Rice dishes that you eat with knives and forks; fried spaghetti topped with barbecued pork - the food served in Hong Kong's tea restaurants, neither Chinese nor western, reminds us of the territory's colonial past. The development of Hong Kong's food culture is closely related to the city's economic and social changes over the last century, as revealed by Hong Kong's Food Culture, an exhibition now on at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Photos, cutlery, furniture, menus and food products are used to illustrate the development of Hong Kong food culture in various aspects: festival food, food industries, dai pai dongs and tea restaurants. Tea restaurants are a living by-product of decades of colonial rule. With the new government in the early 19th century came British food and delicacies in fancy packages, spicing up the local food scene. As people became more and more fascinated with western food, sorbet cafes sprang up, providing soft-drinks, cakes and ice cream to common folks who couldn't afford western restaurants. After the second world war, Hong Kong-style tea restaurants mushroomed to provide 'localised' western food at reasonable prices to cater for the masses. Part of the exhibition features old tea restaurant-style seating booths, fans dangling from the ceiling and tables covered with green and white chequered cloth. This was where east met west - diners used knives and forks and talked loudly across the table. Western recipes were dished out with Chinese seasonings like soya sauce and ginger, earning these dishes the name 'soya sauce western food'. Even nowadays, tea restaurants are still a place for the 'mix-and-match' of different cuisines, signifying a distinctly Hong Kong cooking and dining style, according to the exhibition. While tea restaurants tell of Hong Kong's culture, the rise and fall of dai pai dongs reflects the change of livelihood among Hong Kong people over the past decades, as diplayed in the exhibition's street eateries section. During the post-war years, roadside food stalls were very common because life was tough and people were looking for cheap food. On display in this section are primitive cooking utensils and black-and-white photos of people devouring food on wooden boxes and wobbly stools along streets and alleys, offering a glimpse of the humble '50s lifestyle. To regulate these stalls, the government issued licences for them to sell cooked food. And that's how dai pai dong, which means larger stalls with licences, came into being. During their peak period in the '50s and '60s, they could be found in clusters in Central, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and Yau Ma Tei. The clusters of roadside food stalls and dai pai dongs gave rise to dai tat dei bazaars. Dai tat dei is the Cantonese for a large piece of land. After dark, hundreds of dai pai dongs and wooden carts stood side by side, dishing out seafood, hot pots, noodles, sweet soups and all the goodies, alongside street performers who acted, sang and did all kind of stunts. As a place where common folk had their food and were entertained, the dai tat dei came to be known as the 'poor man's nightclub'. The most famous one was in Temple Street. However, the dai pai dong and dai tat dei culture died out when the government stopped issuing licences in the late '50s, banned cooked-food hawkers and moved roadside food stalls to food centres to promote street hygiene. The once-famous dai tat dei in Sheung Wan was closed to give way to development, and the rest are disappearing. The food in Hong Kong is a vivid portrait of the city. Next time you poke your fork into a steaming plate of fried rice with sausage, remember it's not only the food you taste, but more than a hundred years of local culture and history. The 'Hong Kong's Food Culture' exhibition runs till April 26 at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin. For details, visit http://hk.heritage.museum or call 2180 8188. Free admission on Wednesdays.