Welcome to part II of Hong Kong tea traditions! You might remember in part I of this series, I covered “Yum Cha” or Dim Sum as it is more commonly referred to in the US. It is the most famous Hong Kong tea tradition. In this post, I want to delve into a Hong Kong tea tradition that is lesser known – the “Cha Chaan Teng“, the literal translation being “tea restaurant”. Growing up in Hong Kong, these were one of my favorite types of restaurants to go to, so I am very excited to share this with my readers. I find cha chaan tengs a little hard to describe to people who have never been to one, they serve a Hong Kong-style western cuisine that is very specific to Hong Kong, I guess the closest type of restaurant we have to a cha chaan teng is a diner – both types of restaurants have an extensive menu, affordable comfort food and while it is not fancy, it would not be considered fast food either. Cha chaan tengs serves “western” cuisine as interpreted by chefs to better suit local palates – there are a lot of dishes that can be offered at these restaurants, but one thing they have in common: Hong Kong-style milk tea.
Drinking at cha chaan tengs
- Hong Kong-style milk tea (“naai cha”) – the origin of this tea goes back to British colonial rule over Hong Kong, it was influenced by the British practice of afternoon tea where black tea is served with milk and sugar. Hong Kong’ers adapted it to use evaporated or condensed milk instead. A blend of several different Ceylon teas are often used as the black tea base, it is usually brewed very strong through a silk stocking like filter and then either evaporated milk and sugar or condensed milk is added. It is served hot or cold. A delicious, intense and creamy tea that leaves you wanting more!
- Lemon tea (“leng cha”) – an alternative to milk tea, this is made from a Lipton-style brew and comes with at least 4 slices of real lemon and sweetened with syrup. This is also served hot or cold. The icy cold version hits the spot in the hot and humid Hong Kong summers!
- Coffee with tea (“yun yeung”) – a popular beverage that contains a blend of coffee and black tea. The name of this drink comes from the Cantonese words “yun” and “yeung”, which means the male and female Mandarin duck. This drink is so popular that in the summer of 2010, Starbucks in Hong Kong and Macau promoted a seasonal frappuccino version of this drink.
Eating at cha chaan tengs – Here is a sample of just some of the dishes you can expect to see on the menu:
- Sandwiches – filled with Spam, eggs, tuna, pork cutlets, etc
- French toast – stuffed with peanut butter or kaya (a sweet coconut jam)
- “Oil and Sand” toast – thick slices of soft bread toasted to perfection, coated with butter (“oil”) and white granulated sugar (“sand”)
- Macaroni soup – a very common breakfast option, it consists of macaroni in a chicken-based stock topped with ham, roast pork or even a fried egg sometimes!
- Baked Pork Chop Rice – crispy fried pork cutlets on top of egg fried rice, smothered with tomato sauce and cheese and baked until all the cheese melts. Quintessential cha chaan teng dish!
- Portuguese Chicken Rice – a Macanese dish clearly influenced by Portuguese rule over Macau. It is a Chinese-Portuguese fusion dish, think of it as a mild coconut curry chicken.
- Chinese Borscht (“lor sung tong”) – unlike the “real” version, the Hong Kong take on this Russian classic uses tomatoes instead of beetroot for the soup base. It is pure delicious comfort food, Hong Kong style.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice – a Chinese dish that is more often associated with Singaporean or Malaysian cuisine. This meal consists of boiled chicken served at room temperature over a bed of cucumbers doused in a dark soy, along with rice cooked in chicken broth and a hot soup completes the set.
- Breakfast Sets – more about this in the next section! Keep reading!
My favorite Hong Kong cha chaan teng: Australia Dairy Company
Australia Dairy Company in Hong Kong, this is one of the few places where I will end up eating multiples times during my visit. It is the BEST breakfast place, the BEST deal in the city and the BEST representation of a “typical” breakfast set at a cha chaan teng.
However, this restaurant is the model of efficiency, even if the line is more than 30 deep, the maximum you will ever have to wait is 15/20 minutes. It also helps that they strongly believe in close communal seating – think two parties of two sharing a small four-top with plates overlapping. Once you are seated, the waiter will appear within 30 seconds, not leaving much time for you to contemplate the menu, but it doesn’t matter, there is only one choice (at least for breakfast). The breakfast set – consisting of (1) macaroni in soup with ham, (2) toast with scrambled eggs and (3) your choice of tea or coffee, hot or cold (extra $2 HKD for iced drinks). All this for for $26 HKD, which translates to just under $3.50 USD!!!
The macaroni in soup will appear with 1 minute of ordering (sometimes even faster), and the scrambled eggs and toast will appear within 3 minutes of ordering. When you are almost done with your food, the waiter will reappear to take your drink order: coffee (iced or hot), milk tea (iced or hot) or lemon tea (iced or hot) – go with the tea, their coffee is forgettable. The macaroni in soup is something I find is typically more appreciated by people who grew up in Asia. However, the scrambled eggs and toast is loved by most – spreading the love, here, here and here. Thick slices of super soft bread is used for the toast, generously buttered, but the eggs are the STAR. I generally despise scrambled eggs and avoid it at all costs, but these are the only eggs to get here, the eggiest, creamiest, moistest eggs ever. And then, after all this food, the tea is served. Their milk tea is very smooth and flavorful, perfect way to end a meal!
While some feel the service and waiters here are a bit brusque, I feel they are very helpful in their own way. If you try to order something that is not what they feel is the best thing on the menu, they will ask you in a somewhat curt way if that is really want you want, making it very clear they feel you have made a wrong choice – but fret not, the waiters really do know best here. Just listen to them, follow the locals, don’t hold up the line and you will have a great experience!
Australia Dairy Company 澳洲牛奶公司
47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan, Hong Kong