#2067 | adventures in hong kong – sham shui po

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Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong

It is summer and I am in Hong Kong, city of asian ambition and frenzy, flour and dough and neon lights. I’m staying on the other side of the river this time, the Kowloon side, which is new to me because the last four times I was in Hong Kong I was freaking out over 1. Disneyland 2. Dim sum and 3. Lan Kwai Fong. The classic tourist experience, in other words. But this time being based in Tsim Tsa Tsui it seemed a good chance to visit the Hong Kong of locals, going deeper into Kowloon than I’d ever been before. So a couple of days ago I hopped onto their MTR (Hongkong’s train system is so extensive and fast, it’s seriously convenient) and headed in the direction of Sham Shui Po.

Sham Shui Po is one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods, a dense residential hub that, like most of Hong Kong, doubles as a bustling end-all. When I was in a bar a few days before, the locals described it as the place to go for anything you needed. Phone wires, leather strips, beads.. Why would I come to Hong kong to buy beads?! I asked, and they looked at me. You wont know you need it till you see it..

Alright, I was intrigued. Off I went to Sham Shui Po, apparently bead city, and here I am with the things you have to check out the next time you’re in Hong Kong. And yes, they do include beads:

1. Hong Kong Kung Wu Beancurd Factory

But let’s get to the beads later. This Michelin-recommended tofu shop was hands down the best thing about Sham Shui Po for me because I love Soya bean milk, I love tofu, and I adore the traditional asian ones too, none of that vegan western variation. Even within Asian culture, tofu varies. The Taiwanese like it chewier, the Chinese like it softer, the Japanese like it in their skincare products. Me, I hold that all tofu is good tofu. Like most chinese people, I grew up eating tofu, and to me, tofu isn’t just quick comfort food, it’s nostalgic because everyone I knew grew up eating tofu and soy pudding with our families. It’s local, it’s cheap, and it tastes like family memories.

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Blocks and blocks of tofu for eating in or take out

So of course I had to hit up the beancurd factory. Kung Wu is a super retro little shop, brimming with locals, very affordable. You hustle for a table either inside the store or along the back alleys, and most of the time you share a spot with other tofu seekers. Your order gets taken almost immediately, so think fast. And then within minutes you’ll be digging into some kind of soy.

Despite earning a nod from the Michelin guide, the place is still very much a local haunt and hasn’t been overrun by tourists. I might have been one of the only two tourist units in the shop, everyone else seemed confident of their space the way locals are. The woman we shared our table with told us she lived upstairs. I eat here every day, she said. Morning, before work, night, after work, afternoon, snack. All good.

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Back alley seating outside the shop

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Soya bean milk, Mixed deep fried items (deep fried tofu, tofu puff and golden fish, soya cake), Traditional tofu pudding

I was with a girlfriend and we ordered a bunch of things to share. Everything was excellent. It was all fantastic – simple, yes, but the soy tasted exactly like what God intended soy to be. The soy pudding was silky and smooth, with the option of raw sugar added on top DIY style, the soya milk was a very precise kind of sweet, delicious without being cloying, and the fried tofu smeared with fish pastes and such were so, so, so good. We also ordered carrot cake, which i dont think has anything to do with soya, but it was phenomenal.

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One of my favorite dim sum dishes – the asian carrot cake

Kung Wu is just one of those places that proves you dont need to spend a bomb to have damned good food. The tofu pudding was 12HKD (2SGD), the soya milk 10HKD (1.70), and the mixed platter 15HKD (2.60). My girlfriend later commented that she would travel from Hongkong Island to Sham Shui Po exclusively for the tofu. It was that good.

Kung Wu Beancurd Factory
Hong Kong, Un Chau, Pei Ho St, 118號號
MTR Sham Shui Po Station, Exit B2.
830AM – 8PM daily
Phone: +852 2718 0976

2. Traditional cakes and nuts

Rifting off the theme of food, the traditional face of Sham Shui Po really shows itself in the little homemade cake and nut shops that you can find walking around the neighbourhood. These shops are catered exclusively to the locals, it seems, and they’re mainly family stores. The one I visited was in the center of Sham Shui Po, sandwiched in between a medicine shop and butcher, hidden behind colorful tents selling socks and the like on the main road. It was recommended by a friend who lives in Hong Kong, but she had no idea what the shop was called. She only had a photo of the interior, which she forwarded to me, with the caption they dont make em like this anymore.

No name, no problem. Adventure, as they say, is out there. I downloaded the photo onto my phone and accosted a friendly neighbourhood policeman who had no choice but to smile at me and walk me in the right direction. After a couple of wrong turns, I found the shop staring back at me, a vibrant manifestation of the photo I had on hand.

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I immediately took a photo of the signboard for reference. The shop, I later translated, is called San Lung Cakeshop

They truly dont make em like this anymore. These chinese traditional cake shops are rare even in Hong Kong, and finding this was a delight. In a short conversation with the owners, limited mainly by my incomprehensible grasp of mandarin, I established that they not only bake everything in house, they also roast the nuts themselves.

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Some home made pastries and cakes

The shop is stocked full of sticky steamed cakes, traditional mochis, sugar sponge cakes, sesame rolls, soft fried dumplings, peanut glutinous rice rolls, horseshoe rolls, wife cakes, cococnut cakes, roasted peanuts, chestnuts, fish skin nuts… goodness. It was like the ultimate Asian candy shop.

I really had to confront my not-so-inner fat kid here. Stop it! I told myself. You literally can not eat the whole shop. But my word, i certainly wanted to. I ended up buying some small items to snack on, and a bag of nuts and mochi for a friend I was to meet for dinner later in the day. As I bit into the red bean mochis and lingered outside the shop, considering if I should get more, I thought to myself how obvious the difference in quality is when something is handmade vs factory produced. This, again, is a big thing in Chinese culture especially, because food is never just food to us, it is care and concern and a way of showing love in a verbally conservative culture, and somehow that gets transcribed into the pressed dough of dumplings, of buns. It’s something we’ve always subconsciously known, but recently started thinking about out loud more I guess, thanks to the short film Bao that’s currently screening before each showing of The Incredibles.

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Red bean sesame mochi, regular red bean mochi

生隆餅家 San Lung Cake Shop
Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po, Pei Ho St, 68號
7am – 8pm daily
+852 2360 1359

3. Craft

Lest you think Sham Shui Po is all about food, let’s get back to the beads that brought us here to begin with. It turned out that beads were just an easy way of referencing the hundreds of craft shops in the area, chock full of leather, string, diamantes, buttons, lace, tape, and yes, beads. Sham Shui Po is actually known for its cheap shopping and craft shops, which are at every turn and corner. The cheap shopping is literally just cheap clothing shops, which I’m ambivalent about because my interest in shopping comes and goes, but boy oh boy, the craft shops. Those are intense.

At first I thought you would have to be some kind of hardcore scrapbooker to be interested in these shops, but now I think anyone who is even remotely competent in DIY craft will find Sham Shui Po to be a dream.

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Multicolored crafting frenzy

What would this place hold for me? I wondered. Probably just some curious sights. But no – I left with some leather cord for a forgotten charm I bought awhile back, assuming that at some point I would find a chain for it and turn it into a necklace, then never stumbling upon any. Well, till now.

If I had more time I might have bought some furballs and turned them into keychains, some leather to bind a book, some sticky diamantes to adhere to the back of my phone… but more time is always the limiting factor, and so, dazzled and bedazzled, I moved on..

4. Electronics

And into more frenzied territory. I caught sight of the Golden Computer Arcade, and remembered that Sham Shui Po was also known for its electronic wares. So I ventured in and immediately was swept up in an insane mass of bodies, all scrambling for wires, chargers, and more obscure gadgets that I never thought I needed but made total sense. Hong Kong is an expensive city in general, but for some reason, electronics are known to be cheaper here, cameras, phones, the like. Many photographers I know to go Hong Kong to buy their lenses for this reason, and while I didnt do a side by side comparison, the prices in the complex seemed pretty decent.

I left without buying anything – crowds make me slightly panicky, and as it is, I have way too many wires for my own good at home, I’m a bit of a hoarder. I dont think I would come to Sham Shui Po specifically for electronics, but if you’re already here, and happen to need an extra phone charger, the electronics crowd sure is an experience.

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Mad squeezy for pretty cheap

Golden Computer Arcade
Golden Building, 146-152 Fuk Wa St
+852 2729 2101
11AM to 10PM daily

5. Dumplings

It seems that we have come back to food. I was very impressed by some vegetable dumplings in Sham Shui Po, and when I mentioned this later on to some hongkong-based friends, they told me that the area was known for dumplings. It is starting to seem like Sham Shui Po is known for everything, a jack-of-all-trades sorta thing. But I’m not complaining. This only reinforces the idea that Sham Shui Po is extremely local to me, the idea of multitasking and diversification quintessentially in line with the idea of Modern Asian City.

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Pan fried dumplings

We visited Yuen Fong Dumplings, a traditional Shanghainese restaurant known for their dumplings. It seemed the prevailing online opinion that despite their rather extensive menu, dumplings were the only thing worth trying, and anyway, my friend and I had come from the Soya eatery and were pretty full. So we ordered just one serving of their pan fried vegetable dumplings and were instantly impressed – they were excellent. Obviously freshly made and fried to perfection. Yum, yum. Later I realised that this shop was also a stop on HongKongFoodieTours’s Sham Shui Po tour, which I assume means it’s one of the more prolific dumpling shops in the area.

Yuen Fong Dumplings
Sham Shui Po, Fuk Wa St 104
9am to 10pm daily

6. Ha Ji Mian

Another local recommendation – 蝦子麵; pronounced as “ha ji mian”. I didn’t think I could be surprised by noodles any more but here I was staring down an unfamiliar variation of the noodle family. Ha Ji Mian basically means prawn roe noodles, the ha ji referring to dried shrimp roe. It’s used as a seasoning, and as the shrimp roe dries and shrinks, the flavor intensifies. Scattered generously over a serving of dry noodles, and then served up with a side of fresh wonton soup, the final product is a hit amongst many. And if you’re in Kowloon, Lau Sum Kee is the place for your hit.

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Lau Sum Kee – a local legend

The shop itself is tiny, as usual, and the walls are plastered with photos of supposedly famous people eating there. The place is listed on several foodie lists – Time Out, That Food Cray, even Vogue has covered Lau Sum Kee for their handmade noodles. Almost everyone else in the shop is having the Ha Ji Mian, so I felt assured in my choice. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s an intense experience if you don’t know what to expect – I’m used to my noodles slick with sauce or drenched in soup, and I nearly sneezed on my first bite because of the powdery shrimp roe. Your first bite tastes overwhelmingly like condensed shrimp, but as you chew, the flavors separate, and you can taste the springiness of the noodles, the bite of the shrimp roe. The noodles are served al dente, kneaded using a bamboo pole, and again, the difference between handmade and machine made food prevails.

It’s new to me, and it took awhile to grow on me, but it definitely lived up to what it was supposed to taste like – shrimp roe noodles. And the fresh shrimp wonton was delicious – an actual whole shrimp wrapped in dumpling skin, as opposed to the usual ground meat variation.

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This was pretty spectacular

Lau Sum Kee Noodle
48 Kweilin St, Un Chau, Hong Kong
1130AM-930PM daily

7. Blind dates

Ending off with a twist. Just as I was about to leave Sham Shui Po, I was alerted to the presence of a blind-date vending machine ten minutes out from the train station. Whaaat? Of course I had to hunt it down. Some google mapping and navigating later, and voila – I found myself outside a reptile pet shop in a decidedly more residential part of the neighbourhood, staring down the Fate Capsule vending machine.

The vending machines were created by the young owner of the pet shop – called BT Reptile and also worth a pop in, if only for the snakes and giant turtles. How it works: people sign up online and input their particulars and fun facts about themselves. They are then curated by Ben (the owner) and his girlfriend, verified for authenticity (he adds them all on WeChat to prevent spammers and also filters out the weirdos at the same time), then each individual profile is printed and put into a capsule ball. For the low low price of HKD20 (SGD3.46), you can choose from the male/female machines and get a capsule with your potential date inside.

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Fate Capsule vending machines

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Here’s a picture of the reptiles in the shop for good measure. Hopefully your blind dates arent as cold blooded as them!

It’s a very old school idea of blind dating, putting the novelty of surprise back into the interaction. The rationale? “If you meet your boyfriend on dating apps and tell your parents, most likely they will doubt if he’s reliable; but imagine you meet him via a capsule toy — they will probably be like: how cute is that!” (Interview with Coconuts HK)

Part of the idea’s success draws from the fact that it is supposedly very hard to get a decent date in Hong Kong, especially since there’s still a tinge of traditionalism that creates a resistance to dating apps. The chance factor of the machines, I think, appeals to the romantic inside each individual. In any case, it’s become so popular that there’s actually a two week waiting time for men to get their particulars into the system – and they’ve had to cap the number of capsules sold per day, to, in the owner’s words, “slow down” the process, make it seem more like traditional blind dating. The day’s limit was already reached when I visited the shop, but even if there were leftover capsules, I dont think I’d have bought one because I cant help but think it’d deprive some hopeful heart out there of their blind date!

BT 爬蟲 (BT Reptile)
偉 志 里 2 號 金玉 商場 208 號 地舖, Hong Kong
Shek Kip Mei neighborhood
1-7pm daily
Enter “BT Reptile” into Google Maps to navigate
https://www.facebook.com/fatecapsule/

Wrapping up

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From blind dates to dumplings, leather cords to soya milk, Sham Shui Po really does seem like a melting pot of Hong Kong’s local quirks and culture. I hope this guide helped you plan out your own trip there – just remember to show up hungry, because man, those dumplings.. that soy pudding…

Don’t forget – Hong Kong is only a three hour flight and a couple hundred bucks away. I booked my tickets (full fare, economy flight, thank you very much) by running a search for my dates on Skyscanner, a metasearch engine for travel. If you’re new to it, I also have a guide to Skyscanner written awhile back – which shows you how to get the cheapest tickets to the destination of your choice. And since I am mega helpful, here is a direct link to pull flight prices to Hong Kong across all carriers so you can easily compare prices. You can also find more on things to do in Hong Kong during the summer at the Discover Hong Kong site. As you can tell – it’s all about pre-trip planning, you guys.

Till next time –

x
Jem

This post was brought to you by Skyscanner and the Hong Kong Tourism Board

Comments

  1. Adelaide says:

    Oh My Gosh! You’re absolutely one of my favorite SG bloggers! Free from drama and very detailed (:

    Some questions though:

    Do you think bloggers in your local scene are able to work ft as just bloggers? Can this occupation lasts in the future? I realize most known bloggers here don’t even have a domain name. Are bloggers a big thing here?

    Thank u (:

    • Thank you! 🙂

      Well, i dont know – I think in Singapore most bloggers supplement their blog with some other form of social media presence? Like for me I dont like to take paid collaborations on my blog unless they are super related to my genre or interests, which is why my blog is still mainly travel and personal posts. But that necessarily means I choose to cut myself off from many streams of income. So I think it depends on each individual. In SG, instagram is still bigger than blogging!
      x

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