Kam Kook Yuen (金菊園) – A Century of Delicious Dried Meat
York Lo: Kam Kook Yuen (金菊園) – A Century of Delicious Dried Meat
Left: Kam Kook Yuen ad promoting its dried duck during Chinese New Year in 1964 (WKYP, 1964-2-9); Right: Kam Kook Yuen ad featuring the popular cartoon character Old Master Q, probably in the early 1960s based on the number of outlets listed in the bottom
Aside from King of Kings which was covered earlier, one of the most famous chains of dried meat restaurants in HK was Kam Kook Yuen – which stands for “Garden of the Golden Chrysanthemum” in Chinese. Kam Kook Yuen had a longer history than King of Kings, having been founded in the early 20th century and operating until the 2000s.
The dried meat business in HK pre-dated the relocation to HK of famous firms in Canton such as King of Kings and Chong Chow (滄州) in the 1940s and Kam Kook Yuen was one of the pre-war pioneers alongside its neighbor in Central – Canton (廣洲臘味) and Ng So Kee (吳蘇記) in Shek Tong Tsui. Most of the dried meat masters came from the Chungshan prefecture in Guangdong before the War while after the war many came from Sunwui (especially Lile 禮樂 in Jiangmen) who opened shops in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun with the character “Wo” (和peace) or “Hop” (合cooperate) in its names. Another group of dried meat masters came from Dongguan who set up shops in Yuen Long in the New Territories. In the mid-20th century, dried meat was very popular as it was a cheap source of protein and warmth during the winter season and was considered a great gift for special occasions such as weddings and Chinese New Year but over time its popularity declined as the society became more affluent and health conscious.
The founder of Kam Kook Yuen was Lai Kwan (黎坤)，who founded the chain in Canton in 1924 and is the grandfather of fashion icon and magazine editor Winifred Lai (黎堅惠,1968-2014) and jewelry designer Kimmy Lai (黎曉靈). One of the firm’s cashiers Leung Yu-tsang (梁裕增) was the father of former Finance Secretary and banking executive Antony Leung. The main store of Kam Kook Yuen was located at 116 Queen’s Road Central (since re-developed into Wing’s Building 永恆商業大廈) in a three-story building as shown in below picture taken in 1955. Back then, it was common for dried meat store to have the store on its ground floor, the workshop on its second floor, its workers dormitory on the third floor (child apprentices were common at the time also) and then space for drying meat on the roof. Kam Kook Yuen also had a branch in nearby Sheung Wan at 44 Wing Lok Street. In September 1958, Kam Kook Yuen opened its first branch in Kowloon at 624A Nathan Road in Mongkok. At its opening, it ran a 20% off sale and was selling boxes of assorted dried meat at HK$20 each. (WKYP, 1958-9-11).
Left: The Kam Kook Yuen main store at 116 Queen’s Road Central in 1955 on the left, to its right the building included friendly competitor Guangzhou Dried Meat store on the top floor, martial artist Ng Shiu-chung and Tailor Cheung (see Part 1 of the tailor series of articles) on the lower floors. Right: Customers looking at dried and barbecued ducks outside of a Kam Kook Yuen branch
The 1960s was the golden age for Kam Kook Yuen and the firm expanded its network of restaurants across HK and Kowloon similar to King of Kings and Chong Chow. In 1960, it opened its Wanchai branch on Johnston Road (華僑日報, 1960-01-10) In 1962, its Mongkok branch was relocated to 658 Nathan Road (工商晚報, 1962-10-28). In 1964, a Causeway Bay branch was added at 1 Pak Sha Road (華僑日報, 1964-12-16) and the next year, the branch added dim sum and seafood to its offering (香港工商日報, 1965-10-19). In November 1965, a Jordan Road branch was added which also served regular cuisine, congee and noodles like the Nathan Road branch (華僑日報, 1965-11-06). Aside from dried meat, Kam Kook Yuen was also known for its barbecued meat such as barbecued pigeons and soy sauce chicken which were highly regarded not only by customers but also by peers. In 1965, Kam Kook Yuen launched its “dried meat club” where subscribers paid monthly dues of HK$6 to purchase dried meat (WKYP, 1965-1-20). Boxes of Kam Kook Yuen dried meat or Kam Kook Yuen gift vouchers were given out as gifts for special occasions and the popularity of Kam Kook Yuen attracted copycats and the 1966 ad shown below reminded customers to identify the chrysanthemum logo before purchasing. There were also “Kam Kook Yuen” in markets outside of HK such as Macau and Canada but there are no known connections between these restaurants and the original chain in Hong Kong.
Left: Kam Kook Yuen’s notice about verifying its logo before purchases in 1966 (WKYP, 1966-1-7); Right: Article about the barbecued pigeons from Kam Kook Yuen with picture of the main store in 1971 (WKYP, 1971-1-23)
To promote its products, Kam Kook Yuen ran cooking demonstration in 1970 which was led by Betty Lee (later Betty Lam after she married photographer Robert Lam), who later became the managing director of Winner Foods, maker of the famous Doll noodle (see article) to show customers various dishes incorporating dried meat (WKYP, 1970-1-7). But like King of Kings and Chong Chow, Kam Kook Yuen lost its popularity after the 1980s and one by one the restaurants were closed and finally faded into history in the early 2000s when the owners decided to close the last restaurant down for good and immigrated to Canada according to one source (香港第一, 明窗出版社,2002).
As a firm, Kam Kook Yuen Ltd was incorporated in 1969 and dissolved in 2012.
Sources (other than those quoted above):
This article was first posted on 21st June 2019.
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- Cheung Sha Wan Abattoir, 1969-1999
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