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Top 10 Street Markets and Stalls in Hong KongJanuary 21, 2013
The Guardian, January 21, 2013
Found treasures at Upper Lascar Row
Tourists flock to the street market around Upper Lascar Row – more commonly known as Cat Street – for kitschy chinoiserie and mass-produced Chairman Mao memorabilia, but locals go there for another reason entirely: to hunt for found treasures. One stall, run by a man known as Uncle Szeto, spills out of the confines of its green wooden frame with boxes of vintage postcards, family photos, keepsakes and curios, not to mention an impressive collection of old Bruce Lee movie posters, which were acquired at a movie studio liquidation sale 10 years ago. Other objects are acquired at flea markets in Vancouver, home to many Hong Kong expats, and they're a glimpse into a vanished Hong Kong: pictures of women in cheongsam dresses, Roadmaster double-decker buses, the recently-demolished and much-lamented Star Ferry clock tower.
• Corner of Upper Lascar Row and Tung Street. Open 11am-6pm Monday-Saturday. No phone.
Kowloon City Market
Kowloon City is the epicentre of Hong Kong's Thai population, so not surprisingly it's also a great place to find fresh fruits from south-east Asia. In the Kowloon City Market, whose porthole windows give its exterior the appearance of a deconstructed cruise ship, you'll find vendors selling plump, juicy mangoes, tangy, chewy rambutan (which looks like lychees in need of a haircut), and earthy longan, whose name means "dragon's eye" – open one up and you'll see why. Come in mid-summer to meet the king of fruits: durian, notorious for its fearsome spikes and unique odour. Fresh durian is sweet, creamy and decadent, with flavours ranging from butterscotch to sweet onion.
• 100 Nga Tsin Wai Road, Kowloon City. Open daily, 6am8pm
Me & George
Here's a secret about old ladies in Asia: they're fashion pioneers. Blouses with old-fashioned cuts and bright retro patterns; tapered silk slacks with floral prints – it's the "eccentric auntie" style on sale at an H&M near you, only more authentic. The place favoured by such trailblazers is Me & George, also known as Mee & Gee, a no-frills shop in the Ladies' Market packed to the brim with surplus Japanese fashion and vintage dresses, shoes and bags sold for unbelievably low prices. You won't have to stay long under the harsh fluorescent lighting to find entire racks of clothes for just HK$5, around 40p. Some of them are a bit worse for wear, but a dedicated rummager is always likely to come away with a brilliant find that's so uncool it's cool again.
• 64 Tung Choi Street, Mongkok, no phone. Open daily, 11am-11pm
If you look past the white tile walls and unflattering fluorescent lights of Hong Kong's public markets, you'll find some of the best and least expensive places to eat in town. Case in point: Lam Kee, a market stall dim sum joint in the New Territories suburb of Tai Po. Take a peek at the giant, steaming stacks of bamboo boxes on the counter and you'll find fresh dim sum such as har gau , siu mai (both kinds of dumplings) and black bean spareribs, along with unusual concoctions like the "chicken and stuff" roll, which contains chicken, taro, baby corn and spam in a bean curd wrap. Take a seat on one of the food court-style fixed metal tables and soak in the boisterous, neighbourly atmosphere, as a motley assortment of Tai Po locals stop in for a tea, a chat and a snack.
• Shop 8-9, second floor, Tai Po Hui Market Cooked Food Centre, Heung Sze Wui Street, Tai Po, no phone. Open 10.30am-5pm daily
Lee Ho Weights and Balances
There used to be a time when everyone needed the kind of handmade, bamboo-and-bone scales sold by Lee Ho, a small hawker stall in Shanghai Street's kitchenware shopping district. Herbalists, fishmongers, butchers, goldsmiths – there are scales designed specifically for each of these occupations. Today, they've mostly been replaced by digital scales, but Lee Ho presses on, buoyed by a few loyal customers, like Chinese doctors, who still prefer the traditional way of measuring their medicinal herbs. The closet-sized alleyway stall, which has been open since the 1930s, is now run by a petite woman named Mrs Ho, who has perfectly permed hair and a ready smile. She knows everything there is to know about the scales, which if nothing else make for an excellent kitchen conversation piece.
• Alleyway next to 345 Shanghai Street, no phone. Open 10am-6pm Mon-Sat
There used to be hundreds of dai pai dong eateries on the streets of Hong Kong, but these days, only a handful of these distinctive green-painted food stalls are left. Most are in the gritty neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, home to working-class locals and migrants from mainland China, south Asia and Africa. Keung Kee is one of the best, drawing both neighbourhood residents and people from across Hong Kong, who come for fresh seafood (kept alive in tanks on the street) and the comforting roar of the wok. Join the crowd around fold-up tables and feast on Hainan chicken and stir-fried clams, washing it all down with ice-cold bottles of lager.
• 219 Kilung Street, Sham Shui Po, +852 2394 0894. Open daily, 7.30am-9.30pm
One-Eyed Man's Cooling Tea
Chinese medicine is very much concerned with chi, the body's internal balance, and when you've had too many greasy, beer-soaked dinners – which you will, if you're doing a proper job of visiting Hong Kong – you could very well become yit hei, or "heaty," which causes bad skin, heartburn and any number of other ailments. The cure is leung cha, or cooling tea, which you can find at One-Eyed Man's Cooling Tea, a stall on Temple Street named after the original owner, one of whose eyes was larger than the other. There are sweet teas and bitter teas; both are dark in colour, brewed from a mysterious combination of herbs and dispensed from a trophy-shaped silver vessel into small porcelain bowls.
• 151 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, no phone
Nepalese whisky bar
Chungking Mansions is a hulking block of flats, guesthouses, curry houses and Bollywood DVD shops that is home to thousands of migrants and traders from south Asia and Africa. When its residents aren't busy making money, they relax at the Nepalese-run whisky stall out back, where you can buy a jigger of Seagram's whisky and Red Bull for 50p. The regulars are friendly.
• Behind Chungking Mansions, 44 Nathan Road, no phone. Open daily until around midnight
Yen Chow Street hawker bazaar
From afar, it looks like a park, with a few mighty trees looming over the corner of Yen Chow Street and Lai Chi Kok Road, a rare bit of greenery in otherwise denuded Sham Shui Po. Walk closer and you'll notice a cluster of shacks beneath the foliage. It's not a shantytown – it's a ramshackle market dedicated entirely to fabric and trims. Leopard print? Lace? Lumberjack flannel? You'll find it all here, wandering between mountains of fabric rolls reaching up to the sheet-metal and tarp ceiling. You'll also find tailors, too, if your sewing skills aren't up to snuff.
• Corner of Lai Chi Kok Road and Yen Chow Street, Sham Shui Po. Most stalls open 10am-6pm, Mon-Sat, closed Sun
Vintage cameras on Apliu Street
When Ng Wai was a Chinese border guard in the 1970s, his job was to keep people inside China. Then he decided he wanted a better life, so he snuck across the border himself to British-controlled Hong Kong. He now runs a camera stall on shambolic Apliu Street, where market stalls packed full of electronic components sidle up to hawkers selling secondhand home appliances. The soft-spoken Ng, whose eyes constantly scan the crowds, has quite a range of cameras packed into his tiny metal stall, from broken 35mm point-and-shooters – favoured by Africans who buy them in bulk, fix them and sell them on the streets of Lagos and Nairobi – to well-preserved rangefinders, the kind of camera used by street photographers like Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
• Near 237 Apliu Street, Sham Shui Po, no phone. Open daily, 11am-7pm
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk