Walk down from the exuberant glass shopping arcades of Nathan Road, and hidden in the corner of Tsim Sha Tsui is a slice of Korean Life in the middle of Hong Kong.
Korean Street in Tsim Sha Tui is also known as Little Korea, which is located between Granville Road and Kimberley Road. It is the Korean town in Hong Kong and the history of the local Korean community goes back to the 1960s.
You could find most authentic Korean restaurants and grocery stores here, as if you miraculously stepped into a little alley in Seoul. There are at least fifteen Korean food shops in Kimberley Street, which draws thousands of customers to dine and shop here. According to headline daily, 90% of the customers are local Hong Kong people.
Before, Kimberley Street was a typical quiet Hong Kong neighborhood behind the exuberant and flourishing Nathan Road. There were few Korean shops, but they were only known to the Korean immigrants, who came and spent.
Since the 1960s, Hong Kong began to trade actively with Korea and many Koreans started immigrating here and due to convenient and comprehensive transportation, Tsim Shan Tsui became the hotspot for their settlements. Kimberley street and then developed into a hub for Korean people to reunion and a district with Korean shops selling supplies and food.
Soju is a colorless and distilled drink of Korean origin. It is traditionally made of wheat, rice or barley. Modern manufacturers sometimes replace rice with potatoes or tapioca.
People usually consumed it neat and its alcohol content ranges from 14% to 54%. Almost every bottle of Soju sold in Kimberley Street was made and sourced in South Korea.
The ones you saw in Korean drama can all be found in Kimberley Street, including jujube tea, honey quince jam, bottles of ginseng drink and fish-shaped frozen waffles stuffed with red bean paste and vanilla ice cream.
Noodles & Soup
Guksu, is the word in native Korean for noodles or noodles dishes collectively. They take up a great portion in in Korean cuisine. Wheat noodles particularly are specialty food for birthdays and weddings, since the long and continued shape of the noodles could be linked to the longevity and long-lasting marriage.
And of course, hot and spicy flavour is always an noteworthy feature of Korean noodles.
Kimchi & Bibimbap
Korean food is heavily dependent on the use of rice, meat and vegetables. Typical Korean meals are always accompanied by Kimchi and steam-cooked short-grain rice. And the common ingredients include sesame oil, doenjang (a type of fermented bean paste), soy sauce, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, gochujiang (a type of fermented red chilli paste) and salt.
Cantonese, Korean – and in between
According to Ming Archive, some Koreans living in Hong Kong for long time have estimated that there are about 6,000 Koreans living in the city. And they also differentiate “ex-pat Koreans,” who come for work in the major firms, from “real Hong Kong Koreans”. Usually, the latter group have lived here for more than a decade. They are familiar with Hong Kong like a local and many of they can speak fluent Cantonese and have children born and grown up here.
Dee has been working in his father’s wholesale food store, a Korean wholesale and retail shop for over 30 years.
He speaks fluent Korean. As a fixture in Kimberley Street the expat community affectionately calls him “Uncle Dee”.
Is he Cantonese or Korean?
Dee Liu is a Hong Kong native, he is completely fluent in Korean and is a fixture on Kimberley Street.
He studied university in Seoul, but returned to Hong Kong to help expand his father’s store.
Aside from selling groceries to customers, his business also supplies hotels and restaurants with wholesale goods.
In Banchan fresh foods, one can find a short friendly lady speaking Cantonese. Here she can seen preparing fresh foods for customers behind the counter.
Is she Cantonese or Korean?
Mrs Li is a Korean immigrant who came to Hong Kong in the late 1970s. She married a Hong Kong businessman and decided to leave her home in Korea to build a new life. She works in Banchan Foods Ltd and says that eating home-made Korean dishes is key to her having a “youthful complexion”.
She credits the popularity of Korean foods with Hong Kong people to the TV show Tae Cheung Geum in 2005.
His Sam’s job is to source fresh ingredients from Korea and ship them to Hong Kong. He says that the demographic of shoppers are mostly local women and in their 20s-40s. “Our main audience are the locals”, he says, “and that’s the way to survive”
Is he Cantonese or Korean?
Actually, he’s neither! Sam Song is American, but he considers himself an expat in Hong Kong. He compares New York’s Korean Town and says that it is much more developed with cafes, karaoke bars, and multi-level shops. He arrived in Hong Kong a year ago and has been working with New World Foods ever since.
He says that his boss Mrs. Kim started the New World brand in 1995, and she used to sell her goods from a small refrigerator inside another shop. Fast forward 20 years, and the business has grown to include restaurants, fast-food shops, and wholesale food and beverage.
Increase in Kimberley Street Rents
The Thrive of K-Pop Culture
Dae Jang Geum, also known as Jewel in the Palace, is a Korean television drama aired in 2003. It tells the life story of an orphaned kitchen cook and how she became the king’s first female physician in a time when women held little influence in society.
This series vividly portrayed traditional Korean culture, royal court cuisine and traditional medicine. And it not only succeeded inside South Korea, but was also exported to 91 countries, which laid the foundation of the Korean Wave reaching abroad later. Korean Wave means the spread of Korean pop culture and people also refer to it as K-pop.
Hong Kong, was one of the many regions that have been reached by the Korean Wave brought up by Dae Jang Geum, which aired in 2005 in the city. This led to many new Korean shops opened up in Kimberley Street.
In 2014, a new round of Korean Wave hit Hong Kong due to the skyrocketing popularity of another Korean television series, My Love from the Star. Likewise, the hotness of this 2014 drama triggered an even larger number of Korean restaurants and shops landing their feet in Kimberley Street. According to Headline Daily, My Love from the Star drove up the rents in Kimberley Street proper by almost 40%, which also led the scope of Korean Street to expand into nearby Kimberley Road and Austin Road. Nowadays, Kimberley Street has become one of the tourist spots in Hong Kong.
Side-by-side: Hong Kong and Seoul
Number of Koreans living in Hong Kong
Video: Why are Koreans choosing to stay in Hong Kong?
On Hong Kong University campus and many other universities in Hong Kong, if you have a pair of discerning eyes and a basic sense for Korean hip-pop-influenced dressing style, you could easily spot many Korean students studying here. Even till now, Hong Kong remains a hot choice for Koreans to come, but with the arrival of the new generation, the demography has definitely gone younger.Let’s hear what they say!