Sharing

Sharing

By
Jeremy Pang
Contains
15 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978-1-84949-992-7
Photographer
Kris Kirkham

Dai pai dongs

If you’ve ever watched a Hong Kong gangster movie, or even just an ‘old school’ martial arts movie, you’ll know what a dai pai dong is, even if you’ve never been to Hong Kong. At the start of the movie, once the cameras have finished panning across the bird’s-eye view of the skyscrapers and twinkling harbours, the real action begins, most often in the middle of a crowded street market. Once they hit the market scene there is likely to be a token shot of some guy in a sweat-stained white tank top, wielding a giant cleaver or whisking a featherweight wok. THAT is a dai pai dong. Bare-boned, streetside, run by one or two people with equal amounts of equipment. That is the real deal.

This type of street food eating establishment has been around in Hong Kong since the 1800s, although at that time they were completely unlicensed. After the Second World War the colonial Hong Kong government issued ad hoc licences to families of deceased and injured civil servants, allowing them to operate food stalls in public and thereby earn a living. It was part of the licensing law that every owner of such a stall must display a photo of the licence on the stall itself and so, as we have such a literal culture, the locals named the operation dai pai dong (big licence stall).

These dai pai dongs or ‘big licence stalls’ are where I would send someone for the most streetlevel, fully immersive, sink-or-swim experience if asked to give someone the most authentic lesson in Cantonese cooking. It’s been a dream of mine to get a lesson in ‘wok-hei’ from the true street chefs of Hong Kong since I was a kid. I have deep respect for all chefs, from those who have worked hard to make their way to the very top and now have accolades and stars to show for it, to those peeling potatoes with diligence or performing other back-breaking yet vital tasks within the food industry. To me personally, however, none can hold a candle to the fierce owner of a dai pai dong, flicking a huge wok around a 32-jet-point wok burner rigged up on a portable gas canister, then just a minute later serving up the most succulent, crispy, slightly smoky sweet and sour pork you’ve ever tasted. Those are the guys with grit, and the true alchemists, not to mention performers of the industry.

Dai pai dongs are, unfortunately, a dying trade in Hong Kong, with only a scarce fifteen establishments left, due both to the legal logistics of taking over their licences and to the surge of hawker centres and air-conditioned eateries. But if you ask me, they are the culmination point of Hong Kong street food culture, and should not be missed if you are ever presented with the opportunity to visit one of them.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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