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Cha Chaan Chow
Johannes Pong presents HK Magazine’s definitive roundup of the ten best local diners in town.

By Johannes Pong | Sep 17, 2009

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In honor of the annual Dining Issue, this year we’ve decided to round up the be-all, end-all Definitive List of our favorite local diners, the humble cha chaan tengs and bing suts that make Hong Kong go round. From a well-brewed cup of yin-yeung to instant noodles with spam, there is absolutely no better place for Hong Kong-style comfort food than these ten CCTs.

The Usual Suspects

Like a fine wine, cha chaan tengs only seem to get better with age. That’s why any definitive list must include the following venerable institutions.

Mido Cafe
63 Temple St., Yau Ma Tei, 2384-6402

Antique cashier machine, check. Tiled walls, check. Dumbwaiter, check. Close proximity to touristy Temple Street, check. Fabulously old-school, they still have spittoons installed for your spitting convenience. The star of the show here is the baked pork chop rice with a rich tomato sauce, slightly burned on the edges, and served in an adorable metal container.

Australia Dairy Company
47 Parkes St., Jordan, 2730-1356

Expect all the classic CCT hallmarks: bitchy banter from the kitchen staff, no-frills service, and downright rude attitudes from the older waiters. Want your iced lemon tea served before your eggs? “No.” The Australia Dairy Company is famed for making the best scrambled eggs on toast in town, with the super-secret ingredient being a bit of canned cream soup mixed into the egg batter. People also queue up for their double-boiled milk pudding, and, IMHO, their French toast is the best in all of southern China.

Guong Shing Ice Cafe
10 San Shing Avenue, Sheung Shui, 2670-4501

For a real vintage feel, get out of Kowloon and Hong Kong and venture into the New Territories. You’ll meet the cantankerous but well-meaning Mr. Tsui, who has been serving up his shaved ice with sweetened red beans for decades. He first acquired his Swiss-made ice machine in the 50s, and it’s still churning out the finest, sleekest icy treats in town. The beef macaroni is also well worth the trek up to the border.

Wing Lok Yuen
19 Chiu Lung St., Central, 2522-0965

People come here for their “Hot Dog King,” but Germans and New Yorkers beware if you’re looking for anything that resembles your beloved sausages. This, the best cha chaan teng-style hot dog in town, is a slender wiener buried in a soft warm bun, served with lashings of sweet, tart, unctuous mayo. They also serve deliciously large portions of suet choy yuk si mai (silky rice vermicelli with pork and preserved mustard greens), as well as stir-fried Demae Itchou, the Japanese instant ramen brand that has inspired its own small cult here in Hong Kong.

Cheong Kee
Shop 1, 2/F, Wong Nai Chung Complex, Happy Valley, 2573-5910

This CCT on top of the Happy Valley wet market is well-loved for their ultra-thick toast, served with a crispy crust and a fluffy, soft center. Top it with a spread of yummy saccharine-sweet condensed milk, jam or peanut butter. The other signature item is their suet choy vermicelli. Super-size it with further add-ons like fried eggs, pork chop or chicken wings.

China Cafe
1081 Canton Rd., Mong Kok, 2392-7825

For old-style cha chaan teng ambience, China Café is hard to beat. Its wooden tables, blue floor tiles, retro bakery out front and wooden staircase that winds up to the second floor has been immortalized in many a local film, including Johnnie To’s “PTU.” This is one of the last ones left standing, so go grab a booth, order a three-tiered red bean ice, a French toast and let your inner indie filmmaker start taking pictures.

The Lesser-Known Classics

Whether it’s because they’re older or new, these cha chaan tengs have slid under the radar for some reason, but they are truly diamonds (in the rough).

Baak Lei Bing Sut
216 Shau Kei Wan Rd., Sai Wan Ho, 2560-5214

The Hon family has had this café for four decades, and their regulars span two to three generations. They come for the famous milk tea, which one 20-year fan, Mr. Chan, swore to us was truly different from everywhere else—and utterly addictive to boot. Pastries are also proudly laid out at the entrance. Owner Mr. Hon told us that traditional baked goods are too labor-intensive. “It’s like a dying art form, there’s too much competition with the prolific junk food available these days. But hey, we have the window counter, so we might as well stock it up and make it pretty.” Their 70-year-old pastry chef still makes a daily mountain of deep-fried sa yong (a doughnut-ty choux-pastry puff, crispier, crunchier and bigger than most sa yongs out there). Shockingly, his creations are virtually oil-free thanks to his impeccable control of temperature and timing. Sandy, the Hon sister, is in charge of hand-painting their kawaii cartoon cookies with real fruit purée (not food coloring). Also grab a batch of their meringues, which are impressively made only with egg whites and sugar—no emulsifiers or stabilizers.

Sun Wah Cafe
334 Castle Peak Rd., Cheung Sha Wan, 2387-3698

This out-of-the-way cha chaan teng isn’t that well-known, but local foodies agree that they serve the BEST egg tarts in town (flaky, buttery, and custardy with serious browning), and the BEST pineapple buns (crunchy, sugary, soft). Hell, the BEST pastries in town period. Ridiculous, but no joke.

Hing Fat
19 Morton Terrace, Causeway Bay, 2504-0888

Chef Chow has been doing Cantonese cuisine for 40 years in hotel kitchens. When he and his son Eric, a former ATV chef, came back from a stint at the Intercontinental in Mexico City two years ago (no habla Espanol), they decided to open up their own cha chaan teng. As an executive chef, Chow mostly came up with the recipe ideas, but he loves getting down and dirty in the kitchen himself. “I wanted everyone to taste my cooking, not just the rich.” The father-son team has disputes about food and ingredients frequently, but these often yield delicious new recipes. Besides the usual CCT items, they’ve created a menu of neo-CCT dishes, proven to be quite popular with local celebs. Must-haves include their signature beef fried rice and egg foo young, gooey and moist in the center, with an aromatic hint of curry. Or try their newest item, royal consort shrimp fried rice. The fried rice is umami-sweet from their special house soy sauce that has just a hint of ginger, topped with the crisp layer of golden dried baby freshwater shrimps. Do try their chicken wings stuffed with black glutinous rice too, if you still have room.

Gala Cafe
40B San Chuen St., Tsuen Wan, 2493-7308

Their specialty here is the ultra-thick scrambled egg, thicker than two five-dollar coins. Try ordering it in sandwich form for maximum hot messiness. Other signature items include fabulous versions of the classic Hong Kong staple drinks Horlicks and Ovaltine, which are served as milkshakes (icy and almost like a Slurpy in consistency), and the freshly deep-fried crispy wontons filled with juicy shrimp and pork, and served with a mild chili sauce.

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