No-nonsense Home-style Local Food
G/F, 118 Peak Road, Shop No. 1A, Hong Kong
No reservations, major credit cards accepted (only at this location)
During my vacation, I get to visit with relatives who I haven't seen since I was a kid. One of my cousins took me to the typical tourist attraction known as the Peak where you get a sweeping view of Hong Kong's many skyscrapers. While there, she suggested that we eat at the local cha chaang teng, which translates to mean tea restaurant or cafe.
I'd never heard of the term cha chaang teng in the United States, and my cousin says it would be comparable to maybe a Denny's. That didn't give me much confidence about our lunch, but I played it cool and agreed to eat at a popular Hong Kong cha chaang teng called Tsui Wah.
Tsui Wah recently opened an outlet at the Peak Galleria, alongside such tourist restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Burger King. A characteristic of a cha chaang teng is that the food is cheap and simple, nothing fancy. But unlike Denny's that focuses on breakfast and diner-type food, Tsui Wah has a variety of dishes, many sparking childhood memories of what locals probably ate growing up at home.
One thing that caught my eye in the appetizer section was this bittermelon pancakes dish. Although I don't normally eat bittermelon, I thought it sounded so unusual that I had to try it. It came out more like individual bittermelon omelettes, and the bittermelon wasn't too bitter. But I didn't really enjoy the dish because it was a bit greasy, which my cousin says is another sign of a cha chaang teng because they're not for the health-conscious. (I guess maybe it is like a Denny's.)
But the next two dishes definitely separates Tsui Wah from a diner, and they're the chain's specialties. First is the yu dan fun, or fish balls noodle soup. This bowl had ground fish formed into meatballs, as well as ground fish cut into triangles and pan-fried. They sat on top of a bowl of flat rice noodles that were light and subtle in taste.
From the first bite I felt like I was eating at someone's Chinese home. The dish was simple but clean, fresh, and perfectly executed. The fish flavor was mild, almost elegant, just like the subtle broth.
The other specialty is a tomato pork chop rice plate, which my cousin says her children love to eat. In Chinese restaurants, a lot of comfort food seem to circle around tomato or corn. This rice plate was actually very comforting, mostly because it came out piping hot and stayed hot as we ate. I was amazed at the tender pork chop, which was thick cuts that were deboned. The chops were pan-fried before being coated with the tomato sauce. I could see why the kids love this.
After eating at this Tsui Wah, I started seeing this cha chaang teng all over town. It reminds me of Zippys in Hawaii. It's a casual dining spot that's perfect for the family. I enjoyed our lunch here so much that I went to a Tsui Wah near my hotel and ordered the curry chicken rice dish, and it wasn't as good as the restaurant at the Peak. The other Tsui Wahs in town can sometimes be old and tired, but the fish ball noodle soup seems to be popular at all locations.
My cousin paid for lunch, so I didn't note the prices, but cha chaang tengs are typically reasonable and generally only accept cash (but the location at the Peak takes credit card probably because of the tourist business). You're given a slip that you take to the cashier at the front to ring you out.
So if you're visiting Hong Kong and doing the touristy thing like visiting the Peak, avoid the really touristy eateries and try something the locals hold dear to their hearts. The casual cha chaang teng. And if it happens to be Tsui Wah, definitely order a bowl of fish balls noodle soup.
BTW, I've had great weather during my trip, which meant an amazing view of the city from the Peak's viewing tower.
Single guy rating: 2.75 stars (stick with the specialties)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner
Monday, April 04, 2011
No-nonsense Home-style Local Food