Event #6: Yau Ma Tei
30 January, 2016  / 4:30pm – 9:30pm

To many foreigners, Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon maybe under the shadow of its two neighboring districts — Mong Kok to the north and Tsim Sha Tsui in the south. In fact, Yau Ma Tei was one of the most developed settlement sites of the Chinese in the Kowloon Peninsula in the early days. Long before the ceding of Kowloon to the British in 1860, there was a sizable floating population along its shores, due to the existence of a large shallow-water creek, which provided anchorage for fishing vessels and the boat-houses of boat dwellers.

According to the inscription found in the Tin Hau Temple in the community, the district was named “Ma Tei” at 1870 – “Ma” can either refer to “sesame” or “jute”, and “Tei” means “field” or “open ground”. The word Yau (literally means “oil”) was later added which explains the origin of the place name. Tung oil and jute were both common materials associated with Hong Kong’s fishing community. Tung oil was a traditional material used in the construction and repair of local fishing boats, especially as a sealant for joints, cracks and holes on timber boat hulls for waterproofing. Jute was the traditional material for mooring ropes and fishing nets used by local fishermen.

It remains a harbour for fishermen after several times of reclamation by the Hong Kong Government. Inland, the reclamation became the residential area for the ever-increasing Chinese population, with retail shops on the street level. Shanghai Street was the main street before being replaced by Nathan Road. Along Waterloo Road is the century-old Fruit Market; its adjacent Yau Ma Tei Theatre was once the largest theatre in Kowloon. The Kwong Wah Hospital was the first hospital on the Kowloon peninsula, established in 1911.

The Fruit Market

Founded in 1913, Kowloon Wholesale Fruit Market is known as a represented place of Hong Kong local culture. There are still a number of relics of pre-war signboards on the outer walls of these historically valuable buildings. The market has been the place for fruit wholesaling in Kowloon throughout decades. Right after midnight, as the rest of the city, wholesalers and fruit retailers start another day. There you can see many container trucks keep coming in and out, barebacked workers streaming through hundreds of piles of cartons stacked on wooden pallets, transporting fresh fruit from all over the world.

Yau Ma Tei Theater and Red Brick Building

Yau Ma Tei Theatre, closed for 14 years, reprised its role as a place of entertainment when it reopened as a venue dedicated to Cantonese opera following a major renovation project in 2012. Built in 1930, the theatre is the only surviving Pre-World War II theatre in Kowloon District. Its characteristic features include the two pillars at the front entrance, the Chinese pitched roof, the Art Deco façade and Dutch gable walls, the steel trusses and timber purlins for roof support, and the original proscenium and interior walls of the stage. Red Brick Building near the theatre is a classical British industrial building of over 100 years old which is the only remaining portion of the former Yaumatei Water Plant built in 1895.

Temple Street Night Market

Temple Street is named after the Tin Hau (Goddess of the Sea) Temple located in the centre of its main drag, yet well-known for the dizzying array of choices in the night bazaar. It is a place so steeped in local atmosphere and has served as the backdrop of many memorable movies. When the sun goes down, the traders have already laid out their wares and the opera singers and fortune tellers begin to emerge. Trinkets, electronics, watches, menswear, artworks, jade and antiques are haggled over, while claypot rice, seafood, noodles and other treats are consumed with gusto.

Yau Ma Tei Police Station

Yau Ma Tei Police Station was first built in 1873 at the intersection between Station Street and Public Square Street, where Henry G. Leong Yau Ma Tei Community Center now situates. The existing Yau Ma Tei Police Station, the oldest in Kowloon, belongs to the second-generation structure erected in 1922. Several new extensions were added to the established structure in 1950 to cater for the growth of police force in Yau Ma Tei after the Second World War. The Station, a government premise, was built along the coast of Yau Ma Tei in the Edwardian style, with granite used as the principal material of construction. The elegant, courtly architecture means to register the authority of the police force.

Claypot Rice

Definitely one of the most popular winter staple and local flavor of Hong Kong. Fresh and aged grains are mixed so as to ensure a moist yet firm texture. Together with a variety of fresh and cured meats, all the ingredients are cooked in claypots over charcoal stoves until the grains are infused with the juices of the meat, and a layer of crispy rice crackle is formed at the bottom of the pot. Toppings come in many combos; the most popular are minced beef and egg, chicken and dried mushroom, white eel and pork sausage. The meal is topped with premium soy sauce, which lends a distinctive fragrance to the rice: the special smell of Hong Kong winter.