Established in 1900, Graham Market is the outdoor wet market in Hong Kong with the longest history. When one walks along the Graham Street and Gage Street in Central nowadays, the stalls and shops occupying both sides of the streets play a fascinating medley of the old and modern market vibes. Growing up in the district, Mr. Cheng Po Hung, well known as the local history expert, recalls his childhood memories as well as the market history and development.
“During the early development of Hong Kong, market actually did not exist until 1842 when Central Market was established. At that time, people living in the mid-levels often had to pass along Graham Street when they headed to the Central Market for grocery and other daily necessity. Graham Street and Gage Street were at the time British-style streets packed with foreign merchant firms, western restaurants and accommodated a British hospital. But then a severe fire incident in 1878 caused a drastic change in the neighbourhood when many of the shops were burnt down. It was later in the 19th century when the area gradually evolved into a Chinese settlement, filled with stalls selling vegetables, meat and fruits. Then grocery stores, rice shops, wine shops and Cantonese restaurants also started to emerge and this was how the area evolved into a market.” Cheng Po Hung narrated.
Moments and Tastes Linger Regardless of Time
During the bustling and prosperous period of the Graham Market, many restaurants and street snacks around the area had left Cheng Po Hung with remarkable memories. Fond moments come to mind as he remembers on the specific places and food at that time. The list goes on: the Cantonese restaurant at the corner of Graham Street and Gage Street, the signature iced red bean drink at a café, and the snacks sold on Gage Street like Cantonese waffles, pancakes, sesame candies and noodles.
“There was a Cantonese restaurant at the junction of Graham Street and Queen’s Road Central, where an old woman operated a stall selling steamed cakes near its entrance. It was a snack originating from Northern China which can hardly be found nowadays. Besides, the skin of giant grouper was also a popular delicacy among the rich people in those days. It was uniquely sold at one shop in Central Market, and particularly welcomed by Luk Yu Tea House and a mysterious banker.”
As for the old shops, some do continue to operate in the area now such as Lin Heung Tea House, Kowloon Soy Co. Ltd., and Luk Yu Tea House, etc.
The Seven Sisters Festival: The Mega Event of the Time
Cheng Po Hung said that a spectacular celebration was held at Graham Street every year on the 6th day of the 7th lunar month back then. “Young women who sold vegetables there made a two-dollar contribution every month, in return for a set of clothing they would receive during the Seven Sisters Festival for making Tang costumes. Meanwhile, extensive banquets would be held at restaurants and street corners, where an enormous altar plate was set up for worshipping celestial beings. Female Cantonese opera artists were also invited to perform on stage temporarily built at the corner of Gage Street. It was a very lively and jolly event!”
In addition to the Seven Sisters Festival, many construction companies would celebrate the Lu Pan Patron’s Day on the 13th day of the 6th lunar month when they would give out rice for good blessings. The shops also burnt joss papers from the 1st to the 14th day of the 7th lunar month. The more offerings they burnt, the richer and stronger they should become. During shop opening, it was also not uncommon to see long firecrackers hung up to four floors high. These are the fond memories during Cheng Po Hung’s childhood that he misses most.
Looking at the traces of the historical Graham Market, no matter in terms of daily life, special local snacks or traditional festive events, stories of the local community can be found hidden in the streets and alleys. Though outdoor markets evolve rapidly with the ever-changing community mix, the tight bonding fills every corner of the area, and has not diminished regardless of time.
*Historical information and image courtesy of Mr. Cheng Po Hung