The Michelin effect: how awards have helped Hong Kong street food sellers

WITH VIDEO: What difference does recognition from the French dining bible make to a food business? We visit three Mong Kok food sellers to find out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 5:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 November, 2015, 8:19pm

The addition of street food to the 2016 edition of the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau was an intriguing move. It already has a Bib Gourmand section, highlighting restaurants that offer “exceptional good food at moderate prices”.

However, the latest edition adds another category called Street Food, featuring 23 places in Hong Kong selling everything from traditional Chinese snacks to Western desserts and even hamburgers.

The South China Morning Post visited three places in Mong Kok to find out how business had changed since their inclusion on the Street Food list when the results were announced on November 5.

READ MORE: Our Michelin pride and joy: Hong Kong’s street food should be the way forward to boost tourism

Three Potatoes is a small street stall on Nullah Road in between Ladies’ Market and Fa Yuen Street. It serves variations of potato dishes, such as twice-baked cheese and bacon potato (HK$30), baked potato with egg, and the popular hash brown with fried onion and bacon (HK$28).

WATCH: How a hash brown is made

Co-owner Vivian Wong Ki-wai says she didn’t know what was going on when the media came calling the day the Michelin announcement was made.

“We were the last people to know,” she says with a laugh. “After 3pm that day, lots of reporters called us to ask for our reaction of being included in the Michelin Guide and we were like, ‘huh?’ The Michelin Guide is usually about restaurants, not street food so we were very surprised.”

READ MORE: Egg waffles and cart noodles get street cred: Hong Kong and Macau street food joins Michelin guide for the first time

Three Potatoes only opened in February, which made Wong scratch her head as to why the shop was included on the list, which usually features places that have had a long history. Nevertheless she is thankful for Michelin’s blessing.

She reports that since the Michelin announcement, more people have been coming by to try their food. “Initially we had a lot of people coming, and it has since dropped off a bit, but the effect of being in the Michelin Guide could be for the long term with more foreigners checking out the list,” Wong says.

The idea for Three Potatoes came about because of Wong’s love of eating the humble tuber. As a food lover, she always wanted to open a food-related shop.

“My dream is to prove that this can work,” she says. “I didn’t get much support from family and friends who were sceptical, saying starting a business is tough and it’s long hours. But if you put in the hard work and take opportunities, you will get a chance to shine.”

She and her partner are always thinking of new dishes to put on the menu and will have a chance to test some of them , including a creamy mashed potato presented on a cone, at a pop-up outlet in Metro City Plaza , Tseung Kwan O, between December 5 and January 3.

Also on the street food list is Kei Tsui, a traditional Chinese pastry shop which has been on Fa Yuen Street for more than 30 years. Many locals and visitors come here to buy a variety of baked goods, including the signature glutinous rice cakes with red bean paste, “wife cakes”, egg tarts and “baby chicken cakes”, a pastry with a sweet and savoury filling.

The shop hasn’t changed much over the past three decades and they only added air conditioning this year. All the baked goods made by hand in the back of the shop, and some pastries may be sold outas early as 2pm.

Owner Cheung Yui-kong is proud of Kei Tsui’s success. “People think our snacks are good to eat because we make them fresh every day, and they are made by hand,” he says.

Since their inclusion in the Michelin street food guide, Cheung says they are busier, though business has always been steady. “Fewer people are going into this business and not many do just Chinese-style baked goods,” he says.

WATCH: Kei Tsui’s bakers at work

He hopes his son will eventually take over the business, as customers from as far away as North America ask relatives in Hong Kong to mail care packages filled with these snacks to satisfy their hankering for local treats. Cheung also proudly reports many Hongkongers who have emigrated and then come back are thrilled to see Kei Tsui is still around.

Joyful Dessert House, another outlet on Michelin’s street food list, offers Western-style desserts in a small laid-back cafe setting. There’s Oreo parfaits, waffles with ice cream, crème brûlée and the popular mango Napoleon. While it’s open in the late afternoon, most people come in the evenings for dessert after dinner.

WATCH: how a mango Napoleon is prepared

Chas Ko Cheuk-lun started the shop with his partner in May 2014 after years of talking about starting a business as a way to exit the banking industry after 10 years. They both liked desserts so it seemed like a natural step to start up Joyful Dessert House, and consulted with a pastry chef who had hotel experience to give them ideas on dishes.

“We wanted to create a nice atmosphere, and to get the taste right – which is the most important thing. We also listened to customers’ feedback and tweaked the recipes. We also did lots of tastings,” Ko says.

He, too, was surprised to be listed in the Michelin street food guide, and is pleased by how much awareness it has generated for Joyful Dessert House.

“In the first few days we had a lot of people coming by which caught us by surprise because we were not told officially by Michelin. It was only after friends in the media contacted us that we realised we were in the guide.”

Ko reports a steady increase in business since November 5. “We open at 3pm and sometimes we have people who already arrive before we are ready to receive customers,” he says.

On the counter in between large cups holding utensils is a small statue of a smiling Michelin, a tribute to Joyful Dessert House’s sweet success. “A friend got me that from Japan after he heard we were in the guide. It’s perfect.”

COME AND GET IT

Three Potatoes

Mei Shing House, 30-32A Nullah Road, Mong Kok, tel: 6432 0118

Kei Tsui

135 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2394 1727

Joyful Dessert House

Ngai Hing Mansion, 74 Hak Po Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2856 1886