Dai dai dongs are a classic roadside dining scene of Hong Kong food culture that offer quality Cantonese and Chiu Chow cuisines with affordable pricing. They started in the 1950s and are still among the local favorite dining options after decades. The cultural legacy of serving quality food in the casual outdoor setting of folding tables and chairs has become special memories for locals. Fewer dai pai dongs exist nowadays with government licensing difficulties, but still, there are several across the New Territories, Kowloon, and Hong Kong Island.
Black pepper beef & potatoes (黑椒薯仔牛柳粒)
Black pepper beef and potatoes (pronounced hak jiu shu zai ngau lau lap) is a popular dish with the combination of great steak cut and black pepper soy sauce. The potatoes are cut in chunks and cooked to al dente with crispy skin. The beef is typically pan-seared to brown on all sides and to keep the moisture of the beef resulting in a juicy, tender steak. It is sauteed in the wok, to which potatoes and black pepper sauce are added to get a perfect flavorful combination of ingredients with the right kick of spiciness. The texture and flavor are not overwhelming, leaving the dish a favorite for many.
Claypot rice (煲仔飯)
Claypot rice (pronounced bou zai fan)is a dish that pairs well with a variety of food ingredients. The popular dishes of claypot rice in dai pai dongs are chicken, lap cheong, and salty fish. Lap cheong is a dried Chinese sausage that is smoked with a hint of sweetness and salt. Salty fish is fried, has a golden outer layer, and soft interior. Claypot rice is cooked directly on the stove, where the ingredients are steamed to keep moisture and served with the crispy rice as the base. This provides a blend of crunchy and soft textures.
Oyster omelette (蠔餅)
Oyster omelette (pronounced hou beng) is a Chiu Chow-style dish rich in protein and slightly different from a regular omelette. The success of this dish focuses on the ratio of flour, egg mixture, and cooking with oysters. Timing is essential for this aromatic dish in order to create a golden, crispy, delicate omelette. The preparation of oyster omelette is to soak oysters for about an hour to clear out sand, then they are cooked with garlic, scallion, and seasonings. White wine is an ingredient used to keep the umami taste of the oyster. Oyster omelette is a common order at dai pai dongs.
Black bean clams (豉椒炒蜆)
Black bean clams (pronounced si jiu chaau hin) are known as a delicious dish best cooked in a wok. Clams are soaked for at least an hour before cooking to remove extra sand. The key of the dish is to serve it right when the clams are slightly off the shells to maintain their freshness. This dish brings out the soft and sweet taste of clams and pairs well with beer. Typically black bean sauce is used for this dish (called douchi in Cantonese), a sauce made with fermented salted black soybeans that usually comes in a jar.
Dried scallop & egg white fried rice (瑤柱蛋白炒飯)
The specialty of this fried rice dish (pronounced yiu chu daan baak chao faan) is the dried scallop, an expensive dried seafood ingredient that is contains nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and iron, and several vitamins. Scallops are cooked, dried, and seen in dried seafood shops and traditional markets. This dish starts with softening presoaked dried scallops before cooking. Sauteed egg whites, shredded dried scallops, chopped scallions are cooked with rice together in oil to get its umami flavor. Dried scallop is used to make XO sauce, which is commonly used in cooking this dish. This classic, distinctive dish is fluffy, light, and simple.
Sweet and sour pork ribs (甜酸排骨)
Sweet and sour pork (pronounced tim syun pai gwat) is an appetizing dish with simple ingredients. The pork ribs are cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated with egg mixture, sugar, and salt. They are then dredged with flour or cornstarch to deep-fry in heated oil to get golden yellow and crispy. The dish is sweet and sour, as the pork is sauteed with pineapple to get sweet fruitiness. Vegetables like red pepper and onion are added to heighten the saucy flavor of the dish. This is a classic pork rib dish that is not greasy, a favorite of children and family.
Stir-fried garlic shrimp (蒜香黃金蝦)
Stir-fried garlic shrimp (pronounced syun heung wong gam ha) is also named golden shrimp in Cantonese. It is a dish of crispy shrimp with a butter garlic aroma. The shrimp is usually light, chewy, and sweet. The flavor of the salty eggs is the key to the dish to enhance the shrimp’s flavor. The crustaceans are blanched and cooked with hot oil then sauteed with butter and garlic. Butter has a low smoke point that allows salty egg bites to stick to the shrimp and keep its umami profile. A dish that is a great test of the chef’s skills, and a lovely balance of flavors.
Roasted crispy pigeon/squab (紅燒乳鴿)
Roasted crispy pigeon (pronounced hung siu yu gap) is a classic Hong Kong dish in Cantonese cuisine. It is a lean meat dish with a reasonable price that usually is cheaper than chicken. The pigeon is prepared by removing offals, a thorough cleaning, then marinating for an hour before cooking. Roasting or frying pigeons helps keep the meat juicy. The glossy look of dark golden, crispy skin is from ladling with oil or brushing with maltose. This dish can be served as a whole pigeon, halved, or cut in pieces. The taste of pigeon is juicy, tender, and different from roasted goose.
Crab with garlic and chili sauce (避風塘炒蟹)
Crab with garlic and chili sauce (pronounced bei fung tong chaau hai) is a classic traditional seafood dish of Cantonese cuisine. The uniqueness of the dish is it integrates garlic, chili, and black bean (douchi) to stand out from the aroma of crab. Every bite of soft crab meat has a hint of spice and richness in the flavor of ginger, scallion, and garlic. It is a well-presented dish to show the essence of the Cantonese flavor profile. The dish originates from marine restaurants of typhoon shelters (bei fung tong in Cantonese) in Hong Kong and has been a must-order dish in dai pai dongs.
Fried pig intestines (炸大腸)
Fried pig intestines (pronounced ja dai cheung) are a specialty street snack dish in Hong Kong. The pork intestines are deep-fried and cut into pieces when served. The skin is thin and crunchy, but soft inside. It is a simple dish that requires lots of preparation and accurate timing for deep frying. The right cooking time prevents the intestines from being dried out or becoming too rubbery and tough to chew. Pig intestines served in dai pai dongs are different from the ones served in snack stores, where the former are prepared as pieces on skewers and deep-fried.
Dai pai dongs are a central icon of Hong Kong food culture and represent the change of history. They are a place for vibrant social interaction where you can also enjoy a quick snack, drink, or quality meal at an affordable price whether it is a seafood dish, specialty of Cantonese cuisine, or a new adventurous dish.