If you are planning a vacation in Hong Kong, do not forget to try the best of its rich and varied noodle culture.
From decades of holes in the wall to multi-million dollar business, the Hong Kong noodle scene is a moneyspinner in a city that works with fast and affordable comfort foods.
Steamed bowls are served 24 hours a day, often in clear and richly flavored broths and surmounted by fish balls, beef tendons or pork noodles. Other favorites are accompanied by spam and fried eggs, an echo of the British colonial past of the city.
Lau Fat-cheong is one of the last traditional noodle makers in Hong Kong, preparing them fresh every day for customers of its three Lau Sum Kee restaurants in the popular areas of Sham Shui Po and Cheung Sha Wan.
In an old method rarely used now, he sits at the end of a bamboo pole five feet long, bouncing on it to beat dough balls on a bench below.
Lean and wiry, in the mid-1940s, Lau began working for the family noodle business at the age of 11. His grandfather founded it in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in the 1940s before Lau’s father took him, traveling to Hong Kong and selling shrimp dumplings and noodles from a streetcar.
“We’ve done it all these years and we’ve developed an emotional connection,” Lau said, explaining why he respects traditional methods. “There is satisfaction at work.”
Guests in their restaurants offer more than 500 bowls of fresh egg noodles around HK $ 30 to $ 40 ($ 4.5 or about Rs 300) each day.
The best-selling dishes are delivered with molds of mushrooms – shrimp and pork – or thrown freely with dry shrimp eggs, dating back to the origins of Hong Kong as a fishing village.
“It’s great, you feel it’s way better than anywhere else,” said Gavin Lee, a 17-year-old student who prefers Lau’s creations to Hong Kong tycoons.
But despite the steady stream of loyal visitors, Lau said rising rents and salary levels are a challenge. He fears that the next generation will take over the mantle, admitting that work can be “difficult and tedious.”
Tam Yunnan’s rice noodle chain, popular for its basic variety of spicy broth and customizable side dishes, was recently sold at the Japanese restaurant Toridoll for HK $ 1 billion.
Tsui Wah, which started as a small cafeteria in 1967, has also become a multi-million dollar chain serving Hong Kong products alongside the most up-to-date alternatives.
But food writer Janice Leung Hayes said independent companies like Lau continue to survive due to a sense of nostalgia and classic flavors.
“They never went out of style, so I feel that even if there are big chains trying to dominate, children still have a chance,” Leung said.
The Hong Kong noodle culture reflects its history as a city of emigrants from all over China, as well as its colonial history that has led to the western-style noodle slabs of canned tomato cheese and lunch meat, imported by first time in the 1950s after the war.
A quick and full bowl also called the fast pace of Hong Kong, office workers often grabbing one on their breaks, a cheap option in a city where the cost of living their sky.
The Ho Shun-kan boutique, Kan Kee Noodles, located on a leaning street in the heart of the central district, is a hub of the city’s noodle scene and has been serving customers for 70 years.
Packaged with noodle cabinets made in the Ho family recipes, the store provides 200 restaurants in Hong Kong and Macao as well as selling to individual customers.