On this trip to Hong Kong I did on multiple occasions something I hate to do at restaurants: I stood in line. I hate to do it not because I am too good to stand in line (though that’s true as well) but because I am too impatient to stand in line; plus when you’re in a foreign city for a limited number of days, spending a good chunk of your time in line for food doesn’t seem like the best use of it. (I don’t count waiting for a table at dim sum in this context as that’s a given unless you’re at the rare place that takes reservations.) But if you’re in Hong Kong and you like Cantonese food you’d be silly not to eat a lot of noodles in soup, and at a lot of the places that sling it you’re going to have no option but to stand in line. Thankfully, at none of those places will you have to stand in line very long. As I noted in my review of my lunches on my first day at Tsim Chai Kee and Mak’s Noodle, when you make it in you’ll be seated at a small table with many strangers and you’ll expected to order quickly, eat quickly, pay quickly and fuck off quickly so that they can keep the line moving. And so it was at Kau Kee. It was the longest of the lines I stood in (well, until Tim Ho Wan on my way to the airport a week later) but it moved rapidly*. And when I got inside and got my bowl of noodle soup, I was very happy.
When you’re planning your eating ahead of a trip to Hong Kong, you are bound to run across Kau Kee, who are famous, in particular, for their noodles in curry with brisket and/or tendon. And you are bound to run across two broad genres of references to it: one that tells you that it’s life-changingly great and one that tells you it’s overrated. This is basically the natural condition of international foodie’ism and always has been: one set of experts will give you an itinerary marked by popular acclaim and another set will give you a counter-itinerary that runs down, implicitly or explicitly, the places that the first, more popular lot tells you to go to. When you’re visiting for a few days it’s not really possible to sort all this out but having stopped in at places in both types of lists I can tell you that my experience was generally right down the middle: they were all good and it didn’t seem like it was worth getting exercised over their relative merits.
This latter is not a criticism. It seems to me—and it may well be that I don’t know enough to know better—that the broad genre of noodles in soup is basically comfort food and its pleasures are broad ones. I’m not suggesting that no meaningful distinctions can be made—I had marked preferences, for example, among the four noodle soup and wonton places I ate at—but that unless you are a true connoisseur of the genre [I am not] you shouldn’t worry too much about it. And so if your hotel is in Central and you want to eat good curry noodle soup, you should walk to Kau Kee and get in line. Yes, you’ll find other tourists there—hence the prohibition against bringing luggage into the cramped restaurant—but you’ll also find many locals slurping down a bowl in the middle or at the end of the day.
To take a look at the restaurant and my excellent bowl of beef tendon and noodles in curry, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what’s coming next.
The pictures hopefully give you some sense of the feel of the restaurant. It’s a pretty hectic place. I was sat down with one group of people at a tiny table and finished eating with another; the cashier and the head server got into a loud argument at one point; the cashier also yelled at me at the end for taking more than 2 seconds to collect my change (thankfully, I was not the idiot who tried to pay with a HKD $1000 bill). Despite all that it’s also oddly comfortable as a bunch of strangers come together briefly for a more or less communal meal. My only regret is that eating alone I was not able to try a range of their offerings. I was tempted to come back a few more times over the next few days but I mostly ended up just eating wherever I happened to be at lunch times—all my dinners after this first day were with other people.
Next up from Hong Kong: congee, and lots of it!
*Keep in mind that while I was there on a Saturday night, I was there at 9.30 pm and they close at 10.30. It is entirely possible that between 7 and 9 or at peak lunch time the line is obnoxiously longer.