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Monday, Mar 04, 2024

Hon Fat Noodle preserves local food culture at new Wan Chai branch

Hon Fat Noodle at Sham Shui Po has been a stalwart favorite of many city dwellers since 1973 and now, foodies have an additional choice at the restaurant’s brand new Wan Chai outpost for its iconic pork liver noodle.
Where sleek grade-A office buildings and bank branches line the harbourfront highway on Gloucester Road, Hon Fat Noodle stands out with its unfussy demeanor: there are no tablecloths; the décor, though modern, is kept to minimal with a sprawling wall painting illustrating its dai pai dong origin in Sham Shui Po. There, the signboard “Hon Fat Noodle” fronting the kitchen is inherited from its predecessor tracing back to 50 years ago, owner Danny Kwok explains.

For a small family-owned restaurant to open a branch is a rarity in Hong Kong, let alone in a bustling commercial centre like Wan Chai. “We had been scouting for a second location on Hong Kong Island for around a year and it wasn’t all smooth sailing due to the pandemic, but we’re proud of what we have achieved despite all the challenges,” Kwok says.

Hon Fat Noodle is managed by Kwok and his wife Zoe Pun, and the couple gives credit where it is due, saying that their landlord Sino Group has been instrumental in the opening of this second branch.

“This Wan Chai spot’s former self was a car showroom so it didn’t come with technical facilities required for operating a restaurant,” explains Pun. “Sino Group is very supportive of local restaurateurs. They assist us with the nitty-gritty details of complying with various government regulations, all the way from fire service installations to upgrading of the power supply systems, so that we can focus on offering quality food and heart-warming services to promote local food culture.”

In the buzz of the restaurant, where the happy chatter of patrons fills the air, Kwok says many of them come back time and time again for the comfort food on offer. Hon Fat Noodle began life as a street stall at Shek Kip Mei, the pride of Kwok’s father, where they peddled wonton, pork knuckles and beef brisket noodles day in and day out; but it wasn’t until 2004 that they began diversifying their menu to include the now signature pork liver noodle and the ever-popular Hong Kong-style French toast.

“I started helping out my father’s restaurant business from 2002. But the SARS epidemic brought down the restaurant business in Hong Kong the following year. That’s when we took the momentous decision of expanding into cha chaan teng categories with sandwiches, milk tea, coffee and the like,” Kwok recalls.

Out of all the menu staples, my attention, needless to say, is drawn to the cult-favorite thick-cut pork liver noodle. The moment I tried it out, I came to realize why. The meat texture is as tender as bean curd and served among a bowl of tasty instant noodles, sans the usual pungency and bitterness. It all boils down to Kwok’s insistence on sourcing fresh ingredients on a daily basis, and serving them straight from the pot. To say it’s unlike any other pork liver I have ever tasted is certainly no overstatement.

Kwok’s cooking philosophy, however, is surprisingly simple: “There isn’t really any secret recipe as such. The key is to focus on the prep sessions, and not to skip any step for the sake of convenience or speed.” Is this what accounts for the success of Hon Fat, too? “I think a lot has to do with enriching the menu but retaining the character of our restaurant, and focusing on doing what we are good at.”

It’s this commitment that has seen Hon Fat Noodle grow from a roadside stall to now one of the most beloved food spots in town. As Kwok says: “At the core of it, we want to promote Hong Kong’s quintessential cha chaan teng and dai pai dong culture to even more people, to pass down this spirit that has come to define us from one generation to the next.”

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