Tag Archives: Central

The Great Laksa Debate

After staying inside for the past 2 days due to Hurricane Irene and having gone through my food rations for the weekend, I found myself fighting back a strong craving for…laksa.  To the uninitiated, it might be quite a random dish to crave, especially in the middle of a tropical storm.   But for those who have tasted this heavenly Southeast Asian concoction of rich coconut curry broth, noodles, and seafood, then you’ll understand my addiction.

I was fortunate to try several varieties of laksa while in Hong Kong.  Here are my top 4, an attempt to settle the great laksa debate:


My love affair with laksa began at Malaymama in Sheung Wan.  With a cute logo and clean storefront, this tiny Malaysian spot usually has a long line outside at lunch, with diners eager to try the restaurant’s famed laksa and prawn mee (another famous Southeast Asian noodle dish).  Malaymama uses a mild, slightly sweet curry coconut milk broth in its laksa (photographed above) that is deceptively flavorful.  Served with fried tofu, shrimp, eggplant, and a mix of egg and rice noodles, this is a solid version that will appeal to laksa newbies and pros alike.  (Tip: Malaymama offers a teatime/dinner special.  $120 HKD for 2 people: each guest has choice of drink, laksa or prawn mee, and kaya toast.  Call restaurant for specific times.)

Shop 11A, Mercer Street, Sheung Wan

Katong Laksa Prawn Mee

Located directly across the street from Malaymama, Katong Laksa may seem very similar to its counterpart at first glance.  However, there is a world of difference between the two, especially in their laksas.  While Malaymama serves the Malaysian nyonya laksa, Katong Laksa specializes in the Singaporean version, which is most famous in the Katong region.  Though both versions are coconut milk-based, the noodles in katong laksa are often cut into smaller pieces.  I found Katong Laksa‘s version to be satisfactory.  I liked the addition of fish balls, which added a nice chewiness.  The broth, however, was a bit on the salty side for me.  Other standouts at Katong Laksa include prawn mee and mee siam, a sweet and sour noodle soup dish.

G/F, 8 Mercer St., Sheung Wan

Yeoh’s Bah Kut Teh 

My favorite of the four, though I think it may be the least traditional and heaviest on the coconut milk.  Yeoh’s Bah Kut Teh is a Chinese-Malaysian restaurant also located in Sheung Wan.  Though most famous for its claypot bah kut teh, Yeoh’s also serves a sinfully rich, artery-clogging laksa.  The broth was thick, creamy, and full of coconut milk, with both a sweet and savory flavor.  And as if the broth were not doing enough damage to your arteries already, the laksa is topped with a whole prawn, hard boiled egg, dried shrimps, and fried tofu puffs.

Shop G61-62, G/F, Midland Centre, 328 Queens Road, Sheung Wan

King Laksa 

Tucked into a nondescript alley in Central, King Laksa wins for the best toppings.  King Laksa serves an Indonesian version, featuring a savory yellow curry broth that is slightly lighter than the others.  I ordered their deluxe or supreme laksa, which came with fish balls, imitation crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, and a hard boiled egg.  The bowl was swimming in seafood!  King Laksa’s noodle selection also sets it apart.  I ordered mine with the silver needle noodles, which were delightfully chewy and complimented the broth well.

G/F, 20 Gilman’s Bazaar, Central

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

Classic Dim Sum at Maxim’s Palace City Hall

I’ve eaten a lot of dim sum in my lifetime, having grown up in Los Angeles.  Monterey Park, Alhambra, and LA’s very own Chinatown are known for having some of the best dim sum in California and my family and I have tried many of them over the years.  As a result, I am somewhat of a dim sum fanatic and am absolutely thrilled to be in Hong Kong–a city (in)famous for its dim sum culture.

My first dim sum experience in Hong Kong was at Maxim’s Palace City Hall, a Hong Kong institution.  The Maxim’s Group, founded in 1956, owns hundreds of restaurants all over Hong Kong, ranging from traditional Cantonese restaurants to Western cafes to bakeries.  Maxim’s City Hall, one of the oldest locations, is renowned for its classic dim sum and elegant harbor views.  Tourists, locals, and food bloggers alike crowd into the huge banquet-style dining room, peering into each of the steaming carts that pass by.  (And non-Canto speakers–don’t worry! Each cart has signs with English translations of the dishes they are carrying.)

My friends and I started out with the shrimp and corn egg rolls and steamed beef balls.  While the steamed beef balls are a traditional dish, the shrimp and corn egg rolls were anything but–especially since they were served with mayo.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the combination.  The steamed beef balls, however, were fragrant and flavorful.

Siu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), char siu bau (steamed pork buns), and cheung fan (steamed rice noodle roll) are all classic dim sum fare.  Maxim’s versions were excellent, as expected.  The siu mai, served steaming hot, were plump and juicy, while the char sui bau were fluffy and light as can be.  Cheung fancan be filled with either shrimp, pork, or beef, and are topped with a sweet soy sauce.  We opted for the barbecued pork version, which added a nice sweetness to the dish.

Sadly, we missed out on the har gau (steamed shrimp dumplings) and dan tat (egg tarts), but I will definitely be back another time.  Most dim sum dishes were around HKD $30-60, and I think the quality of the ingredients and the elegant atmosphere are worth the pricetag.  In sum, Maxim’s Palace City Hall is a wonderful introduction to Hong Kong’s dim sum culture, which I’m sure I will be intimately familiar with by the end of the summer.

Maxim’s Palace City Hall 
2/F, Low Block, City Hall
Central, Hong Kong