KWUN TONG - HONG KONG'S CHANGING ORIGINAL SUBURB, PLUS A RESTAURANT
Back in the fifties and sixties this was a newly developed residential and industrial suburb of Hong Kong, one of the very first built-up areas outside of Kowloon. Many apartment buildings were thrown up to provide housing for the influx of people from the mainland and the countryside who came to HK, and a multitude of factories employed many of them at fairly low wages.
You may recall cheap plastic flowers (膠花) in the sixties? They came from here.
This is where the Hong Kong plastic industry found its surest foothold, and most of the companies that remain in Kwun Tong still manufacture plastics, as well as consumer electronics, computer parts, and utilitarian objects.
[Kwun Tong (觀塘): "view ponds", formerly Kun Tong ('official ponds' 官塘). Originally an area of salt pans across the water from Tsimshatsui (尖沙嘴), which is on the western spur of the Kowloon Peninsula (九龍半島).]
Housing estates were built along the upper levels, facing Kai Tak (啟德機場 kai tak kei-cheung), but also in the flat zone along the typhoon shelter which separated Kwun Tong from Kai Tak.
The early multi-storey apartment blocks were miserable, horribly small, with shared bathrooms, kitchens, and washing areas. Many people lived crowded together in what were "affectionately" described as 雞寮 (kai liu): chicken coops.
During the early years, because of overcrowding and a lack of basic facilities, the roofs of many buildings were used for recreation and as school rooms.
Many of the older buildings have been torn down and replaced, and the airport ceased operating in 1998.
The whole area is now being 'renewed'.
Most of the locals are not very excited about that.
KWUN TONG KUI - KWUN TONG DISTRICT
From Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角 'cow head horn') to Lam Tin (藍田 'blue field'): from the granite quarries and Amoy Brand Soy Sauce to the salt fields and the Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門 'Carp Gate') highway interchange.
[Note that Lam Tin used to be called Ham Tin (鹹田): salty fields. Housing estates were built on the cerrito overlooking the coastal flats here.]
The older industrial area is a long grim rectangular stretch alongside the typhoon shelter, right across a narrow body of water from Kai Tak. It consists of fairly narrow streets, multi-storey factory buildings, cement apartment blocks, and broader commercial cross-roads leading to the housing estates on the upper levels. This neighborhood forms what could be called the third point of the triangle, the other points being Ngau Tau Kok and Lam Tin.
Tai Yip Street (大業街) crosses Kai Fuk Road (啟福道) before it turns into Kwun Tong Road (觀塘道). Tai Yip runs from north west to south east, parallel to the harbour and Kai Tak Airport. There's an interruption of three blocks, whereupon as if continuing Tai Yip Street, Hung To Road (鴻圖道) commences in the same direction, parallel to Wai Yip Street (偉業街) and Hoi Bun Road (海濱道), each nearer the water.
Between Kwun Tong Road and Hoi Bun Road, are a huge number of older commercial and factory buildings, within several blocks around the Tsun Yip Street Playground (駿業街遊樂場). The southeastern edge of this zone is the Kwun Tong Bypass (觀塘繞道), where it has turned east and heads towards Lei Yue Mun Road (鯉魚門道). The curve of Kwun Tong Bypass is roughly parallel to the southern end of Kai Tak, where the Kwun Tong Typhoon Shelter (觀塘避風) terminates.
To the immediate south of the area thus demarcated are the Sai Tso Wan Recreation Ground (晒草灣遊樂場) and Cha Kwo Ling (茶果嶺 'tea fruit peak').
There's a Seven Eleven near the corner of Tsun Yip Street (駿業街) and Hung To Road (鴻圖道). Across Tsun Yip is the 'East Harbour Seafood Restaurant' (Tung Kong Hoi Sien Jau Lau 東港海鮮酒樓) on the right hand side (east), and Wing Wah Mechanical Co. Ltd (榮華電工材料有限公司) on the left corner (west).
The area immediately surrounding Nanyang Plaza (南洋廣場) looks grungy as all git-out, although the Nanyang Plaza Building itself is rather impressive. This area mostly consists of multi-storey factories, warehouse and commercial spaces, and electronics businesses. After two long blocks Hung To Road crosses Hoi Yuen Road (開源道), proceeding one more block to King Yip Street, just before the Kwun Tong Bypass. At the end of the block, opposite the Yue Xiu Industrial Building, on the right hand side are two restaurants - the Hap Lei Hoi Sien Jau Ka (合利海鮮酒家), the San Ming Yuen Jau Ka (新明園酒家).
[The Cantonese term 'hoisin' (海鮮) means 'sea fresh'. It is one of the most important expressions in this food-obsessed culture.]
If you wish to park anywhere on the street here, good 你嘅 luck, ha?
It's entirely impossible!
There's a brand new promenade along Hoi Bun Road (海濱道) at the water's edge if you need a break from drear and drab. But getting there takes a little strategizing. And quite a few of the natives haven't ever been there.
You can see Tsimshatsui across the water, and also Central on Hong Kong Island to the south, dimly through the air pollution.
YUE MAN SQUARE & SILVER CITY MOVIE THEATRE
The centre of town, east of the industrial stretch and north of all the fancy new housing developments and shopping centres is the area around Yue Man Square, where you will find most of the older business patronized by long-time residents.
The entire area is being renewed, and will have changed considerably in a few years, although there is a growing consciousness of the importance of local colour and tradition.
One 'landmark' which bit the dust is the old Silver City Theatre (銀都戲院) on Fu Yan street (輔仁街) at the west side of Yue Man Square (裕民坊), which had a run of forty six years before closing its doors forever in July 2009. Up until the mid-nineties, it showed mostly mainland movies, having no truck with the glib products churned out by Hong Kong studios, but declining attendance, changing audience patterns, and above all video tapes and later discs put paid to what had once been a thriving and beloved entertainment center.
Many old-timers fondly remember sneaking in as children, and occasionally drunks would doss down in the seats to sleep off their liquor.
It, too, is slated for 'renewal'.
SEUNG HOI WING WAH CHUEN TSOI KOON
The Shanghai Wing Wah Szechuan Restaurant
Ground Floor, 15 Shung Yan Street, Kwun Tong.
[觀塘, 崇仁街 15號, 地下]
This long-established business is small, but quite good. It's on the corner of Fu Yan Street and a nondescript alley way (崇仁街 Shung Yan Street), right were Fu Yan Street turns west, on the ground floor of a twelve or thirteen storey old-style apartment building, right next to a Yunnan eatery, opposite grocery stores and a meat market. This, really, is home turf for many people. The red-topped bus lines go up this street from Yue Man Square.
It's barely a five minute walk from the old Silver City Theatre.
Family run, clean, fast, and often very busy. But the prices are reasonable, and the food is excellent.
Expect to pay between HK$ 30 to 60 for lunch, between HK$ 75 and 150 for dinner.
One thing you MUST try are the Shanghai Soup Dumplings (小籠包). They are known for them.
Shanghai Soup Dumplings are one of those things people will passionately disagree about, but the plain fact of the matter is that speed is the essential quality. If it takes too long to dish them up, the hot broth will have melded into the dough. Either way, there will be a bone-soup taste to the item.
Lovely when hot, gummy when cold.
豆沙窩餅 Fried Sweet Bean-paste Fold-overs. Very Shanghainese!
東坡肉 Tung-Po Pork (slow cooked long and fragrant, served over tender fresh baby bokchoi).
回鍋肉 Twice-cooked Pork - a superior version.
砂鍋雲吞雞 Clay Pot Wonton Chicken.
擔擔麵 Tan Tan Noodles. Superior, but something I'm particularly fond of.
酸辣湯 Hot and Sour Soup - extremely popular here.
紅燒獅子頭 Savoury Braised Large Meat Balls.
乾扁四季豆 Spicy Dry-fried Stringbeans.
八寶茶 Eight Treasure Tea (hot) - very popular.
糖醋魚柳 Sweet and Sour Willow-fish.
糖醋排骨 Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs.
紅油抄手 Red Oil Dumplings - a famous Szechuanese variation on wonton.
口水雞 Poached & Sauced Chicken.
花雕醉雞 Drunken Chicken (made with Fa Diu ricewine) - very highly recommended.
蒜泥白肉 Garlic Sauce Poached Pork (cold) - very old-fashioned and delicious.
奶油津白 Tientsin Cabbage in Cream Sauce garnished with Chinhua Ham - old school, excellent.
糖醋魚塊 Sweet and Sour Fish Chunks.
麻婆豆腐 Ma Po Toufu - an old stand-by.
雞絲粉皮 Chicken Shred Pale Ribbon Noodle.
宮保雞丁 Kung Pao Chicken - a safe standard.
LAGNIAPPE - THE TSIM CHAI KEE RESTAURANT IN CENTRAL
沾仔記 Tsim Chai Kee Noodle
Shop B, G/F Jade Centre, 98 Wellington Street, Central
[中環, 威靈頓街 98號, 地下]
Black sign, gold characters. Lunch time line outside.
鯪魚球雲吞 Ling-fish balls with wonton
牛肉河招牌雲吞麵 Beef brisket house special wonton noodles
鮮蝦雲吞麵 Fresh shrimp wonton noodles
A friend came back from Hong Kong, and tells me that while Mak's wonton are good, Jim's shrimp wonton are much better.
Quote: "biggest darn shrimp EVER! Ho taai-ge, ho mei-ge, sahp fan ji sahp SAN-SIEN" (very big, very tasty, one hundred percent FRESH).
I'll take his word for it. Sometime I'll have to try them myself.
But I do wish he wasn't quite so boastful and gloating over his discovery.
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