We grab a bite to eat in Aberdeen.
As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. In the case of Aberdeen’s Nam Long Shan Cooked Food Market, this couldn’t be truer. The market’s faded and crumbling white exterior easily goes unnoticed. The street is bare aside from a bus stop, a nearby temple and the partially completed South Island MTR line which passes above. Two rainbow directories flank the entrance – the only indication of what lies within.
Inside the market, an array of stalls line the periphery of the area, from traditional Cantonese dai pai dongs to the popular Thai eateries. Be sure to have a good browse before settling down for a meal. Stall owners make use of their allocated spaces as best as they can by covering walls and pillars with copies of their menus and pictures of their food, adding hints of vibrant colour. There is an informal, lively atmosphere here in the evenings – the market’s busiest time.
The first floor of the market caters to those looking for lighter meals. For a traditional Cantonese breakfast, try Mei King Kitchen – we recommend the egg and ham toast with a Hong Kong-style milk tea. The egg is fried just right, leaving the yolk warm and gooey when you cut into it, and the toast, lightly charred, wraps up the whole meal with a crunchy bite. The owners of the stalls are all incredibly friendly and approachable so if you can’t decide what to order, feel free to ask them for suggestions.
If you’re looking for a larger meal, such as lunch or dinner, head up the spiral stairway right in the center of the building to the second floor. Don’t be fooled by the size of the stalls – they may be small but each is a food powerhouse. Green Curry House Thai Food offers a large menu of Asian fusion cuisine. “I opened up the restaraunt in 2008,” says owner Butrasarn-Wanphen – she says we can call her Wendy for short. “At first it was so quiet in the market that everyone only opened for lunch. Now we see lots of young people, office workers and families coming down together to enjoy the food and atmosphere. During the earlier stages of the MTR development, we had a lot of construction workers coming here for lunch, but now that it’s nearly finished they’re all gone. ”
Of the dishes we order on our visit, the standout is the fried rice. It’s a medley of assorted ingredients, the stars of which are pork floss (also known as rousong) and Chinese sausages (lap cheong). Although the lap cheong has a strong rustic flavour, the rousong is delicate enough to balance it out nicely. We also order the iced glass jelly with coconut milk which is delicious, light and silky smooth.
Wendy buys most of her ingredients from the Wan Chai Market. “Plus, my little brother lives in Sai Ying Pun and sometimes he brings over food from the market there”, she adds.
Take a look around and you’ll quickly notice that most of stalls on the second floor are serving Thai food; Wendy explains why, “We were the second Thai restaurant to open up here. I chose this location as it was close to where I live in Wah Fu Estate, but word soon got out that you could find great Thai food at Nam Long Shan Cooked Food Market. People began travelling here from many different areas to get a decent Thai meal, and it wasn’t long before other Thai restaurants moved in.”
When we ask how she gets along with her neighbours in the market, she says, “We very rarely argue, but when it comes to business it can be very competitive.”
Don’t be afraid to go to Nam Long Shan Cooked Food Market just because your Cantonese is not up to scratch. Many of the restaurants have English menus and their staff can speak a little English. “We happily welcome Westerners here. My English is good enough to explain what’s in the food, any allergy problems and make some good recommendations,” says Wendy. In fact, the market has seen an increase in expat visitors in the last few months. “A lot more Westerners have been coming here recently, including many who have just moved into the area because of the new MTR line.”
Still, gentrification of the area and rising prices could spell the market’s demise. “The future is still unknown, I’m not sure if Nam Long Shan or my restaurant will survive. It’s getting very difficult to hire people for this industry and I have to do a lot of the work myself which is very tiring.”
If you’re looking for a casual yet delectable meal, the Nam Long Shan Food Market is must-visit. Step out of your comfort zone and head here for a taste of traditional Hong Kong food and culture. According to Wendy, there’s no better time to go, “Business is seasonal – in the summer it is too hot here because there is no air conditioning, and in the winter it is too cold! Now is the best time to come down.” Any recommendations? “Our most popular dish by far is the Pad Thai Noodles,” she says with pride. “Other dishes I usually recommend are: Green Curry, Tom Yum Soup and Grilled Squid.”