Tag Archives: pork chop bun

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

Exploring Macau

In an effort to ward off jet lag and make the most of my time before starting work, I decided to head to Macau on my second day in Hong Kong.  I’d read a lot about the “Las Vegas of the East,” but was not really interested in seeing the casinos.  I really wanted to get a feel for the old Macau and its Portuguese roots–especially through sampling its famous fusion cuisine.

After a pleasant ferry ride from Hong Kong, I arrived in Macau and boarded one of the many free shuttle buses provided by the casinos.  From the Wynn, it was a short (but slightly confusing) walk to the Leal Senado, where many of Macau’s most historic buildings are.

Up the hill from the Leal Senado is the Ruinas de Sao Paulo, one of the most memorable and majestic sites in Macau.  Souvenir shops and local snack shops (specializing in almond cookies and all types of dried meats) line the street leading up to the Ruins, making for a pleasant detour before the main event.  I joined the crowds of eager tourists snapping photos of the majestic facade, and slowly climbed to the top of the steps for an up-close view.

After hiking the steps of Sao Paulo, I was famished and ready for lunch.  A friend recommended that I try a pork chop bun, one of Macau’s specialties.  The pork chop bun (豬排包) was more like a sandwich than a bun: two soy sauce marinated pork chops nestled into a crusty roll.  I wouldn’t say this was my favorite dish–the pork was greasy and tasteless, and the roll was quite dry.  But if the dish were done well, I can see how it would be popular.

To allay my disappointment over lunch, I decided to treat myself to dessert.  I had read about a famous ice cream shop, Hung Heng Cocos, that specializes in coconut ice cream.  Little did I know that shop was really more of a shack, tucked behind the Ruinas de Sau Paulo.  It was a bit of a trek through many windy sidestreets, but I can wholeheartedly say it was worth it.  The ice cream is more like frozen yogurt–light as air and not too sweet.

With a few hours to kill between lunch and dinner, I wandered away from the heavily developed tourist areas and got a taste of the “real” Macau.  I was immediately struck by the disparity between the rich and the poor, the developed and undeveloped areas.  In the shadow of the glitzy casinos and skyscrapers are old, decrepit tenements.  Residents seem equally worn with age, passing the time playing mahjeong or practicing tai chi in the park, unaware or uninterested in the development around them.

For dinner, I went to A Lorcha, a very popular Portuguese restaurant recommended by my guidebook.  The crowd was quite international, with European families, mainland Chinese tourists, and local Macanese all congregating for the traditional Portuguese fare and rustic ambiance.

I ordered the spicy tripe and chickpea stew and bacalhau sauteed in garlic and olive oil.  The tripe and chickpea stew was warm and comforting, with a subdued level of spice.  The tripe was cooked perfectly, and its chewiness added nice contrast to the bite of the chickpeas.

Bacalhau is a dried, salted codfish used in many Portuguese dishes.  To my surprise, the fish was quite nice (albeit a bit slimy in texture), especially infused with the flavor from the garlic and olive oil.  The boiled potato on the side was a tasty accompaniment.  I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember the exact cost of my meal, but it came out to a bit over MOP $100–not exactly a bargain, but I was happy to have tried the island’s famous Portuguese cuisine.  The meal was a delicious way to end an exhausting but fun day exploring Macau.