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Nov 12, 2010 09:52 AM

"You may have eaten X or Y and or lots of Z, but if you have never had "A", you have never eaten real <insert country/city of choice> food"

While doing some research on a particular restaurant in Hong Kong that has a moderately short but rich history, I came across a website that belongs to some sort of association in Hong Kong dedicated to learning/documenting and preserving history, as well as culture in general.

One item that interests me is the historical perspective on food especially one of the definitive dining icons/culture/history/style, whatever you want to call it:.

"Dai Pai Dong" -

Thus someone said, and was quoted in a research paper, that

"You may have been to tons of dim sum restaurants, you may have tried moon cakes, you may have had more fried noodles and fried rice than you can handle, But if you have never eaten at a dai pai dong, you have never eaten real Hong Kong food" (and to extend that further, some might argue that you are not even fit to judge Cantonese food, or thus cannot judge it properly).

Of course this is obviously unfair to Chinese Americans or those who were born and grew up outside of HK, never been exposed to or eaten at a DPD, or non Chinese folks for that matter, but have eaten a lot of Cantonese food all around... but that's another matter.

The other thing is that Dai Pai Dong's are collective memories of the older generation, and with maybe 10 to 28 tops remaining Dai Pai Dong's in Hong Kong, there may not be enough around in the years to come (another issue despite the licenses being extended to the children of the original owners of the surviving DPD's in Central Hong Kong by the HK goverment


What, if any, are equivalent sayings in other countries/cities, and what is that food item/style?

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  1. Yew may have eaten fried chicken or barbeque, but until you've eaten cooter pie in Arkansas, you've never eaten real Southern food. Someone actually said this to me.

    4 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      OK, I know I'll regret this, but . . what is cooter pie?

      1. re: gaffk

        Whatever it is, I suppose we are to ignore the urbandictionary definition for this discussion...

        1. re: K K

          If I misunderstood the question, feel free to let me know. I thought I answered it. My bad if I didn't. Does it need to be referenceable, or just a colloquiallism?

          1. re: K K

            See, I knew I'd be sorry I asked. Just looked it up myself . . . must not be a Philly expression. (Or I'm just getting old.)

      2. KK

        Dai Pai Dong is not a collection of memeries from the older generation. Where does that come from?

        Life is not about fairiness. It is about the truth. A tiger can kill a goat. There is nothing fair about it. It is what it is. Some people born very smart. Fair? No. The truth? Yes. Is it fair that many people have not tried Dai Pai Dong due to their circumstance? Probably not. Is it the truth? Yes.

        What I would say is that. If you have not eaten Southern BBQ, then you really have not tried Southern foods.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          For those who do not understand the context:

          The Hong Kong media, as well as numerous bloggers, celebs/food writers in their published works, have been portraying Hong Kong food (particularly dim sum, dai pai dong, basically anything that came about I would say between the late 1800s to the 70s/80s, and for some exceptions up until the mid 90s) from a food culture and historical perspective, defining "the flavors of Hong Kong" as a collective, capturing moments, ambience, process, creativity, atmosphere, and other things, and the words 集體回憶 (collective memories) captures a lot of that. In a sense that part of the culture is slowly fading away due to numerous factors, and the fact that certain preparations are either too labor intensive, not popular anymore, or only a handful of people know how to make it to this day (meaning nobody to continue that tradition) scares these kinds of writers and lovers of food culture.

          You can also argue that a good portion of these folks are "old farts" and they are just chasing memories, that's one perspective.

          Or perhaps it is not just collective memories but a state of mind of a collective population, or "memorialization" as Chinese wikipedia would put it. I would put it like this: certain things, food items, that have or have had such a profound effect on the collective that perhaps everyone's memory of something (or thoughts) are different, but grouped together they are seen as iconic. For music star, I'm sure Leslie Cheung has touched the hearts of millions. Some have memories of former Kai Tak airport, or the June 4 1989 massacre, Enjoy Yourself Tonight TVB nightly various entertainment show, Hong Kong milk tea, egg tarts. These are significant HK icons, whether you agree or not.

          1. re: K K

            All I am saying is that fairness has nothing to do with being true or not. You can question if Dai Pai Dong is truely as influential as these writers claim to be, but it is independent of "fairness"

            Dai Pai Dong is not that old. To say it is "collective memories of the older generation" means it belongs to the last generation. Unless you are under 10 years old, I don't see how this belongs to your last generation.

            1. re: K K

              K K - Thank you for this amazing post! Reading about TVB, 啟德 (Kai Tak), 蛋塔 (egg tarts), 奶茶 (milk tea), 大牌擋 (dai pai dong), brought back wonderful memories of growing up in Hong Kong. I remember going to the 街市 (outdoor farmer's market) in Happy Valley with my mom after school, turning a corner and being scared by a giant head of a cow hanging in a stall, watching old ladies pick eggs under red bulbs, the distinct fragrance of a 米舖 (a rice shop that has barrels of rice from all over Asia), discovering 粢飯 and 鹹豆漿 (Chinese sticky rice burrito and salty soy milk), buying 粽子 (glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) from random old ladies on the side of the street in Causeway Bay, buying 豆腐花 (fresh silken tofu in syrup) made in questionable giant plastic paint buckets, going to dingy 茶餐聽 (Hong Kong style diner) for breakfast, afternoon tea, and 消夜 (late night snack)... I'm only in my late 20s, certainly not an old fart, but I certainly hope that the spirit of the Dai Pai Dong can be preserved. It saddens me to hear that "only a handful of people know how to make it to this day"; I know you were making a general statement, but I'm curious as to which specific items you were referring to by "it"? Hopefully food historians are taking the steps to interview the handfuls of people left who know how to make those things?

              1. re: Noodle fanatic

                Glad I struck a chord with you on this. We're about a decade apart in era, but you and I have similar collective memories and many that overlap. It would take hours and pages to go through a fraction of them. I'm sure in 10 years time, the people in their late teens have their own versions of collective memories. Those born in the 30s/40s certainly have their own....Cultural Revolution, war times, food/water rationing and worse hardships etc, but some mirror ours and crossover at some point.

                As far as "only a handful people know how to make it", it may be a drastic and slightly exaggerated statement or summary but look no further than certain dim sum dishes, perhaps only available at Luk Yu and Lin Heung Tea House. It is said the executive dim sum chef at Luk Yu, who is maybe in his 60s or 70s, learned from his master the hard apprenticeship way back when he was your age or younger, like how sushi chefs in Japan were trained, who also started via lowly tasks, like scrubbing the floor, before he even got to fold a dumpling. My guess is that he knows 100+ kinds of dim sum in his head and traditional Cantonese dishes that no one else can replicate 100%. So if he dies, then the receipes and the original flavors die with him. He probably thinks no youngster wants to go through that hardship, especially with the lower level pay.

                A local food writer once pleaded half jokingly in a book, that he hoped the HK education board would reform, so that high schools would make it a requirement for a student to be able to cook a quality plate of fried rice in order to graduate, and thus ensuring the future chef talent pool in the market (fried rice of course as a base).

          2. I re-read it and saw my mistake. Sorry.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mamachef

              What is the mistake? I didn't catch it.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I think mamachef was trying to phrase something like the title... which she did pretty well by the way :)

                But the OP is looking for some food experience like Dai Pai Dong---the unlicensed food stalls that were once ubiquitous in Hong Kong... perhaps an ephemeral moment that really says something about a cusine like nothing else really can.

                So you may have eaten a Lender's Bagel or one shipped to you in a gift basket by your cousin who lives in Brooklyn, but you've never had a real bagel until you've had one hot from the oven on a rainy Sunday Morning at H&H Bagels.

                Is this what you were going for?

                1. re: iluvcookies

                  Thanks iluvcookies,

                  I am still a bit confused. My impression from the original post is that the author used Dai Pai Dong as an example and was really asking about similar statements from other countrie and cities for another foods.

                  I thought mamachef satisfied the question by answering Cooter Pie:


                  Granted that I don't think Cooter pie has nearly the same weight as barbecue pork or soul food, it is what it is, not sure why mamachef apologized.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Hey, that was my impression too. Thanks.