In Hong Kong, you can really experience food at all different levels – everything from the hole-in-the-wall which specializes in just one dish to the extravagantly decorated Michelin-starred restaurant located on the umpteenth floor of some luxury hotel boasting stunning harbour views.
One way of really experiencing dining like an old school Hong Konger is to dine at a dai pai dong (大排檔). Literally meaning “big license”, it refers to a specific type of restaurant that has a bigger license than a typical street vendor. These special licenses were originally issued after World War II to family members of those who had been killed or disabled in the war.
In 1956, the government stopped issuing new licenses to open air street stalls due to complaints about these outdoor restaurants causing traffic and noise issues. More recently, the government started building indoor “cooked food centres” to move these outdoor restaurants to more sanitary indoor locations.
The atmosphere inside these cooked food centres still feels decidedly authentic. It’s loud, crowded, and efficient. Conversations are lively, food is fresh and delicious, and diners often sit on plastic chair while sharing large, round tables with strangers.
One of the most popular and admittedly “touristy” places to enjoy the dai pai dong experience is at Tung Po in North Point. Tung Po specializes in seafood and is located on the second floor of the Java Road Wet Market in North Point. The restaurant is famous because its outgoing owner Robby Cheung livens up the atmosphere of the restaurant by playing fun music, acting crazy in front of the dining guests, and being all around fun. Furthermore, Anthony Bourdain ate there during an episode of his television show, No Reservations.
So what’s it like to dine there?…