Hong Kong’s Dai Pai Dong: Uncertain Future

This is the second part of a two-part series on the future of Hong Kong’s dai pai dong street eateries. Read the first part here.

Steaming hot chicken in Yiu Tung Street, Sham Shui Po

While the dai pai dong in Central have been given a new lease on life, it’s another story in Sham Shui Po, where the survival of 14 dai pai dong remains uncertain.

In 2009, the Central and Western District Council accepted the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s proposal to loosen dai pai dong licence restrictions, but the Sham Shui Po District Council rejected the offer.

“The current mode of operation of dai pai dong in the district had given rise to environmental nuisances such as street obstruction, noise, littering, waste water and greasy fumes, resulting in a number of complaints from nearby residents,” said a spokesman for the FEHD.

As a result, the spokesman said, the district council refused to support any change to the status quo until these hygiene problems were dealt with.

But the district council’s vice-chairman, Tam Kwok-kiu, said that the council’s position on dai pai dong was actually more nuanced. “Some types of dai pai dong just provide breakfast, night meals, coffee or toast, and they’re quite welcomed by the residents of the district,” he said. “On the other hand, there are some that operate like restaurants with fried food and Chinese dishes, and they really cause much nuisance.”

Tam said the district council proposed that the FEHD move some of the more problematic dai pai dong into cooked food centres. “That way we can maintain the rest in the streets and keep the dai pai dong heritage alive,” he said. “But we haven’t had any kind of positive response [from the FEHD].”

The district council receives two to three complaints about dai pai dong every month during the summer. “That’s when a lot of people like to sit outside and drink beer,” said Tam. He said few complaints are received during the winter months.

Though their future is uncertain, the Sham Shui Po dai pai dong remain extremely popular. Last Thursday, the five stalls on Yiu Tung Street were filled with diners eating noodle soups, seafood and dim sum. One of the adjacent blocks has been purchased for redevelopment, which might eventually force the street’s stalls to relocate.

“We’re just working until we can’t anymore,” said one stall owner. “We don’t know what will happen.”

Wong Chan-hung, whose family owns the So Kee noodle stall, said that he expected it to be eventually relocated into a cooked food centre, but he hadn’t heard of any impending change to the status quo from the district council.

Upon learning of the renovations and change to licence restrictions in Central, one of Wong’s employees said he wasn’t surprised the same hadn’t been done in Sham Shui Po. “There’s always a big difference between what happens across the harbour and what happens here,” he said. “It would be very upsetting if they got rid of the dai pai dong here. They are especially important in Kowloon because people here don’t make as much money.”

He said he wasn’t optimistic about the dai pai dong’s long-term chances of survival in Sham Shui Po. “I’m not sure if there’s anyone willing to fight for us,” he said.

So Kee during the afternoon tea time

This story was originally published in the South China Morning Post on January 16, 2011.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday January 16 2011at 11:01 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Food, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Hong Kong’s Dai Pai Dong: Uncertain Future”

  • C. Szabla says:

    Sounds like the stalls in Central were the victims of some terribly asymmetrical negotiation tactics. They should have held out for much more concrete assurances from the government. The Kowloon stalls seem like victims of a regulatory double standard without any discernible rationale,and probably have some right to file a complaint on that basis.

    In New York, street vendors turn to legal aid over license disputes all the time. I wonder what kind of representation, if any, the dai pai dongs had, and whether the Hong Kong legal community can step up its efforts to help (and advertise its ability to help) preserve the small businesses and the streetlife they generate.

  • I think the in the case of the Sham Shui Po stalls, the double standard stems from the fact that while the licences are managed by the FEHD, their application is determined by the local district council.

    There are associations that represent street hawkers but I’m not sure if they include dai pai dong. One problem is that business owners in Hong Kong are wary of rocking the boat — they’ll complain privately but won’t actually challenge authority. If I hadn’t actually gone to the dai pai dong owners and asked them about the renovation project, I don’t think they would have gone public with any of their complaints.

    I’m planning to swing by tomorrow to see how things are going. Apparently they’ve had another meeting with the government.