Night of Delights

Temple Street at night
Temple Street egg and oysters
Enjoying cheung fun on Temple Street
Assorted meat skewers
Neon crab sign
Neon skewer sign
Neon Temple Street sign
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Temple Street

Fabric lanterns, yellow and red, illuminate the wide street with their warm glow. Friendly chatter is heard all around, amid wide eyes and nibbling mouths. We’re at the entry point to Temple Street, and it’s like something out of a movie. Originating in China, the rich history of night markets begins with the Tang dynasty (618-907), whereafter they gradually spread through Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. Nestled at the edges of large cities, their energetic nature stands in welcome contrast to the surrounding sleeping districts. On our visit to Hong Kong’s Temple Street, we were eager to see what this particular night market offered.

Night Market

From Jordan Road to Nanking Street, the Temple Street Night Market stretches approximately 100 metres. Visitors are immediately greeted with a neat sentry of food stalls – eleven lining up on either side, making twenty-two in all. Comprised mainly of local Cantonese fare, regional neighbours such as Nepal and India make their appearance in the odd stall or two. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that all of the stall roofs are plastic but designed to evoke the tile-roofed stalls of centuries past.

Yau Ma Tei

Since re-opening a few months back, Temple Street has enjoyed a footfall of up to 8,000 visitors daily. Most of these visitors are tourists. Funnily enough, my friend was asked how long he had been staying in Hong Kong, as his camera and tripod marked him as a tourist. After politely informing her that we actually lived in the city, our questioner revealed that she was leaving in a few days and cheerily went on her way. Visitors like her are essential to a night market’s upkeep. In fact, the chairman of the Yau Ma Tei Temple Street Association of Hawkers and Shop Operators stated in a radio interview that tourists make up about seventy-five per cent of the night market’s visitors.

Night Vibes

As part of the government’s Night Vibes campaign to boost Hong Kong’s evening economy, Temple Street has become a bustling site that showcases unique aspects of local culture through a language we can all speak – food.

Temple Street has become a bustling site that showcases unique aspects of local culture through a language we can all speak – food

We began with a local classic: cheung fun – rice rolls made from rice flour, starch and water. They are typically bare of seasonings, which customers can add at their discretion. Thankfully, this particular stand was not afraid of taste. Marinated in soy sauce and cooked with bean sprouts, scallions and beef strips, the dish was a salivating start to our food journey.

Cow offal simmered in spicy marinades, its smells wafting well past the stall. While I hovered near the offerings for a considerable amount of time, the stall owner gave me a look now and then, but another stall won my attention by selling deep-fried pig intestine. That might have given you pause, but trust me, it’s an absolute delight. Wrapped into sausage-like bundles and skewered in groups of three or four, its crisp exterior perfectly balances the moist and slightly chewy interior. I only recalled that it’s usually eaten with sweet sauce after I finished the whole thing!

Spicy Fish Balls

Spicy fish balls – one of Hong Kong’s most iconic street foods – appear abundantly. But given my sheer access to it daily, I gave it a miss and looked for rarer delicacies.

At the next stall, soy-braised skewers were the order of the day. With beef, chicken, pork, cuttlefish and squid, it was all down to the customer’s preference. My friend had never tried squid before, so I ordered one for each of us. The sectioned legs – suction cups very evident – were a sight to see! As I took photos of the stall’s wares and the small grill that was hard at work, one of the stall keepers smiled at me knowingly.

We passed through the mouth-watering food stalls and entered the merchant’s section. A variety of wares were on display. No outdoor market would be complete without a barrage of touristy trinkets, and Temple Street has them in spades. Colourful decorations, including woven Chinese knots, miniature door couplets and auspicious paper cuttings, promise to brighten any living space.

Incense Stick

The further we went, the more the landscape changed – Cantonese restaurants gave way to Nepalese and Indian, and the end of the market was much calmer than the beginning. Besides the initial excitement of the twenty-two food stalls, this also likely attributed to a slight drop in variety as the storefronts gradually took up more space than those before. Past the archway that marked the end of Temple Street stood a smattering of open red tents – local fortune tellers ready to answer your questions through many divination techniques, including palm reading, five elements appraisal (determining one’s fate based on their body shape), and kau cim (interpreting one incense stick that jumps out of a bamboo cylinder).

Grilled Oysters

Heading back to the entryway, we were determined to finish our excursion with a bang. One food stall promised such an ending. Earlier in the evening, I had been tempted to order this delicacy but restrained myself so that we could eat it to mark the end of a lovely evening. While two stalls offered grilled oysters, one went above and beyond. Garnishes were lavish – chopped garlic in chilli oil, scallions, slivers of diced red chilis, and an egg yolk helped the grilled oyster pack a flavourful punch. We washed down our stacked oysters with a cool bottle of Blue Girl – clearly worth waiting for!

Tin Hau Temple

Temple Street has come a long way in recent decades. In the 1920s, street vendors primarily served temple visitors (hence the name). Now, shopping, snacking and dining are the name of the game. From its humble beginnings in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) as a path to the local Tin Hau Temple, to its modern reputation as a must-visit night-time spot for locals and tourists alike, Temple Street Night Market has done an incredible job adapting to the times and ensuring that people keep on coming.

Text and Photos by Victoria Mae Martin