A craving for congee
Tai Hang has become one of Hong Kong's hottest spots for good food, with stylish restaurants opening every month. Nestled among the new, fancy eateries, there is a congee shop at King Street that serves food the same way it has done for the past 20 years.
Unlike most restaurants in Tai Hang, Hong Kee Congee Shop has no exquisite dishes on its menu, no fancy decorations, and not even air-conditioning. But from early morning until midnight, it is filled with customers hungry for its congee and rice rolls.
The original owner, Chan Chi-nam, came to Hong Kong in the 1940s from Zhao Qing, Guangdong, hoping for a better life.
His son, Chan Hon-pan, the present owner of the shop, says: 'Life was hard on the mainland those days, so my father came to Hong Kong to try to find work.'
Chan Chi-nam soon realised that it was difficult to find a job in the city without the right connections.
Soon, he was pushing a wooden cart and selling congee to his neighbours in Tai Hang. Later, he moved into a dai pai dong in Tai Hang, where he and his family rented a shop on the ground floor of a walk-up building.
Most customers of Hong Kee Congee Shop live in the neighbourhood or are students from nearby schools.
Many students who flock to the eatery say they can have a delicious and affordable lunch there.
Chan Hon-pan says: 'We serve the neighbourhood, so we do not want to raise our prices, even though the price of rice and other ingredients have gone up in the past few years.'
Operating a congee shop is hard work, and Chan says he does not want his children to carry on the business if they can find office jobs.
Every morning, Chan wakes up at four to prepare food. 'I need three hours to cook the congee base, and I also need to prepare yautiao and rice noodles. Everything on our menu is homemade, except for the soft drinks,' he says.
Although Chan is not keen on his children working in the shop, his eldest daughter Tina, 15, has been helping out at the restaurant since she was 10. She seems enthusiastic about taking on the responsibility of running the place.
'Making congee and rice rolls is fun. I started by cleaning tables and serving food. Then dad taught me how to prepare congee. I would love to learn how to make rice rolls, but dad thinks I am not yet ready,' Tina says.
Old districts in Hong Kong are undergoing redevelopment, and Tai Hang is no exception. Several buildings around Hong Kee Congee Shop have been bought by developers, and Chan thinks the days of his restaurant are numbered. He says: 'I don't think I will be able to afford the rent in another location. We are a small family business. Right now, all I can do is take it one day at a time.'