Dai pai dong are open-air street stalls that serve cooked food. The name literally means ‘restaurant with a big license plate’, referring to the large size of the licenses they were issued in the past. Today, the term is applied to all open-air food stalls, and not just the ones with this specific license.
Dai pai dong will serve just about any snack or food but they are best known for stir fries. Although stir fries are a humble home dish, they are quite difficult to pull off. To make a good stir fry, the chef has to have excellent cutting skills and ensure there is sufficient heat, precise seasoning, quick thickening and plenty of ‘wok hei’ (the subtle combination of aroma and taste that a well-used wok imparts to food). Dai pai dong also commonly serve the unique cuisine of Chiu Chow people, which includes fried oyster omelette, braised dishes and chilled crab and fish.
Eating at a dai pai dong is also a truly Hong Kong dining experience as you will probably end up sharing a table with strangers during busy hours, can cross order from different vendors and get a front-row view of the local street life.
Dai pai dong can be found almost anywhere in the city. Side streets and lanes are the most likely place to spot them. You can find ones that are decades old near the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator in Central on Hong Kong Island and in the neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po in Kowloon.