Eating on Victoria Harbour: Hong Kong's most buoyant dinner
I'm on a boat in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour with a spread of crab, clam and noodles in front of me giving off maddening smells.
It's quiet. There are other diners on other boats around us, but they are far enough that we can only hear murmurs.
The temperature tonight is mild and there is a harbor breeze. The boat rocks gently like a baby's cradle.
I can't remember the last time a restaurant in Hong Kong made me feel so physically relaxed.
We're at Shun Kee, a floating restaurant made up of wooden boats in Causeway Bay's typhoon shelter, a protective area for vessels during a storm.
There used to be thousands of boat dwellers settled in the typhoon shelter. The community was tight and developed its own subculture.
From the early 1960s to end of the 1980s, the shelter thrived as a floating nightlife hub. Every boat offered something exciting after sundown: fresh-caught seafood, singers for hire, mahjong games.
The typhoon shelter didn't have a garbage or sewage treatment system and the waters became polluted. Fire was a serious hazard amongst the crowded wooden boats.
Eventually the boat-dwelling families relocated to land for a more secure and hygienic home.
By the mid-1990s, cooking boats were no longer allowed to do business in the shelter.
Besides, the best cooks on the boats had already been poached by restaurants on land.
Leung Hoi was one of those reputable cooks who grew up in his family's boat restaurant. After many years on land as a successful high-earning chef, then as a struggling one during the SARs epidemic, Leung decided to return to his roots.
"Hoi Gor," as he's known to family and friends, opened Shun Kee last year as the only authentic typhoon shelter restaurant. It took years of wrangling red tape to obtain an operating license and it may signal intentions to revive the entertainment area.
The food here is tasty, rustic and showcases the chef's wok skills. It is unchanged from the glory days of the shelter.
One thing has changed -- the harbor is no longer a dump.
Sure, there are plenty of floating plastic wrappers and patches of mystery grease on the water.
But there's nothing that can compare to the gigantic rats I remember from childhood visits to the harborfront, or the incredible stench.
All we had was the heavy odor of nostalgia and a giddy sense of eating history.
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Shun Kee Typhoon Shelter. Open daily for dinner only, reservations a must. Minimum charge HK$800 per boat, which includes the $300 boat rental fee. Each boat can seat a maximum of 12 people and has a rental time limit of 90 minutes.
Located at the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, near the pedestrian footbridge connected to Victoria Park, +852 8112 0075.