One way of really experiencing truly local Hong Kong fare is to dine at a dai pai dong (大排檔). Literally meaning "big license", it refers to a specific type of restaurant that has a bigger license than a typical street vendor. These special licenses were originally issued after World War II to family members of those who had been killed or disabled in the war.
In 1956, the government stopped issuing new licenses to open air street stalls due to complaints about these outdoor restaurants causing traffic and noise issues. More recently, the government started building indoor "cooked food centres" to move these outdoor restaurants to more sanitary indoor locations.
One of the first restaurants to make this switch was Wai Kee, a Halal Cantonese restaurant that started as a pushcart over 30 years ago.
Wai Kee is now run by 3rd generation owner Osmun Wong. His mother's family is Muslim Chinese from Northern China and they incorporate strict halal practices in their selection and preparation of food.
Wai Kee focuses on perfecting just a few dishes and it does them extremely well. It is most famous for two things: roast duck over rice and curry. The restaurant serves 30-40 ducks a day even though it's only open for 8 hours a day (closes at 6PM, so come early!). They source their ducks directly from China and are very particular about the quality and the method used to cook it.
The duck is indeed tender, flavorful, and juicy. It's an absolute steal at only HKD40 (around $5 USD).
Their other signature dish is a richly flavored curry, which you can get with mutton, chicken, or beef. The mutton is the most famous, though we ordered chicken, which was still delicious. There are bones and it is a bit oily, but the flavors are outstanding.
For fun, we had never tried stewed pomelo (a large citrus similar to a grapefruit but bigger). They take the rind of the pomelo and stew it for a long time in a flavorful broth. What results has the umami of meat and is surprisingly good.
We had a choice of noodles or rice, so we went with rice noodles!
Simple bok choy on the side.
Wai Kee Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre - General Thoughts
I must confess, initially I had been a bit wary about eating here. I had walked through Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre but found it a bit chaotic and loud. I had no idea how the rules worked. Should I order somewhere and then sit down? Do I need to speak in Cantonese? What if I can't read the menu?
It wasn't until Bryan's parents came to town that they offered to go with me, and I'm thankful for that!
The experience wasn't that "scary" at all. The menus were actually written in both English and Chinese, and it was pretty easy to order.
All in all, Wai Kee is definitely worth trying. The duck is excellent and the curry is satisfying and flavorful. You can definitely get full here without breaking the bank. Sure, it is a bit loud and chaotic at times. Don't be surprised if you have to share a round table with a bunch of strangers. After all, that's part of the whole local Hong Kong experience. Most importantly, you'll be savoring no-fuss expertly prepared signature dishes at very reasonable prices.
To find the Cooked Food Centre, enter Bowrington Road Market (north side) on the other side of Wan Chai Street, go up the escalator, and then walk back across the foot bridge over Wan Chai Street (again) to enter the Cooked Food Centre. I haven't found any other way to get there as of yet. As far as I know, that is the only way.
Wai Kee Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre
Shop 5, Bowrington Road Cooked Food Centre
1/F, Bowrington Road Market
21 Bowrington Road, Wanchai
This is the forty-fourth post in the updated #50Postsin50Days – Take 2 Challenge. Other posts in this series will be added to the bottom of the original post.