Honest Authentic Flavours in Central; A Culinary Trail to Some of Hong Kong’s Oldest Food Joints
What is it like to live in a neighbourhood that transforms around you at lightning speed? What are things that are so good, they stay no matter what happens around them? What flavours keep a loyal clientele and survive the jackhammers against all odds? No better place to find out than in Central, Hong Kong’s prime business district, where all shophouses have been replaced by skyscrapers and streets simply vanished from the map. We asked some long-time local residents about their favourite places to eat in the neighbourhood.
1. Law Fu Kee Congee & Noodles
Simple and delicious
Cantonese cuisine is known for its simplicity – but that doesn’t mean it is easy to make. Law Fu Kee specialises in such deceptively simple dishes as congee, wonton noodles and deep-fried fish balls with clam sauce. Fresh ingredients and years of experience in the kitchen are what keep locals coming back. “The congee is silky smooth, the wontons are balanced and the fish balls have just the right bouncy texture," says Uncle Lam, a regular.
Ever popular bestseller
Back in the ‘60s & ‘70s, the first-generation Law Fu Kee was a typical local daipaidong, known for its popular Zhongshan Xiaolan-style deep-fried fish balls with clam sauce. The current owner Mr Law is the second-generation successor and still turns 100kg of mud carp into fish paste every day. The paste is deep-fried, rolled into balls and paired with a unique sauce made from clams, dried mandarin peel and rosé wine.
Carp street sign
The carp street neon sign designed by old Mr Law was a fixture since the 1970s. Unfortunately, a new regulation issued in 2010 meant that the sign had to be demolished. Now preserved by M+ museum, it is part of a collection of dismantled neon signs in the city.
Law Fu Kee Congee & Noodles . 146 Queen's Road Central . 8am-11pm . +852 2543 3288
2. Chan Yee Jai
Made in Hong Kong
The Old Mr Chan opened Chan Yee Jai in Central in 1927, bringing authentic Foshan flavours to the city. In its heydays in the 1950s, Chan Yee Jai had three stores in the neighbourhood. Now a rarity in the city, every traditional Chinese snack is still handmade here in the workshop, following recipes that have passed through three generations. Only the best ingredients are used, and no preservatives. Every snack sold in Chan Yee Jai goes through complicated procedures - a small pack of dried ginger takes three weeks to make - truly a product of craftsmanship.
Walking in Chan Yee Jai is like walking into the past: snacks of the old days packaged like in the old days. Filled to the brim with vintage tin cans, this is the place to sample “Old Hong Kong” flavours. A must-visit for Asian tourists migrated Chinese and old-generation locals. All-time bestsellers are bird’s nest cakes, almond biscuits, barley biscuits, and bean curd sheet rolls with shrimp roe. Worth a try!
New Year must-have
This is the best place to get Chinese New Year gifts: nian gao, deep-fried taro, sesame crunch, Chinese dates, and toffee candies, all handmade and fresh. No surprise that this is crowned as “Hong Kong’s proudest snacks”.
Chan Yee Jai . 176B Queen's Road Central . +852 2543 8414 .
3. Lin Heung Tea House
Locals’ long-time favourite
Lin Heung has been a kaifong favourite hangout since 1918. First established as a cake shop in Guangzhou, the first Hong Kong branch opened at Queen’s Rood, later moved to here Wellington Street. Walk in and enjoy a noisy and crowded yum-cha experience. The intimate cafe is filled with regulars who have easily been coming here for half a century, and in recent years, lots of young tourists.
Turning a page
When in 2019 many bid a tearful farewell to Lin Heung, the old employees decided to take over until slow business forced them to close again… and then 4th generation owner Mr Ngan made the difficult decision to re-open Lin Heung once again… hoping to carry the brand forward.
A taste of Guangdong style
Don’t expect service here. You must be ready to jump off your seat and grab what you want from the auntie pushing the cart with freshly steamed old-school dim sum. Very few restaurants keep this tradition. Local favourites are quail egg siu mai 鵪春蛋燒賣 and sponge cake 馬拉糕. Right at the entrance you can also sample traditional Chinese pastry, Lin Heung’s wedding cakes are legendary.
Lots of nostalgic eye candy here! The ceiling not only has old-school ceiling fans but also hooks for bird cages, a reminder of the past when regulars would come with their beloved birds. Tables even have traditional spittoons for customers to get rid of tea that turns cold.
Lin Heung Tea House . 62 Wellington Street . 6am-10pm . +852 2544 4556
4. Shui Kee
Fresh beef brisket
There’s always a queue at Shui Kee during lunchtime. Locals come here for the fresh beef brisket, a rare find in Hong Kong where most stores use frozen meat. Not at Shui Kee. They only have two servings a day, but it’s worth the wait. Mr Chan brews soup that is full of flavour and texture from the tripe, liver, intestines, bladder or even the rare abomasum.
Mr Chan is a proud man, and he should be. Shui Kee has been around since WWII, standing at the same location for over 60 years. Started by his grandfather, this little stall has raised two generations, including Chan’s eight siblings. “I think we are the oldest daipaidong in the area, I started helping out when I was only 7 years old.” he shares. Most chefs have no patience or skills to process the fresh meat and organs, but Mr Chan still works over 12 hours today to serve the best bowl of noodles. His only worry is the declining number of slaughtered cows in Hong Kong, which makes it harder to secure a supply of fresh beef.
Memories to stay
Mr Chan loves his job and has many fond memories. “We used to be a hit among school kids in the 70s, they would come for the $2 noodles. Once a kid got challenged to finish 20 bowls in one go! My father helped him cheat a little,” recalls Mr Chan joyfully. “Many years later he suddenly showed up here for lunch. He never forgot. He’s now a senior at Heng Sang Bank.”
Shui Kee . 2 Gutzlaff Street . +852 2541 9769
5. Good Spring Company Ltd
A century of healthy tea
Mr Lam’s great-grandfather was already an expert in Chinese herbs back in Panyu in Guangdong Province. His grandfather moved to Hong Kong and started Good Spring in 1916, right across from the current store. During the golden days in 1940s & 50s, the Lams were well-known Chinese doctors and had three stores selling medicinal herbs & tea with over 60 employees. Like many traditional stores, Good Spring provided lunch, dinner, and accommodation for their staff. There was even a business association for herbal tea shops back then! Now the Lams operate just this one store on Cochrane Street.
Martin Lam, 3rd generation owner of Good Spring, took over when he just graduated from business school. It was not easy. It took him two years to know all the herbs and their benefits. He continued to study and finally registered as a Chinese doctor himself. “It’s a craft to process the herbs, we still do it by hand here on the second floor following my grandfather’s recipes. Only when chopping and boiled and mixed right the herbs will be effective.”
“Our bestsellers are 24-herbs-tea and herbal jelly” shares Martin proudly. The bitter brew is a popular cure for headaches, colds, sore throats and digestion. We still use a secret recipe left by his grandfather “We use exactly 24 types of ingredients, and follow the procedures. Every ingredient has to be cooked just right and we add them layer by layer. You can’t mix it up.” Good Spring has been a silent witness to change in Central, as the small shophouses were replaced by skyscrapers and the usual kaifong crowd taken over by office workers. Still, Martin sells over a thousand cups of herbal tea every day.
Good Spring Company . 8 Cochrane Street . Mon-Sat 9am-8pm
6. Luk Yu Tea House
Glimpse of glamourous old Hong Kong
“A day is never complete without morning yumcha” Historical Luk Yu Tea House opened in 1933 was a favourite of elite scholars, artists and intellectuals in the city. Regulars included famous Chinese artist Chang Dai-chien張大千 and Cantonese opera master Sit Kok-sin 薛覺先. With patron’s precious paintings on the wall, it’s like a living Chinese art museum.
From day one, Luk Yu has been a high-class restaurant. When other places priced dim sum at 20 cents, Luk Yu was selling at 60 cents. The Art Deco interior - wooden screens, ceiling fans and rosewood furniture - has kept the grandeur of old Hong Kong. Luk Yu was probably the first restaurant to employ Indian guards, to avoid non-regular or casually dressed customers taking up the precious first-floor seats.
Luk Yu is named after the famed Tang Dynasty poet Lu Yu, who was born in 733 and had a lifelong obsession with tea. His famous literary output includes The Classic of Tea, a homage to Chinese tea culture. Luk Yu Tea House lives up to this high standard. Tea leaves are stored for up to 15 years before they are curated by tea masters and brewed for loyal customers. No wonder regulars keep coming back.
Luk Yu’s dim sum menu changes every week, serving up traditional flavours hardly seen in the city anymore. Everything is handmade with the best ingredients, try old-school dim sum like pork liver with pork balls 釀豬潤燒賣 and shrimp cakes 蝦多士 and soak in the nostalgic atmosphere.
Luk Yu Tea House . 24-26 Stanley Street . +852 2523 5464
7. Yung Kee Restaurant
A shooting star
What started as a little daipaidong in late 1930s, has become a Hong Kong institution. Frequented by celebrities and diplomats, Yung Kee earned Fortune Magazine’s recognition as “Top 15 Restaurants in the World” with its signature roast goose as best-seller. They serve over 200 a day!
A delicate craft
The Old Mr Kam’s roasting skills still rule. To maintain the high quality of, they only use black-haired geese that weigh 5kg and are 30-40 days old. They are roasted on site with charcoal from Singapore for 45 minutes. Fresh out of roasting, chefs serve when it’s cooled to 65 degrees to make sure the meat is juicy. Each dish is then paired with home-made plum sauce and marinade sauce that follows a secret recipe.
Secret to success
Second-generation owner Mr Kam explains the keys to success at Yung Kee “It’s about classic recipes, fresh ingredients and sincere service. We are loyal to our suppliers, our employees and most importantly to our charcoal roasting technique!"
Yung Kee Restaurant . 32-40 Wellington Street . 11am-11pm . +852 2522 1624
A Food Trail through Central
Caritas Community Centre - Caine Road 明愛堅道社區中心
Caritas Community Centre - Caine Road advocates the spirit of community inclusiveness, social responsibility, and mutual help. Created by long-time residents, this walking tour shares the unique narrative and characteristics of the neighbourhood and explores how development has affected the social fabric. 明愛堅道社區中心透過舉辦不同類型的活動及小組，推動社區融合、社會責任及自助互助精神。其中的「環環社區導賞小組」由一班街坊組成，以導賞分享中上環的社區發展、特色及近況，與參加者探討經濟主導的城市發展對社區生態的影響。www.caritas.org.hk/en
Central & Western District Office 中西區民政事務處
Central & Western District Office collaborates with locally rooted NGOs to rediscover the neighbourhoods of Central through the lens of residents. 由中西區民政事務處贊助的「中環社區地圖計劃」透過與地區組織合作，以街坊角度重新發掘社區面貌，並以手繪地圖及手機程式作媒介，呈現區內重要的歷史故事及回憶。www.districtcouncils.gov.hk/central/english/welcome/welcome.html
Illustrator and designer, a lover of life. Quai won Hong Kong Young Design Talent and represented the city in international design projects. She believes cheerful design can lighten up a day and contribute to a better world. 插畫師及平面設計師，熱愛一切美好愉悅的細節。畢業於香港理工大學設計學院視覺傳達系、香港浸會大學視覺藝術系。獲香港設計中心頒發香港青年設計才俊獎，遠赴丹麥、荷蘭工作及生活，體驗充滿人性的城市與生活的幸福後，更確信設計能令世界更美好，繼續分享快樂設計。missquai.studio