Monthly Archives: July 2011

Memorable Malaysian at Sabah Restaurant

I’m somewhat of a novice when it comes to Malaysian cuisine. As a result, I was thrilled to find out that Hong Kong has several Malaysian restaurants, with authentic dishes catering to homesick Southeast Asians. I’ve quickly come to love laksa, kaya toast, and hainan chicken while exploring this diverse cuisine.

Perhaps the best Malaysian meal I’ve had in Hong Kong was at Sabah Restaurant in Wan Chai. Coincidentally, Sabah happened to be the first Malaysian restaurant I visited and offered a memorable introduction to some classic Malaysian dishes. With a long queue outside, I knew it had to be good.

With the weather being so hot outside, I ordered an iced pulled tea ($30 HKD) to cool off.  Pulled tea is very similar to Hong Kong-style milk tea, but differs in how it is made.  After the tea is brewed, the tea maker  pours it back and forth, which mixes and adds frothiness to the tea.  You can see pulled tea being made in this video.  Sabah’s version was light and not too sweet–very refreshing on a hot and humid day.

For our entrees, my friends and I started with the nasi goreng. Considered the national dish of Indonesia and very popular in all of Southeast Asia, nasi goreng is basically a spiced fried rice, served with a perfectly fried egg on top. I thought the dish was tasty, but not outstanding. It reminded me of an upscale version of Panda Express fried rice, if that offers any insight.

Next, we ordered the stir fried morning glory.  Normally I don’t gush over greens, but Sabah’s was excellent.  Lightly coated in fish sauce and shrimp paste, and sprinkled with dried shrimp on top, the morning glory were crisp and not at all greasy.  Each bite was packed with flavor.

The star of the meal, however, was the beef rendang.  Tender, lean chunks of beef are slowly stewed in coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, and tons of other spices, to create a rich sauce that is even more heavenly when scooped up with some roti bread.  Though it’s not the most visually pleasing dish, a simple presentation belies complex flavors.

For an authentic and delicious taste of Malaysia, follow the queues and check out Sabah Restaurant.

Sabah Restaurant

G/F., Shop 4-5., 98-102 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai

852 2143 6626

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The Curious Case of the Cha Chaan Teng

I’ve noticed some curious things about Hong Kong after being here for one month, like the affinity for queuing, plethora of herbal tea and jelly shops, and constant shopping and eating.  Most curious of all, though, is the cha chaan teng, a Hong Kong culinary institution adored by locals and foreigners alike.

Cha chaan tengs are to Hong Kongers what diners are to Americans (aptly noted in this excellent NYT article).  They are nostalgic, no-frills establishments serving comfort food harkening back to the days of British rule.  But you won’t find tea and crumpets at cha chaan tengs; like everything else in Hong Kong, a distinct culture and taste pervades the cuisine.  They serve a variety of dishes, with the most popular being crispy buns with condensed milk, thick french toast slathered in kaya (coconut egg jam) and butter, instant noodles with a variety of MSG-filled toppings, pork chop buns, beef egg macaroni soup, and egg sandwiches.

One item available at every cha chaan teng is milk tea, the quintessential drink of Hong Kong.  It is said the best milk tea is the silk stocking variety, brewed in–you guessed it!–a silk stocking.  Made with several varieties of black tea and evaporated milk, this rich velvety beverage is not for the faint of heart–or the lactose intolerant for that matter.

I headed to two of Hong Kong’s most famous cha chaan tengs: Lan Fong Yuen and Tsui Wah.  Though both are classic cha chaan tengs, they could not be more different from one another, showcasing the diversity and evolution of this long-standing Hong Kong tradition.

Lan Fong Yuen is arguably one of the most famous cha chaan tengs in Hong Kong, garnering nearly 500 reviews on Open Rice.  Tucked in a tiny shack underneath the Mid-Levels escalator, the no-frills interior belies some tasty, albeit greasy, cha chaan teng fare.

I ordered their famous iced milk tea (dong nai cha 冻奶茶), pork chop bun (zhu pa bao 豬排飽), and kaya french toast (jiayang xiduoshi 咖央西多士), which came to a total of $44 HKD ($5.65 USD).  Lan Fong Yuen is most famous for its stocking milk tea, which I thought was good, but not life-changing.  Perhaps I will order the hot version next time, as the tea quickly became diluted due to the melting ice.  (Ironically, even the diluted version may have been too rich for me, as I felt sick after!)

The pork chop bun and french toast were tasty, but greasy.  Thin pork chops marinated in soy sauce were nestled into a toasted hamburger bun, slathered with mayo.  Slices of tomato balanced out the greasiness.  The kaya french toast was covered in butter and artery-clogging kaya egg jam, but that may have added to its appeal.  This is definitely a dish that I could get used to on a lazy, hung-over Sunday morning.  (It was so good that I started eating it before I remembered to take a photo!)

For an authentic cha chaan teng experience, head to Lan Fong Yuen–but make sure it is before 6:00pm, as it closes early.  (Also closed on Sundays.)

In contrast to the cramped quarters at Lan Fong Yuen, Tsui Wah offers a bigger, glitzier space–3 stories to be exact.  With locations across Hong Kong and Kowloon open 7 days a week 24 hours a day, it is definitely one of the most convenient cha chaan tengs around.  And while some locals will turn up their noses to Tsui Wah, I thought the food was consistently good.

I have eaten at Tsui Wah on two occasions.  The first time, I ordered the Chiu Chow fish ball noodle soup and condensed milk bun (about HKD $44).  I really enjoyed the fish ball noodles.  The broth was soothing and satisfying, and surprisingly not fishy at all.  The fish balls were pleasantly chewy and a nice interlude in between slurping up the rice noodles.

I’m not an expert on milk buns, so I can’t tell you if this was a particularly good one.  What I can tell you is this was not bad–how could anyone go wrong with a crispy bun slathered in butter and sweet condensed milk?  Though at first I thought I was too full to eat the whole thing, it somehow disappeared a few minutes later.

For my second meal at Tsui Wah, I ordered the Hainanese chicken and rice ($55 HKD, or $7 USD).  Hainanese chicken is popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, in addition to its country of origin, China.  It involves poaching a while chicken and cooking the rice in chicken broth.

Tsui Wah’s version was surprisingly good.  I appreciated that they deboned the chicken, as most restaurants serve it with the bone-in.  Both the chicken and rice were flavorful and not too oily, even more delicious when dipped in the accompanying sauces (one was a watered down sweet oyster sauce and the other was a slightly spicy peanut fish sauce).  Broth and pickled vegetables came on the side, rounding out a hearty meal.

From old-school to ultra-modern, Hong Kong has tons of cha chaan tengs to choose from.  If you’re in the SAR, make sure to try what is definitely one of Hong Kong’s most interesting and retro culinary traditions.

Lan Fong Yuen 

2 Gage Street

Central, Hong Kong

(852) 2544 3895

Tsui Wah 

G/F-2/F 15-19 Wellington St.

Central, Hong Kong

(852) 2525 6338

Delirious for Dumplings

Since arriving in Hong Kong, I’ve been surprised by the relative lack of regional Chinese restaurants.  While Hong Kong and Guangdong style cuisine reigns supreme, there are noticeably few Sichuan, Shanghai, and Northern-style Chinese establishments.  I might even venture so far to say that Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants outnumber their Mainland counterparts.

As a result, I was pleasantly surprised when my co-worker suggested that we try a Beijing-style dumpling place for lunch.  The meal brought back pleasant memories of my 6-month stint in Beijing, in which jiaozi were an integral part of my diet.

The restaurant is located in the Queen Street Cooked Food Centre, in the Sheung Wan District.  For those unfamiliar with Hong Kong’s cooked food centres, they are basically a large room filled with hawker stands, each serving a different type of food.  Though not always the cleanest option, cooked food centres are a wonderful way to become acquainted with local Hong Kong dining.  Authentic home-cooked fare makes braving the loud, crowded, no-frills setting worth it.

The meal started off with a complimentary bowl of soup.  Fresh cilantro, tomato, and egg accentuated a simple broth.  In contrast to most Chinese starter soups, which consist of random vegetables and leftover bones, this soup was clean and composed.

The main attraction of the meal was the dumplings.  I ordered pork and dou miao (Chinese pea shoots) dumplings.  The dou miao added a nice crunch and freshness to the pork filling, while the jiaozi pi (or wrapper) held together well.  Doused in vinegar and chili oil, these dumplings were satisfying and soothing–just like a Chinese grandma made them.   At $30 HKD (a mere $3.85) for a plate of 12 dumplings and a bowl of soup, this was certainly a bargain for lunch.

Even though we gorged ourselves on dumplings, my co-worker and I still managed to save room for a traditional Cantonese dessert, purchased from the stand next door for HKD $3.  I apologize for not knowing the name of the dessert, but it is similar to Japanese manju–a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweet mashed taro.

For deliriously delicious dumplings and much more (like this Mediterranean full-service restaurant), head to Queen Street Cooked Food Centre when you are in Hong Kong!

Lao Beifang Jiaozi Guan
Food Market, 1 Queen Street , Sheung Wan
上環皇后街1號皇后街熟食市場