Walking on Tam Kung Road in To Kwa Wan, you will see Har Kee Noodle Shop. There are different types of shrimp roe noodles put in separate boxes and a big sign which says, “Har Kee Noodle Shop: Fifty years business.” If you look carefully, you can see there is a noodle making workshop behind the shop. This kind of “front shop and workshop behind” production model is very rare in Hong Kong now. The shop was purchased by Mr Chan’s father in the 1970s and has been running ever since, currently kept up by Mr. Chan himself. He said that he insisted on using the traditional way to make noodles as he wants to preserve the traditional shrimp roe noodles’ taste.
In the 1950s or 1960s, Mr Chan’s father was already in the noodle making business. At that time, he made different noodles like He Fan and Lai Fan. It was in the 1970s that the family took over Har Kee Noodle Shop and started to make shrimp roe noodles. Mr. Chan mentioned that he did not start by working in this shop, he’d had different jobs in the past. It was not until his brother told him to help the family’s business that he really started getting familiar with shrimp roe noodles. In the past, he told me, the area around To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City were full of shops producing and selling different noodles.
Asking what knowledge is required in this business, Mr. Chan pointed out that “What matters is how much time you spend practicing making noodles. Like Kung Fu, you need to keep practicing. You become more familiar and skilled if you practice everyday. Then you can make the noodles in whatever shape you want: circular, elliptical and rectangular. It depends how much time you spend on it.”
Not long after taking over the shop, his family wanted to close the shop as there was no profit. Among 12 brothers and sisters, only Mr. Chan wanted to give it a try. When asked about the reason he said, “There is no reason to give up if you can really produce some good things”. Since then, he bravely keeps running the business by himself with another noodle making chef. Although he says that he does not particularly love making shrimp roe noodle, he started to be more interested in it when knowing more about the work and wanted to make every noodle as good as possible. He wants to keep this tradition. When people appreciate Har Kee’s noodles, it really gives him the motivation to continue the business. “I would not be able to make it so far without this motivation.”
When cup noodles were released in the market, many companies made lots of advertisements and made people forget the Chinese traditional noodles. However, Mr. Chan points out that the price of a shrimp roe noodle and cup noodle is pretty much the same. “At that time, the most expensive one was around $4 HKD. One shrimp roe noodle is equal to a bowl of noodle. The quantity is very similar to that of a cup noodle. But if we put so much effort and time in making one shrimp roe noodle, I think it is worth more than a cup noodle.”
“Actually I will not change my methods. It is a rare opportunity that we accidentally preserved old things like shrimp roe noodles. Once you develop your business, the production mode will come to rely more on machines and become factory-like. Since we could not develop our business in the past, we were able to keep this traditional and classic taste. Now, we intend to preserve this traditional way of making noodles.” Mr. Chan insists on not developing his business into a noodle factory. He further mentioned that the younger generation has started to “return to the simple and authentic” and has become weary of factory produced, chemically processed food. “They know this is the good stuff.”
Asking what he wants to say to Hong Kong people, he laments that the unique “taste” of Hong Kong is disappearing. He hopes that Hong Kong people can treasure and preserve the old things and don’t just favour the new and forget the old. “In the Hong Kong context, sometimes when I look at the photos and clips of 1960 and 70s’ Hong Kong, I love the “taste” of it. This “taste” is disappearing and I hope Hong Kong people can keep the old stuff that they are able to keep.”
Written by Kelvin Wong