Sandwiched between Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei feels like a throwback to the Hong Kong of old. Seemingly immune to gentrification, the traditional district is home to a 19th-century Cantonese opera theatre and an Edwardian-style police station, alongside hawker stalls, temples, markets and themed shopping streets – all lit up by the glow of neon lights. Though jam-packed with things to do, Yau Ma Tei exudes a laid-back vibe that’s rare in frenetic Hong Kong.
Words: Karen Chiang
Images: Shutterstock (Market), Hong Kong Tourism Board (Jewellery)
Casual eatery Baba Nyonya recently joined the district’s diverse food scene, paying tribute to the culinary traditions of the Peranakan community. As descendants of Chinese immigrants in the Malay archipelago, the community developed a distinct style of cooking that blends together ingredients, spices and techniques from both cultures. Following suit, the namesake restaurant serves classic dishes such as Nyonya laksa along with other regional favourites like bak kut teh (pork rib soup).
From the Temple Street Night Market to the Jade Market, Yau Ma Tei’s famous landmarks aren’t just for tourists. In fact, it’s unlikely you’ll see a single foreign face at Gwo Laan, a wholesale fruit market that’s been sitting on Waterloo Road since 1913. In the wee hours, the place comes alive with trucks and trolleys transporting pallets full of fresh pineapples, durians, raspberries and oranges. Meanwhile, the Jade Market is the place to go for Chinese-style jewellery and talismans – lucky objects that are believed to thwart evil spirits. Home chefs should make a beeline for Shanghai Street to shop for speciality kitchenware like bamboo steaming baskets and butcher’s knives.
A haven for design lovers and culture buffs, Kubrick – named after American director Stanley Kubrick of The Shining fame – is overflowing with creative energy. Adjacent to the stalwart Broadway Cinematheque, which screens independent and art films, this multifaceted address is a café, bookstore and art gallery all rolled into one. Kubrick’s event space usually draws a crowd, thanks to the regular film screenings and craft workshops, book tours, art talks and exhibitions. If you’re looking for niche art magazines or esoteric posters, chances are you’ll find them here too.
Mum’s Not Home
Hong Kong isn’t short on design concept stores, but Mum’s Not Home sets itself apart with its neon-hued décor, quirky watercolour portraits (painted by one of the owners), vintage furniture and homemade cheesecakes in creative flavours like butterfly pea lime and
masala milk tea. Run by globe-trotting couple Chow Kong-chuen and Makui Ma, the boutique is one of the best places in Yau Ma Tei to shop for vintage knick-knacks and original tees, often accompanied by live tunes from indie bands.
Opened last year, ultra-modern Up-otel was designed with stylish travellers in mind. Located next to the MTR station, the boutique hotel’s cosy rooms – some of which have bunk beds to accommodate families – are outfitted with light-wood herringbone floors, brass fixtures and techy touches like wireless speakers, automatic shades and a “smart” reception where guests can check in and out on their own. Though you won’t find a gym or business centre here, the place offers a few nice perks, such as a complimentary happy hour every night and a cool design boutique in the lobby.