Hong Kong's Tasty "ILLEGAL" Kitchens - Excitement of Fear!
The city is growing with “Private Kitchens”, all found fruit in the loophole in the regulation for licensed eatery. Most of them these days are quite fancy and upscale. And then, there are others... set in the dirtier shadows of town. Those you feel like are “inexplicably illegal” because of the fearsome and skeptic vibes the workers and other diners exert when they see a new face enter the room. I’m speaking, today, of the secretive Nepalese momos hidden in Central LKF.
I was fortunate enough to have a group of Extreme Foodie Friends (EFF): friends who love the upscales of Afternoon Tea in Mandarin Oriental or Sevva.. as well as the grittier street foods and very questionable dishes in back alleys.
It all began with this one Instagram (by @sumberry). One picture of Nepalian Dumplings served on grandma’s table cloth. The speculation and curiosity arose: ”What the heck is that?” (Actually that’s what I thought only, I’m more superficial when it comes to food) My friends, particularly those wishful of 852 in 604, were drooling, imagining and creating a frenzy over it. The legendary momos.
A few weeks later, some humid day in 2014. The group reunited. “Janet, you’ve got to come to this place! THE best momos.” It was in the evening, we were finishing a full dinner elsewhere. These set of friends of mine talk a lot, mainly food and Lane Crawford - sometimes I drift out of their conversations - they speak a different language than me. They mentioned the same ghetto place a few times over the meal, and I thought, sure they seem to be checking out the place in the coming days..
Boy, was I WRONG. We are going tonight..at 10pm?
Somehow, I got persuaded, I was joining them. I’m easy when it comes good food. ( I should be thankful I didn’t grow up with friends who took drugs.) I remember walking up the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, then stopped in front of an awkward forsaken door. Drinkers and flashy clubs all scowled against me near by (sorry, I’m not a late night person or drinker) then this awkward little door to peacefulness.. Sum walked enthusiastically in, and my friends followed like Alices with the White Rabbit. I felt like I was walking to my deathbed. This is it Janet, where you meet your LAST fears..
Click of a button, we were up the elevators in this odd old building, with drunkards down below. “It’s this floor!” he said. You’ve GOT to be kidding me, I thought. Flickering fluorescent lights.. gates all shut, odd tranquility in the air, it was a deadman’s floor - RUN JANET! Sum had forgotten which door it was, he laughed saying it just looks like any other residential door “They hide well” he laughs. He was about to try to press his chosen door bell.
Secretly, I was on the look out; for signs of hidden kidnappers, for the escape staircase.. I pretended to be cool and joked, but I slowly edged back closer to that safer elevator door.
Say what? Sum got it right, and the face behind the gates remembered Sum, a pale clean faced CBC. I remembered being escorted into the small but brightly lit room, shared with full tables of Nepalese faces that stared back at us. It looked like we crashed somebody’s apartment. Sofas placed against the walls, and tables were folded out to entertain the parties of people who were packed. It was a mini-party! We sat close to the entrance, there were 4-5 of us squeezed in.
Sum did his magic and ordered the dish my team had all been waiting for. He was basically a local there. “This, this and that. ..”
Honestly, I am less eloquent than my peers in explaining the food. It was interesting I’d say - NEPALESE MOMOS? Some Momos had potato inside, the sauces were all pretty unique, tamarind? Some fried, some soft. It was a bargain for the food we got. The chicken wings I remember were a bit too dry for my liking. Definitely an adventure for my soul and tastes!
OUR SECOND CRASH
Flash forward to late 2015. We returned again. Same leader, a few new members. Same adventure. But this time, we really crashed it! They weren’t officially opened! Apparently they just finished renovating and were testing menus!
Sum’s familiar face caught their attention and they brought us in despite the mess - only in private kitchens! The interiors were all upgraded, now it looked like a proper restaurant. I missed the randomness and mess of the original run-down apartment. It felt more exotic. They brought us into their new space, the family was having their own private dinner, and gave us some of their own test dishes haha. Ended up being their food critiques - we missed the original menu more!
To me, to be honest, didn’t taste like a miracle that I yearn often about. Yet it was the excitement of entering the fringes of society, the fearful trek and the double-check-my-back to reach that dish that made it all the worthwhile and addiction. It was like a second life that I never knew of Hong Kong. An Alice in the Wonderland. The feeling of tasting a secret.
I believe the place is less deserted and mysterious as I made it out to be now, with the new renovation and its rising popularity. Two years back, it felt like an Insider’s Pact to remind quiet and oblivious about its location and name. “UP9″ - it was the hipster’s secret! But I’m sure if you do some researching, you’ll find more details. If not, throw me a message, and I might just tell you where our favourite MOMO is hidden!
Hint: people in Lan Kwai Fong will know.. .
Know any other cool / ghetto / delicious Private Kitchens? Let me know in the comments below!
© 2017 Janet Tam