Although 73 years old, Chiu Sei Kwun still wakes every morning at 6am to check in on the chefs and preparation at his restaurant, Ying Kee. He was born in 1943 in the village of Chiu Yeung in Chiuchow, and arrived in Hong Kong at the age of 15.
Kwun’s uncle walked from Chiuchow to Hong Kong at the height of the Cultural Revolution in China to escape the purges. To make a living he would walk with two old kerosene tins perched on a stick over his shoulders – one filled with soup and the other with boiling water, both lit by charcoal – calling out to diners before serving a bowl of noodles to customers on the steep-sided streets of Sai Ying Pun in Hong Kong island. Kwun soon started working for his uncle as a delivery boy, taking food orders to the nurses and doctors at nearby hospitals.
Despite being named in the Michelin Guide for 2016, for as little as US$5, you can buy a steaming bowl of beef brisket or fishball noodles. Ying Kee’s specialities are many and varied, but is its shrimp wontons and fish skin are particular favourites. Meanwhile, the secret to the soup stock lies in its ox bone – it’s boiled for a minimum of five hours.
Location is good and in winter it makes a great place to sit outdoors at the back. Once you’re into summer your best bet is being inside under the AC – with your steaming bowl of noodles in front of you.
In keeping with family tradition, Kwun uses the same recipes and menu items as his uncle once did. He lives just around the corner – he’s been there since he arrived – and he still works on weekends and at busy periods. He also uses the same noodle maker who has supplied the restaurant since it opened its doors in 1985. Kwun calls them: “smooth and silky”, and they’re made especially for his shop.
With his wife by his side manning the tills, Kwun looks in no hurry to leave his business in the hands of a younger generation anytime soon.
Shop 10, Hong Keung Mansion, 32-34 Hong Keung, San Po Kong, +852 2323 9519
WORDS AND IMAGES: Jonathan Maloney