned bits studding the outside are set down. Each bite is packed with juicy oysters and smacks of briny dipping sauce.
Shredded chicken and crunchy jellyfish flecked with tiny fish eggs are tossed in an intense horseradish sauce that shoots straight up my sinuses.
Sweet and tender whole pompano has a savory black bean sauce and lots of ginger and scallions.
Chow mien with chili sauce was simple but totally addictive.
Here, there are no reservations or packaged antibacterial wipes. Food will arrive as it’s ready, and you can keep on ordering food and drink ad hoc, provided you can flag down a server. Be prepared to wave your arms and holler several times.
The place is pulsing with energy and the food scrumptious and satisfying. From tailored shirts to undershirts, grandparents to kindergarteners, all are happy to just roll up their sleeves, throw back a cold one, and chow down. A must-try.
Chan Kun Kee 陳根記
No.3-5, Wo Che Estate Market Sha Tin
There are many other cooked food stalls or centers all over Hong Kong. Here is a list of 10 others from HK Magazine.