Siu Choi Wong

Price: $270 HKD (3 people + beer)
Rating: 6/10 

Dai pai dongs make me a little sad. Why? Because I love them. But I also realise they're getting fewer in number and I don't think Hong Kong's current generation really understands the cultural and gastronomic importance of dai pai dong. For those of you reading saying "what the hell even is a dai pai dong", it used to refer to a street dining scene with food cooked up open air on small outdoor kitchens, with a large wok burner, ice boxes full of seafood and beer (often both combined), with rickety tables and chairs. Since the local government crackdown on outdoor dai pai dongs (bloody OH&S laws...), few dai pai dongs still exist in Hong Kong, and a lot of them have been relegated indoors. 

Think about it this way. It's 35 degrees out at night, in the middle of a sweltering Hong Kong summer, with bad air pollution. You sit at a table on the middle of the street flanked by other rowdy diners doing the same, with a few long neck blue girl beers on the table, fried noodles, surrounded by friends. It's noisy, its smoky, and its so much fun. 

Siu Choi Wong is a perennially popular (and massive) dai pai dong in Sham Shui Po. There's always a line (or more accurately, a large crowd waiting on the street) but the whole place is so big the wait is never really that long. These days most of the seating is indoors, which a few tables outdoors, but given the humidity and heat caused by the open air kitchens, sitting inside isn't such a bad thing.

One thing I don't like about Dai Pai Dong's are the beer girls. Beer girls don't actually work at the dai pai dong, but they go around to tables trying to sell whatever beer they're paid commission to sell. At Siu Choi Wong, a carlsburg girl was making the rounds trying to push either Carlsburg or Asahi, which were slightly pricier than all the other options. I feel sorry for beer girls, since they work on commission, if they don't sell beer they don't get paid. Our particular beer girl used high pressure tactics like telling us how she wont get paid, how she's really upset, how the beer is really good, and she stuck around for a while (probably because we were white, and more likely to cave in). Normally, i'd pay the extra negligable amount to take whatever beer they were pushing (its like $4 HKD extra), but I don't actually like Carlsburg or Asahi. Eventually she left, but the whole situation made me feel extremely uncomfortable and guilty. We got Blue Girl, its a cheap and light locally brewed pilsener that goes great with the stir fried goodness of dai pai dong food. 

The dishes at Dai Pai Dongs are huge and designed to be shared. It's always a great place to take a big group of friends. Our first dish was a nice stir fried pork number with generous slices of green pepper, celery and chilli. One thing I love about dai pai dong dishes is that everything comes with a distinctive wok flavour. Though it sounds a bit wanky, the longer a dai pai dong has been around (and the older the woks), the tastier a lot of its dishes will be, as every dish picks up a unique flavour from the overworked and constantly sizzling large woks. 

Also another note, the dishes are very shiny because they're laden with MSG. If you have a phobia to MSG (which if you do, then you're an idiot because MSG is perfectly safe) then don't eat at dai pai dongs. For all the sane rational people out there who couldn't give a shit about MSG, the food is damn good. The beef stir fried with brocoli is great. The beef is tender and soft, and the brocoli is crunchy and fresh. 

One other thing i've noted with Siu Choi Wong is that you'll very rarely get exactly all the dishes you ordered. Sometimes it's because the menus have very dubious english translations, but I suspect more often than not the staff occasionally put the wrong thing down on the wrong table, which when you consider how huge Siu Choi Wong is, isn't the biggest of crimes. Either way you're usually going to get something good. Our third dish was meant to be Sichuan Chicken, instead we got a dish with fried tofu cubes, celery, pepper, chilli, peanuts and dried fried shrimp. Whilst I was looking forward to the sichuan chicken, this was okay, so we ate it without fuss. 

What I like about Siu Choi Wong is that it's a very local dai pai dong. You'll be hard pressed to see other gwailo here, which when the otherwise excellent dai pai dongs on tourist trap temple street are overflowing with fat american tourists taking pictures of themselves, is a nice change. It's not the greatest dai pai dong taste wise, but it's easy, it's cheap and so long as you aren't hassled too much by the beer girl (the level of harassment changes nightly), it can be very worthwhile. Come with friends.