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Your neighbourhood guide to Yau Ma Tei

By Inés Fung 28 February 2020

Header image courtesy of @sjmusgrave

Yau Ma Tei is a neighbourhood that’s somehow managed to fly under the radar despite being sandwiched between the bustling districts of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. Teeming with both energy and character, it’s home to vibrant eateries, historic and modern culture, and eclectic shopping destinations. If you ever find yourself dazed amongst all that Yau Ma Tei has to offer, have no fear: just have a gander through our neighbourhood guide to find your new favourite spots.

Where to eat

Photo credit: @eateateathim

Kubrick

Indie bookstore-cum-hipster café Kubrick is an extension of the beloved Broadway Cinematheque, a small-scale cinema that prioritises the screenings of independent films—a rarity in Hong Kong.

Named after arthouse director Stanley Kubrick, here you’ll find people from all walks of life relaxing with a solid cuppa, surrounded by a multilingual collection of books on topics ranging from French philosophy to modern Chinese cinema—you’ll get lost sifting through this unusual catalogue and chancing upon the perfect find.

There’s no public WiFi in Kubrick, but that’s not a downside: Order one of their homemade burgers—we personally recommend the BBQ Pork Burger with Caramelised Onions and Cheddar Cheese ($98)—and a coffee and kick back with a good book or catch up with a mate.

Done with your meal? Finish off your visit with a browse through their expansive library that stocks hard-to-find titles, ‘zines from local artists and illustrators, as well as a developed collection of eclectic coffee table tomes.

Kubrick, Shop H2, Prosperous Garden Block 3, Public Square Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2384 8929

Photo credit: @yongfeel

Mido Café

Mido Café counts itself amongst Yau Ma Tei’s most famous landmarks and one of Hong Kong’s oldest remaining cha chaan tengs. You’ll be transported back to the 1950s with its nostalgic décor and authentic local fare.

While the food isn’t anything to write home about, they’re just as classic as the films that have been shot here—both Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild and Andrew Lau’s Goodbye Mr Cool have scenes that were filmed at this vintage café.

Expect traditional Hong Kong diner dishes of Pineapple Bun with Butter ($18), Condensed Milk & Butter Toast ($15), Hong Kong-style French Toast ($28), and more, as well as childhood favourite drinks like Red Bean Ice ($28) and Boiled Lemon Coke with Ginger ($28).

The window booth seats along the curved tiled walls are the perfect spot to pass an afternoon (and take some memorable photos), but the café truly comes alive at night when the bright neon sign drenches the room.

Mido Café, 63 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2384 6402

Photo credit: @coffee.in.frame

Mum's Not Home

Mum’s Not Home… but you are. This upstairs café may be hidden from the bustling streets, but its popularity remains as evergreen as the urban jungle that grows and flourishes within its walls.

Starting from humble origins as a dilapidated flat where the two owners offered haircuts, sold their travel trinkets, and served floral teas, Mum’s Not Home eventually transformed into the queer-friendly and bohemian café it is today. Dotted with floor cushions and eclectic art, almost every corner of this whimsical café is Instagram-worthy and super aesthetic.

Also Instagram-worthy are the cakes and drinks on offer on the hand-drawn menu, all at extremely attractive prices. The cakes are velvety smooth and gorgeous both to look at and to eat, but the real star at Mum’s Not Home is the Secret of Butterfly Pea Tea ($40). Served in a silver bowl, the magically blue-coloured tea turns into swirls of purple after you squeeze the lime in. The owners love to travel, often bringing back knick-knacks from all over the world and hosting flea markets, so be sure to check if they’re open on their social media.

Mum’s Not Home, 1/F, 302 Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 9770 5760

Wall Is Eat

Tucked into M1 Hotel is Wall Is Eat, a green oasis with similar vibes to Mum’s Not Home, but with a much higher ceiling and polished atmosphere. They also boast a wider range of menu offerings. It’s easy to shed your worries here as you tuck into delightful dishes like their signature seven-colour risottos and linguine, made with traditional Italian grains and pasta. We love the desserts here too, with imaginative names like Dear, What Are You Thinking Of? ($158), a homemade walnut brownie, and Make a Wish Under Meteor Shower ($118), a classic Italian tartufo. You’ll walk out with a spring in your step.

Wall Is Eat, 1/F, M1 Hotel, 28 Portland Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2710 6633

Photo credit: @hungryfoodiehk

Sanshiyi Toast and Breakfast

There’s no need to hop on a flight for a proper Taiwanese-style sandwich—Sanshiyi has got it right in their little shop in a quiet side alley. The owner is big on the slow living lifestyle and invites every guest that steps past the threshold to simply relax while he prepares your food. It’s a wonderful spot to spend a few lazy hours nibbling on your food and catching up with friends.

All-day brekky is the name of the game at Sanshiyi, with classic local snacks (deep-fried chicken wings are a tuck shop staple) and multi-layer sandwiches so tasty that even non-locals go out of their way to seek them out. The Layered Omelette Sandwich ($28), Scrambled Egg & Shredded Chicken Sandwich ($28), and the Hong Kong-style Char Siu Toast ($28) are sure to fuel you up to keep exploring the area. The best part? Late-risers can get brekky till 6 pm. Upgrade your order to a set with fries and drink for $55–$65 and make it a meal for teatime.

Sanshiyi Toast and Breakfast, Shop 4, G/F, Tak Hay Building, 1–9 Tak Cheong Lane, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 5540 3134

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Photo credit: @sammipanggg / OpenRice

Yokozuna

Yokozuna is one of the OG ramen shops in Hong Kong, with an opening that dates back to 1987, long before the Japanese food craze found its bearings in the city. Established by Yamamoto Koichi, it has become a firm local favourite since then, with comparatively affordable prices and a nostalgic environment reminiscent of a traditional Japanese ramen joint. It is small, for one, seating only about two dozen diners at a time, though the turnover is fast.

There are lots of noodle options at Yokozuna, which serves Hakata-style ramen, from the traditional tonkatsu- and bonito-based Double-Soup Ramen ($79) to a rich Curry Beef Ramen ($79). Not liking the noods? The Unagi Don ($106) topped with fried egg strips is a fantastic alternative. As Yokozuna is open till 2 am, the queues do get tiresome at times, but we promise it’s worth it. Plus, you can always pop in for a late-night snack after midnight.

Yokozuna, G/F, Yun Kai Building, 466-472 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2783 0784

Photo credit: @eatallone

Jinseki Steak

A new addition to the Yau Ma Tei food scene, Jinseki Steak was opened in partnership with bassist Wai from popular local music outfit Rubberband. The process here is simple and sticks to its Japanese influences: Order and pay via a vending machine outside the restaurant (definitely one of the most iconic and memorable experiences of casual Japanese dining, which we don’t often see replicated in Hong Kong) and help yourself to the free-flow salad, rice, and soup bar while you wait for your chosen cut of meat to be prepared.

Those who like their steaks on the rare side will be glad to know that your order will arrive a perfect medium-rare, but if you think it needs a bit more time, the hot stone it arrives on will help to grill it to your desired doneness. Jinseki sources their varieties of premium cuts from the US, Australia, and Japan, so those with difficulties making decisions can ask the friendly staff for recommendations. What we love most about Jinseki is how it brings a lesser-seen slice of Japan to the burgeoning treasure trove of Yau Ma Tei.

Jinseki Steak, G/F, 35 Pitt Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 6652 8897

Hing Kee. Photo credit: @foodie.snowliving

Claypot rice

No guide to Yau Ma Tei is complete without the honourable mentions of the famous Hing Kee Claypot Rice and Four Seasons Claypot Rice rivalry. Both claypot rice institutions have been around for over three decades, and both make a cheap and authentic pot of piping hot rice with any topping you fancy. The lines have been known to go up to two hours, so if you’re waiting for a spot at one restaurant, there’s plenty of time to pop a couple of blocks down to the other and try your luck there.

Hing Kee, a neighbourhood fixture, has become so popular in its 30 years that it now spreads across two streets and separate branches. Choose up to 60 different variations for your unique claypot rice dish, though the classics of Chicken & Chinese Sausage ($52) and Beef & Spare Ribs ($52) remain ever popular.

Similarly, serving steaming hot pots to the people for over 30 years, Four Seasons maintains their authenticity by using traditional charcoal grills to cook their rice pots, and offering a strict menu of 30 local classics, such as Chicken & Chinese Sausage Rice ($66). Make sure you order a side of Teochew-style Deep-Fried Oyster Omelette ($94), which Four Seasons makes with flavourful duck eggs and fresh oysters.

Hing Kee Restaurant, G/F, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2384 3647

Four Seasons Pot Rice, 46–58 Arthur Street, Yau Ma Tei

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Photo credit: @melody.eathard

am.pm

The hungry crowds spill out onto the road from am.pm’s bright yellow façade as they watch the soufflé pancake chefs chug along. Flipping pancakes till 11 pm in the street-front booth that’s made to look like a public school bus, you’ll adore the sweet ‘cakes and ice creams at am.pm, especially since they come in a variety of unique, hard-to-find flavours.

Their signature Creme Brûlée Soufflé Pancake ($50) is heaven in the form of a short stack, its ooey-gooey centre melting in our mouth and our hearts. For those with even more of a sweet tooth, the Pearl Milk Tea Soufflé Pancake ($50) and Chocolate Lava Pudding Soufflé Pancake ($50) are the perfect end to your day eating around Yau Ma Tei. There are no seats or tables at am.pm, so prepare to do your noshing on your feet. Wash it all down with a bubble tea—they offer flavours from Black Sugar Milk ($35) and Matcha Milk ($35) to Sesame Milk ($35).

am.pm, Shop B, G/F, Grand Place, 560 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2725 4318

Photo credit: @foodographiee

Coconut Diary

Coconut lovers rejoice as Coconut Diary does all coconut everything. They’re relatively new to the block, opened in September 2019 by a couple young, coconut-loving friends. They source their coconuts from Hainan, ensuring that each coconut has a layer of thick and sweet flesh. You’ve got to try their signature coconut puddings, a decadent dessert that’s actually not that bad for you when you consider the fresh fruits and taro added on.

Smoothie bowl lovers will also be pleased to hear that they offer fresh homemade smoothies served in, of course, a coconut. Gotta keep moving? Coconut Diary also mixes up some mean coconut milk-based Taiwanese-style drinks, and our favourite is the fresh-pressed Coconut Milk with Butterfly Pea Flower Jelly and Blue Curacao Syrup ($35).

Coconut Diary, Shop B, G/F, Nathan Tower, 518-520 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 6212 8907

Durian King

Durian King’s shopfront may stand on an unassuming corner of YMT, but you’ll definitely be able to smell the pungent fruits from a block away. Durian is a divisive fruit, but if you’re one of the many diehard durian fans out there, you’ll love Durian King’s innovative offerings of durian cheesecake, durian pizza, durian rice cakes and more.

Durian King, Shop A, G/F, 1 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2426 0197

Ngor Kee Jaja

Ngor Kee is the granddaddy of this famous Macanese dessert, serving up heartwarming, homemade bowls of this nutritious sweet soup to Yau Ma Tei and Jordan locals for over 90 years. Ngor Kee has been a family-run business since it began and has never left the district or franchised despite many offers and suggestions to do so. While they do serve other Cantonese desserts, the jaja is the star of the show. It’s still made with the family’s traditional Macanese methods, and the result is a fibrous, healthy mix of red beans, mung beans, black-eyed peas, red kidney beans, chickpeas, sago and coconut milk. Perfect for the cold weather.

Ngor Kee Jaja, G/F, 22 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2782 0508

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What to do

Immerse yourself in history and culture

Yau Ma Tei has resisted gentrification and remained a cosy area where you can still glimpse the old way of life. Looking at it now, you would never imagine that a century ago it was the home of Hakka boat-people and farmers, thanks to its fertile valley landscape and peaceful harbour. There are many seedy stories about the neighbourhood, yes, and the illustrious nightlife that was the backbone of it still persists in quieter pockets, but it really just adds to the charm.

Yau Ma Tei Theatre was once the largest theatre in Kowloon, standing on the junction of Waterloo Road and Reclamation Street. It’s the only pre-war theatre building in Hong Kong still standing, and plans for it to become a permanent venue for Cantonese opera is in the works.

Close by is the Yau Ma Tei Old Police Station, where films like Rush Hour 2 and many local TV shows have been filmed. A classic, intimidating building that serves as a reminder to the unsavoury history of the neighbourhood. It currently stands as a reporting centre, as the modern police station is a few blocks away.

Tin Hau Temple used to be on the shorefront of Yau Ma Tei. The harbour has since made way for urban development, but locals and fisherman still worship Tin Hau and Bao Gong (the God of Justice) in the colourful temple, and families still gather in the shade of the enormous banyan tree in the courtyard. It’s a place where you can still feel the air of community, strength, and kinship that binds the locals together.

In YMT you’ll find one of Hong Kong’s last remaining “singalong parlours”—Canton Singing House. It’s a true nostalgic gem, filled with shiny disco balls and singers with a devout following. Everyone inside has a story to tell, and who knows, maybe if you tip well, they’ll share it with you too.

Broadway Cinematheque has been a hub for cinephiles in Hong Kong for over 2 decades. Screening indie and arthouse films, showing filmmaker retrospectives, and hosting local and international film festivals, it’s an independent institution that Hong Kong needs. Broadway Cinematheque also houses a café, bookstore and DVD store. Stop by and enjoy a movie in any of its four houses, maybe you’ll find a new favourite film that no one else has heard of.

Where to shop

Authentic local experiences

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market and Yau Ma Tei Jade Market are two historic markets that can be found in this sunny neighbourhood. The Fruit Market, more commonly known as Gwo Laan, is a wholesale fruit market filled with family businesses, exotic fresh fruits, and colonial patchwork. The workers work overnight to set up the next morning’s wares. The early bird catches the worm, so be sure to visit early to satisfy that craving for perpetually ripe strawberries, king durians, square watermelons and more.

The Jade Market is shrouded in an air of mystery, filled with stall-keepers hawking their mystical jade wares, a stone known for its apparent ability to bring good health and fortune to those wearing it. Even if you have no interest in owning a piece of this beautiful green stone, a stroll through the market is a must if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Shanghai Street is a strip known for its kitchenware shops. Everyone from restaurateurs to home cooks will be able to find the tools they need to hone their skills, cook up a hearty meal, and stock the shelves. Be sure to compare prices between shops!

One-stop-shops

In’s Point is a toy collector’s paradise, filled with levels and levels of toys, Legos, and collectables. It’s a dizzying establishment for sure, but those who are dedicated will be able to find rare items like the childhood toy you lost decades ago or a pristine condition limited-edition figurine. There are also capsule toy vending machines galore. Your inner child will thank you. Another brilliant multi-story shop is CN Square, a one-stop-shop for all your arts and crafts and stationery needs. From spray paint to notebooks, easels to glitter, artists of any medium will be able to find what they need here.

Inés Fung

Editor

Currently based in Hong Kong by way of Calgary, Inés has always had a passion for writing and her creative work can be found in obscure literary ’zines. When she’s not busy scouring the city for the best gin-based cocktail, she can be found curled up with her journal and fur-ever friend Peanut. Don’t be surprised if you cross paths with her and she already knows all your mates.

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