LATE-NIGHT DINING, or siu yeh as it's known in Hong Kong, used to be an integral part of city life. After a midnight cinema screening or an evening of dancing, night owls would head to their favourite late-night eatery. A haven for those working and playing at odd hours, late-night restaurants were commonplace and had an ambience of their own. Nowadays, the culture of siu yeh is fading and, with it, the number of eateries. 'The siu yeh culture in Hong Kong is not as big as it was 10 to 20 years ago,' says Lau Kin-wai, food critic and owner of Chinese restaurants Yellow Door Kitchen in Central and Kin's Kitchen in North Point. 'People today like a healthier lifestyle than before. Many follow the conventional health advice that one shouldn't eat three or four hours before going to bed.' The economic downturn during the past decade is also to blame, Lau says. Until 1997, late-night restaurants were thriving. Such places owed their prosperity to the night clubs and hostess bars of the time. 'Until a decade ago, there used to be plenty of adult clubs in Hong Kong,' says Lau. 'After a fun night out, company bosses and rich men would bring hostesses out to eat. But so many of these clubs have now closed down and it's not as easy to find siu yeh places today.' For Paul Chan, manager of Causeway Bay restaurant Hee Kee, which stays open until 4am, the changes are something to lament. 'Things aren't as good as before,' he says. 'Ten years ago, if you walked down the streets of Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, you saw throngs of people everywhere. The nights were just as busy as the days and many restaurants stayed open until late. I used to have siu yeh after watching a midnight movie. But look at what's happening in the cinema today. There are just fewer reasons to have siu yeh now.' The times may have changed, but there's still demand - albeit dimished - for such eateries in a 24-hour city such as Hong Kong. Hee Kee, for example, still gets a steady stream of customers after midnight, mostly karaoke-goers and party animals. Chan says the restaurant starts to get busy about 2am and peaks between 2.30am and 3.30am. Meanwhile, the late-night dining scene is growing more westernised. As Chinese siu yeh places such as Hee Kee become rarer, late-night western eateries have opened. One of them is Big Ernie's Diner, offering American fare, which opened in Wan Chai three weeks ago and stays open until 2am, and 3am on Fridays and Saturdays. 'We want to offer a relaxing place for people to have a meal and listen to some music from the 50s and 60s after a night out,' says manager Michael Salcedo. 'It's not a noisy place like the typical bars. It's a place where you can wind down and talk to your friends.' Salcedo says the late-night atmosphere is more laid-back. 'During the day, people come to grab a bite then go to work,' he says. 'After midnight, people are more relaxed and friendly. It's easy to strike up a conversation with them.' But running a late-night eatery has its downside. Sagar Pauder, a waiter at 24-hour eatery Flying Pan in Central, which opened last April, has his fair share of inebriated customers. 'Some people come in quite drunk. As soon as they sit down, they say, 'We're starving, bring me some food', and don't even bother to read the menu,' he says. Like Hee Kee, Flying Pan starts to get busy about 2am and the rush lasts until 6.30am. Hordes of partygoers, musicians, bartenders and restaurant workers visit the place (and its sister restaurant in Wan Chai) for western breakfasts. Its signature dish, Flying Pan, consists of three eggs, bacon, ham, a sausage patty, a side dish such as beans or salad, bread and a drink. And if that's not enough to sate the appetite, there's the bigger Monster Pan. 'So far I've only seen seven or eight people who've managed to finish it,' says Pauder. Grabbing a bite after midnight may be tempting after a big night out, but doing it on a regular basis isn't great for your health, says June Chan King-chi, president of the Hong Kong Nutrition Association. Although some research shows that eating a light snack with carbohydrates before going to bed can help improve the quality of sleep, she doesn't recommend a heavy late meal. 'It affects the quality of sleep because your digestive system is still running. And if you have a late-night meal, it often means you've been starving for hours and, therefore, you're likely to overeat. There's also a tendency to eat junk food.' If you have a snack attack after midnight, Chan has this advice: 'Eat the same portion as you would for dinner and make sure you have some vegetables, go lightly on pastry, and try to share the meal with friends to avoid overeating.' The nutritionist also has a few words of warning to overweight people, diabetics and those with diabetic relatives: 'They should be extra careful about what they eat for a late meal to avoid bringing up their glucose level. If they eat shortly before going to bed, their bodies are left with less time for the glucose level to go down.'