Sham Shui Po Food safari!

26 02 2014

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Sham Shui Po, discussed previously on the blog here and here is one of the most rewarding areas of Hong Kong for exploring on foot, at least for those interested in the gritty, grimy “old Hong Kong” of bustling street markets, cheap and exotic restaurants (and cramped, slummy housing blocks).

One of the city’s poorest and old neighbourhoods (as in, it has the highest median age), it has resisted the glitz and glamour that has swept up much of the island and increasingly, Kowloon, in the wake of the continuing Chinese mainlander tourist boom. Instead it offers blocks of hawkers selling underwear, electrical cables, jade, pirated mainlander DVDs from the 1980s, tatty T-shirts and much else. Stores sell beads or zippers or costume jewellery. The pavements hum with jostling crowds. This is where working class locals,the unemployed and the retired, impoverished new arrivals and  maids on their day off come to shop and eat.

Not surprisingly then, it is home to some of the city’s best loved “street food”. This weekend I went on a tour of some of SSP’s most famous eating establishments – all cheap, no-nonsense, plastic stool-and-formica joints with queues running out the door.

Foremost of these is the Wai Kee noodle cafe, famed for its French toast and its pork-liver-with-ginger noodles (above, unappetizing looking but tasty).

We also stopped by another store, around the corner for its locally esteemed handmade, bamboo-pressed noodles with pork knuckle.

The area is also a stronghold of snake restaurants, like the female-helmed Snake King Yip and Snake King Shan, decked out in stuffed reptiles and snakeskin handbags for sale.

All of this was topped off with a local dessert of hot sesame soup, almond milk and kiwi-juice, although I skipped the frog’s ovaries.

The Northside

9 07 2012

Quiapo and Bindondo, north of the weed-choked Pasig River, are Manila’s gritty, teeming market districts. Since where I was staying in Malate seemed quite gritty and teeming enough, I wasn’t sure if I really needed to make the trip. But on my second day in the city I worked up my confidence and hopped on the train. I’m certainly glad I did.

I saw so many interesting things on the streets that day – but took photos of none of them. The pressing crowds, gun-toting security men outside stores and general air of dilapidation made it clear this was not a neighbourhood for taking casual happy snaps. When a train rumbled above on the old elevated track and hip hop blasted from a parked motorbike-taxi, I felt the urgency of the beat like never before. It was like “this is what hip hop was supposed to sound like”. It made sense in a place like this.

Among the stalls of clothes, vegetables, live pigeons, flowers, folk medicine and bras was the Church of Quiapo, home to a sacred black image of Christ that is paraded through the streets every Easter. It stood in a cluster of vendors selling creepy Catholic saint dolls in elaborate lacy robes,  with big unblinking eyes. A golden-domed mosque nearby, meanwhile, was built for Muammar Gaddafi in an attempt to dissuade the old despot from funding Muslim separatists in the country’s Deep South (it didn’t work).

From Corriedo train station I wandered to the Quiapo church at Plaza Miranda, then back, through a neighborhood that reminded me powerfully of Sao Paulo – same once-lovely, now dirt-streaked 1940s office blocks, crazy traffic and hole-in-the-wall shops. In one corner of this district is Manila’s Chinatown.

The main Chinese legacy in this part of the city though is farther North at Abad Santos station. Here a cemetery spreads out amid flowering magnolia trees in a sprawling walled compound. I had heard rumours of the lavish crypts within built for the deceased Chinese tycoons – some with airconditioning, electrical applicances, functional plumbing, all empty but for the spirits. The dead here lived better than many of Manila’s living.

But as if to underscore the odd divide between this place and the rest of the city, I trudged for ages down fume-choked roads on narrow, broken  footpaths covered in mucus and mud, looking for a way in. Sometimes the cemetery would appear tantalisingly through cracks in barred gates – silent avenues of marble “mansions” and shady trees and pagodas. But I could never find the way in.

It felt like a metaphor for something…

Kowloon with my iPhone

13 06 2012


Brunch in Tai Hang: a photo essay

3 06 2012

It was a rare blue-sky day on Saturday so to celebrate the blazing sunshine – so often lost in Hong Kong’s cloud cover or smoggy haze – I headed out for brunch to its cutest neighbourhood, Tai Hang.


A very overpriced salad.


A big part of the area’s charm – oddly – are the many auto mechanics, adding a pleasant grittiness to the summery streets. Interspersed with the garages and the flaking, period apartment blocks are  rapidly increasing yuppie cafes (which, admittedly, was the reason I was here). I wonder how long the old panel beaters will last now the area has been ‘discovered’?



1 04 2012

This week, I ventured the first time to the “village” of Stanley, a well-known tourist trap at the ‘extreme’ (ie 25 minutes from Central) Southeasernt tip of Hong Kong island. A friend had invited me there for, of all things, tapas and other people had mentioned to me how nice it was. Still, I was quietly blown away by its beauty when I got there.

Stanley is approached by a “To Catch A Thief” style winding corniche above the lapping waves, with villas and apartment blocks and palm trees and bright pink bouganvillea along the way.  You pass by lovely Deepwater Bay, the wealthy haven of Repulse Bay with a forest of gargantuan and oddly-shaped highrises backed by lush green hills, and then descend to Stanley itself, on a narrow isthmus with the sea on two sides (like Manly in Sydney, of which it seemed a frankly nicer version).

There is a mini-Chatuchak market of stalls selling tourist junk in winding alleys, a waterfront promenade, little shady beaches, a well-healed “lifestyle mall” and an impressive colonial looking building by the waterfront. This had been cut up, brought from the other side and reconstructed, and now houses the very tapas restaurant where we were to eat (very well!)

Saphan Khwai

29 01 2012

Saphan Khwai is a little-discussed neighbourhood in Bangkok, wedged between the higher-profile Ari with its glitzy “in” restaurants and the monster that is Chatuchak. But over the last week, while I have been staying here, I have quietly come to love the place. It is a very down-to-earth Thai neighbourhood. It is also super-lively. The two main drags, along Pradiphat Road and Phaloyothin are home to bustling, and exotic, street markets selling food, amulets, wooden carvings, old magazines and paper backs, cheap batik-print clothes for grandmothers from the provinces (I bought some shorts), flowers and even Arabian-style shoes –  all kinds of other wonderful things, all dirt cheap.

On weekends the stretch of road outside the local post office becomes an amulet market, dedicated to the sale of magical talismans and divine images. From here, a few blocks north brings you to a cluster of hippie-ish middleaged men with long hair and feathers in their headbands selling statues of Buddha next to Jar Jar Binks, army surplus gear, and bones and horns.


In addition, there are old-skool open-fronted Thai “mom and pop” stores, filled with unbelievable clutter – rubber crocodiles and bronze busts, statues of gods, old calendars from the 80s, Blu-ray players…

There is also a 50 baht (less than US1.50) retro cinema:


..and a pair of grand dame retro hotels, the Liberty Garden and the less flamboyant but equally old fashioned “Pradiphat Hotel”:

Plus, I was surprised to find, something of a local gay scene, with the subway and Skytrain and Chatuchak market and its adjacent park all within a fifteen minute walk. Its a great place to stay if you want to get a slightly more “local” slice of Bangkok life.

Sukhumvit street scene

26 01 2012