Dai Pai Dong Spicy Black Bean Clams: DEE-LICIOUS

Dai Pai Dongs are popular Cantonese open air food stalls in Hong Kong and ultimately what is left over of the fragrant harbor’s history and culture. ‘Dai Pai Dong’ literally translates to ‘restaurant with a very big license’ which refers to the restaurant’s license size which is bigger than smaller street vendors. There are only 28 of its kind remaining in Hong Kong!

Why big license and what is the meaning of all this?

After the second world war finished in 1945, the ex-colonial Hong Kong government issued licenses to the families of injured or deceased individuals who went to war, to encourage them to operate food stalls in public to earn a living. This license was considerably larger and had of course given more leeway than normal ones. This is how it gained its name: ‘dai pai’ (big license) by the locals. These stalls began to flourish on every busy street in Hong Kong ever since.

Dai Pai Dongs soon became the cause of traffic congestion due to plastic chairs and tables being put all over the place and the obvious hygiene problems. As a result of this, the government started to limit the number of licenses being issued in 1956 and of course, their transfers.
Personally, I find the Dai Pai Dong style food to be one of the best in Hong Kong. It is so unique that you can order tailor made dishes, tweak the flavors and make zillions of requests. You can also partake in “Cross-stall ordering” which allows you to order your ice tea or milk tea from another nearby stall. The noisy environment and loud clanging of the wok all contribute to making the experience authentic and simply delicious.

Tweaked Dai Pai Dong Spicy Black Bean Clams
  • 2 pounds clams
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans
  • 2 chillies, chopped (add more for extra spice or none if you don’t like spice!)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1/2 green capsicum, chopped
  • handful of garlic chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil

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Step 1

Fill your sink (or a large bowl) with water and add a handful of salt. Place the clams in this water for 15-20 minutes to allow the clams to open and cleanse, remove excess sand and grit. Discard any clams which have broken shells or shells who have opened.

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Step 2

In a small bowl, mix together the black beans, garlic, chili (if using), soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix well. If you desire a thicker paste add half a teaspoon of cornflour.
Chop the capsicums and garlic chives into small bite-sized pieces and set aside.

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Step 3

In large wok or skillet, add garlic and black bean sauce and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the capsicum and chives and toss for 1 minute. Once soft, add the clams and cook, covered for 4-5 minutes.

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