Urban Renewal Authority forces Graham Street Market to accept unwelcome changes

A waiter slices lemons in front of a tea cafe in  the Graham Street Market. The chalk sign on display reads "Fighting until the Last Minute," an expression of protest against the URA-sanctioned eviction. Photo by Cheryl Xie.

A waiter slices lemons in front of a tea cafe in the Graham Street Market. The chalk sign on display reads “Fighting until the Last Minute,” an expression of protest against the URA-sanctioned eviction. Photo by Cheryl Xie.

In 2007, the Urban Renewal Authority first announced their plans to clear several blocks of the Graham Street Market, one of the oldest street markets in Hong Kong, in favour of a contained indoor wet market. These buildings were to be replaced by modern high-rises, while the ground-level shops would be displaced without a clear indication of where they could go.

Many shopkeepers came together to protest these plans, prompting the URA to promise a building to accommodate the displaced vendors. Still, most vendors are not satisfied with the new building: eviction notices have already been sent out, yet the building is nowhere close to completion and cannot hold all of the evicted shops.

At So Ha Vegetables, shopkeeper Amy voices her concerns about the lack of consideration for local businesses. “We were told one thing and given another,” she says. “A handful of business owners got together with the URA to sign an agreement that many of us were satisfied with.”

This area doesn’t just affect locals; it is also a very popular spot for tourists getting a glimpse of Hong Kong culture. Miss Nataly, a tourist from Germany, thinks that the shops and stalls should all stay because they’re “good for the people here, because it is cheaper than the [chain] stores”. The environment, she says, is better outside because it is not as cramped.

Not everyone will move. The street stalls are allowed to stay operating in the pedestrian road. The vendors continue selling their wares like they have done for many years, and have no intention of leaving their stalls for years to come.

“It is unfortunate for the shops in the buildings,” says Miss Lee, a flower vendor. “We don’t need to move, but the construction still affects our business. At least I don’t need to find new customers,” she adds.

Lan Fong Yuen: A Milk Tea Legacy

Milk tea is a popular drink in many Asian cultures, but there’s something extra special about what people drink in Hong Kong.

Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園) was the first milk tea stand to turn brewing into an art. Their technique involves pouring tea through fine sackcloths many times to strain out the leaf particulates and create a smooth experience. The sackcloths are reused, and become flesh-coloured from tea-stains; “silk stocking milk tea” has become a popular alternate name for the drink.

Opened by Lum Muk Ho, who learned the straining technique from making coffee, Lan Fong Yuen’s original tea stand from the 1950s still sits in the Central district near Lan Kwai Fong, on the corner of Gage Street and Lyndhurst Terrace. Long queues line the street, patiently waiting for that strong, aromatic brew.

The founder’s son, Lam Chun Chung, continues to run the stand along with the tea restaurant, or “cha chaan teng” (茶餐廳) behind it. Lam says that over the years, they have added several other types of tea, and most of his tea comes from Sri Lanka.

The cha chaan teng part of Lan Fong Yuen opened about 30 years ago, says Lam. It sells the typical selection of noodles and toppings that one would find in any similar restaurant. “My father’s generation focused on the quality of their food, and now we are giving our customers more variety,” says Lam.

“Tourists have become our main customer-base, especially in recent years, and the number of locals has diminished,” Lam adds. Still, he emphasizes that consistency and quality are a must, because tourists may come and go, but locals are the ones who become regulars.

In fact, Lan Fong Yuen has been so successful that Lam has opened several more restaurants, including a new Chinese barbecue shop and a bar on the same block, and another tea shop across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui. The barbecue shop invites their guests to sit down in their new bar next door, which opened just last week. These new establishments are also called Lan Fong Yuen, but for the bar, the last “Yuen” is a homophonic pun: instead of the character for garden, Lam has chosen the character for popularity and fate (緣).

Customers gradually fill the bar with their barbecued pork lunches as the waitresses take orders.

It seems that Lan Fong Yuen is “fated” for success.

Lan Fong Yuen 蘭芳園
Shop 2, Gage Street
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2544 3895