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Your neighbourhood guide to Sai Ying Pun

By Catharina Cheung 12 October 2018 | Last Updated 2 June 2020

Header image courtesy of @leemaishun (Instagram)

Originally published by Mat Gallagher. Last updated by Catharina Cheung.

Sitting in the west side of Hong Kong Island between Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town, Sai Ying Pun is one of the 852’s hippest neighbourhoods to eat and chill out in. Its name literally means “Western camp” in Cantonese, as the area was where the British military set up camp in the early days of colonisation.

While the area doesn’t really have any hard boundaries, it is widely accepted that Sai Ying Pun lies between Whitty Street in the west and Tung Wah Hospital in the east. The central section of Sai Ying Pun is arranged neatly in a grid, and rather unimaginatively named, with Western Street and Eastern Street to the west and east, respectively, intersected with First Street towards the waterfront, then Second, Third, and High Street progressing up the hill.

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Eastern Street in 1890. Photo credit: Hong Kong History Museum (Wikicommons)

After the British army moved to Admiralty, Chinese immigrants settled here while the Europeans were assigned to the Mid-Levels above High Street, where locals were excluded from living. These days, the neighbourhood is an eclectic mix of traditional and foreign foods and shops, housed in buildings that are mainly still the old-style tenement housing of old. Here’s your essential guide to spending a day in Sai Ying Pun.

Things to do

Sai Ying Pun Community Complex

Built in 1892, the big colonial-style building overlooking Sai Ying Pun from up on High Street was originally quarters for medical staff of the Government Civil Hospital, then converted into a facility for the mentally ill. Starting from the 1970s, the building was unoccupied for a good 20 years, falling into disrepair, and suffering further damage from two fires.

Because of its history, there have been several urban legends of supernatural sightings—the building is still sometimes referred to as the High Street Haunted House. It has since been reborn in 2001 as the Sai Ying Pun community complex, and is a Grade I Historic Building.

Photo credit: @gillanss (Instagram)

Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park

Sitting directly by the waterfront, Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park offers unparalleled views of the harbour and Kowloon’s cityscape. Aside from a manicured lawn that’s great to have picnics on, the park compounds also include football pitches, basketball courts, a sports centre, an indoor swimming complex, as well as a dog park a little ways down the road.

Photo credit: @sonoko.hongkong (Instagram)

Yu Kwen Yick

Probably Hong Kong’s most famous local chilli sauce, the Yu Kwen Yick brand has been around since 1922, and have always been based in Sai Ying Pun—in fact, their shop has only moved away from Third Street once for a few years, and even then it was only to relocate one road down the hill on Second Street. Visit their Third Street location to check out their small historical exhibition, and try their classic chilli sauce for yourself to understand the hype.

Fungus Workshop

The brainchild of a partnership between Hoiming, a designer brand for leather goods, and Cowrice, a lifestyle creative unit, Fungus Workshop is a quirky studio space focusing on handmade leather pieces. They run leather crafts workshops, teaching students to make their own unique goods, which can be anything ranging from wallets and clutches, to shoes or handbags. Sign up for a class and get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made something completely by hand!

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Where to eat and drink

Kaum at Potato Head

One of our favourite restaurants, Potato Head celebrates the delicious fare found on tables across the Indonesian archipelago. Stand-out dishes include the Bistik Jawa ($248), Babi Guling ($295), Mie Goreng Jawa ($120), and Terong Balado ($90)—don’t forget to also get some of their fantastic sambal sauces.

Apart from the restaurant, Potato Head also consists of a comfy bar area filled with overhanging plants, a retail space selling artisan and sustainable pieces, as well as The Music Room, a chill listening space for audiophiles where they host live events.

Bayi

This restaurant is easy to miss, but is one of the very few places in Hong Kong serving Xinjiang cuisine, and is Michelin-starred to boot. Unless you’ve been to the northwest of China, you’re unlikely to have tried this regional cuisine of the Uyghur people, which takes inspiration from its proximity to Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. Expect lots of lamb, mutton, and copious use of spices.

Their signature dish is the Roasted Lamb Leg ($368), which you need to pre order. Also make a point of ordering the Stir-fried Sour and Spicy Shredded Potato ($58), a northern Chinese classic, as well as the Homemade Ketik Yogurt drink ($28) which comes in original, mango, and blueberry flavours. Oh, and they’ve also got a really cute shop cat!

Photo credit: @hanchikitty (Instagram)

Kam Hing Chiuchow Restaurant

There’s a dining concept in Hong Kong called da laang 打冷, meaning to dine at a dai pai dong serving Chiuchow food, often late at night. One such establishment perfect for da laang is Kam Hing, replete with no-frills atmosphere, greasy floors, loud servers in wife beater undershirts, and bottles of Tsing Tao beer.

Go for an assortment of soy sauce braised foods, making sure goose slices and tofu are in the mix. If you’re not squeamish about such things, their pig’s blood is also done well. Da laang dishes should always be accompanied with a bowl of plain white congee, and you have yourself a cheap, cheerful, and tasty meal.

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By Stephanie Lown 5 August 2019
By Ching Yuen 12 March 2020
Photo credit: @sappho_yu (Instagram)

Yuen Kee Dessert

This old-timey tong shui joint has been around since 1855, famous for their mulberry mistletoe dessert soup with lotus seeds and a boiled egg. Unlike the shaved ice confectionaries topped with mango, peaches, or durian that are so popular, authentic Cantonese desserts are sweet soups served warm. Good choices include Green or Red Bean Soup (both $27), and Black Sesame Paste with Egg ($35). We also like combining Black Sesame Paste with Almond Tea in a hybrid fittingly called “black and white”.

Photo credit: @win2lai (Instagram)

Kwan Kee Claypot Rice

There are plenty of claypot rice restaurants in Hong Kong, but Kwan Kee is special because they still cook their claypot dishes over charcoal fires. Claypot rice is particularly flavourful because the ingredients you order it with are cooked together with the rice, which means all the flavours are absorbed completely.

The absolute best part of claypot rice is of course the layer of crispy rice at the bottom, scorched until perfectly chewy without being burnt. Once you’ve polished off the main part of the rice and toppings, drizzle some soy sauce to loosen the crispy bits stuck to the bottom and unbutton your jeans to make room. Kwan Kee only serves claypot rice dishes at night, so go for dinner and order the Double Preserved Sausages Claypot Rice ($85).

OKRA

This casual izakaya specialises in natural, unpasteurised sakes, charcoal-grilled small plates, and sashimi dishes. Chef Max Levy has created a menu of offerings which combine top-notch western ingredients with Japanese flavours and attention to detail. Dishes of interest include the Yuba and Karasumi Fettuccine ($98), Hentai Pigeon Tatsuta ($118), and the Unakyu Foie Gras ($180).

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Photo credit: @unclepadakhk (Instagram)

Uncle Padak

A Korean fried chicken restaurant franchised from Seoul, Uncle Padak serves the type of fried chicken that you often see and salivate over in Korean dramas. Their signature dish is The Padak ($138), which is boneless chicken pieces deep fried and served in four flavour choices: spicy, barbecue, ranch, and mustard—you can also try two flavours at once with the choice of half-and-half.

They also have a fantastic range of sides; the Localiiz team particularly enjoy the Korean Egg Roll ($68), Grilled Corn with Cheese ($58), and Korean Rice Balls ($68). Pair these with a bottle or two of Makgeolli ($88) and the endless stream of K-pop videos playing on the TV screens, and you’re in for a great meal.

Photo credit: @lapalomahk (Instagram)

La Paloma

Fans of Spanish food and Basque country cuisine shouldn’t miss this vibrant tapas bar specialising in paellas, el asador meats, and tapas plates to share. We particularly like their Pulpo a la Gallega ($140), Bacalao con Alioli ($168), Paella Valenciana ($338), and Arroz Negro ($338). Every weekend, La Paloma also does brunch with sharing tapeo plates and all-you-can-eat paella and crispy suckling pig for $350.

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Photo credit: @pingpong129 (Instagram)

Ping Pong 129 Gintonería

Thus named because the venue used to be an old ping pong hall, Ping Pong 129 has been curated to successfully create a hip, laid-back vibe. The bright red door on Second Street may look unassuming, but once you enter and head down a stairwell, you’ll find yourself in a cavernous space with fantastically tall ceilings and retro touches such as neon light signage. As the name might suggest, this is definitely a G&T joint; they arguably serve up Hong Kong’s best selection of gins and tonic waters, served in big goblets.

Vibes the place

Positive vibes seems to something sorely lacking these days, and Vibes the place is out to remedy this by infusing their tea and coffee with high vibrational energy using singing bowls before serving up. Singing bowl sound therapy is a wellness trend that has gained traction, and if it works when listened to, who’s to say it won’t also work when consumed? Caffeine jolt and good vibes? Sure, whyever not?

Where to shop

Thorn & Burrow

If you want to inject your home with a dose of colour or print that’s unusual in regular home furnishing, then Thorn & Burrow is your best bet. Hidden away in an upstairs shop on High Street, they stock soft furnishings such as Moroccan handira rugs, creative artworks with illustrations, photography, and textiles, as well as items from independent designers and boutique retailers. It’s always fun having a poke around to see what you can find.

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By Jenny Leung 15 April 2019
By Catharina Cheung 18 October 2019
Photo credit: @livezero.hk (Instagram)

Live Zero Bulk Foods

This welcoming shop is Hong Kong’s first zero-waste bulk food store, brought to us by the same mind behind Thorn & Burrow. Apart from organic foodstuffs, they also sell a range of kitchenware, body care, and alternative food packaging. Don’t forget to bring your own containers and bags to shop, though if you’ve forgotten, they do also have a small supply of empty jars and bottles that you can use and bring back.

Photo credits: @sjsgreenladies (Instagram)

Green Ladies

Established in 2008, Green Ladies is Hong Kong’s first social eco enterprise operating under a consignment model. While smaller than the Wanchai branch, you’ll often find us trawling through the racks for high-quality fashion items and accessories. Support thrifting and eco-friendly fashion choices!

Photo credit: @tamtms (Instagram)

Books & Co.

Tucked away further up towards Mid-Levels, Books & Co. is an ace combo of café and bookstore. Deploying a warm and vintage tone in its décor, this is the ideal ambience to indulge in a good book while sipping a cup of coffee or tea. If you get a bit peckish during your reading sessions, they also offer light refreshments like cakes.

Book-wise, they sell a wide variety of second-hand books in Chinese, English, and a few other languages, including those written by local, independent writers. With every nook, cranny, and sky-high bookshelf crammed with overflowing volumes, you’ll almost feel detached from the bustling city, reaching a state of tranquillity and peacefulness.

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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