The seemingly never-ending shopping lanes, the search for the best dim sum, and of course, the lavish horse racing days have always made Hong Kong one of the hottest stops in Asia. But Sham Shui Po, they say, is where you go to experience the real Hong Kong.
Take the 30-minute train ride and you’ll be whisked to a modest, if not poor, neighbourhood that feels a world apart from the city.
It won’t take long to fit in with the locals, however – especially if you begin your visit with a foodie tour.
Which is how the late Anthony Bourdain may have felt when he visited family-owned Lau Sum Kee midway through last year, a link the residents have been proud of to this day.
A newspaper clipping with a photo of Bourdain and owner Lau Fat-Cheong is displayed on the front window, which, if you peer through, you’ll find matriarch Mrs Lau kneading noodles.
It’s what she’s been doing since her husband brought his three-generation-old methods over from Guangzhou in the 1930s, which resulted in today’s shopfront. The Michelin-recommended eatery is famous for making its noodles with a bamboo pole.
The family business is a theme that runs through just about ever corner of Sham Shui Po. From wet markets, to haberdashery stores and second-hand goods stalls, there is a rich sense of family history waiting to be discovered in every street.
Often people are literally waiting to tell you the story.
“That’s what’s so interesting about this neighbourhood,” says Patricia Choi, who runs Wontonmeen, a creative residence in a high-rise built by her grandfather.
Choi was an unwilling resident of Sham Shui Po. Having moved into the building to be closer to the city where she studied interior architecture, there were times she felt unsafe.
She says she never tried to understand the neighbourhood, at least not initially. But she slowly pieced together a hub for aspiring creatives; a community to beat the ever-rising rental affordability crisis.
Wontonmeen now features a coffee shopfront, funky communal space, and a 12-bed hostel. Controversially, each bed is designed with cages in reference to a sensitive period as recent as 20 years ago where low-income people lived in caged beds.
“My impression was this community of single men taking care of each other. So I guess my impression of caged homes were a bit romanticised,” she says.
While Choi has never promoted the beds as a “caged home”, she describes them as “authentic”.
“The mesh also provides ventilation and flexibility depending on one’s preference on privacy. It is also functional as hangers of one’s personal items,” she says.
“One padlock solves the security problem and the visibility ensures no one is dying without it being known. I think it’s a learning experience and I still think it’s quite a unique design that you can’t find in Ikea or anywhere else in the world.”