Monday, April 25, 2011

Australia Dairy Company in Hong Kong

This is part of a series of reports on my recent gastronomical vacation in Hong Kong. Return every Monday and Tuesday to see some of the things I ate at this major Asian city on the other side of the Pacific.

Serving the Masses Scrambled Eggs for Breakfast
G/F, 47-49 Parkes St., Kowloon (nearest MTR: Jordan)
Jordan neighborhood
PH: 852.2730.1356
Cash only

A traditional Chinese breakfast might often involve a bowl of hot jook (the rice porridge) and a side of cheung fun, or flat rice noodles sometimes filled with roast pork or shrimp. But another common breakfast in these parts is made up of macaroni soup with a side of eggs and toast.

Growing up in Hawaii, my mom (who’s from Hong Kong) used to make macaroni pasta in broth with some bits of ham and maybe peas. While oddly satisfying, I wondered how my mom came up with the idea to make macaroni in a plain soup. But when I started seeing people slurping down bowls of macaroni in broth with slivers of ham, everything all finally made sense.

A highly touted spot for this classic Hong Kong breakfast is a cha chaan teng called Australia Dairy Company on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. There’s been so much buzz about this place that there’s always a line forming outside. But I followed a tip from a blogger who said to go before 9 a.m., so I was there by 8:30 a.m. and, sure enough, there wasn’t a line but the place was packed.

Now, a cha chaan teng or tea restaurant is known for its no-nonsense food and service. So that means you’re often hustled into open seats by barking waiters and then you find yourself at a forced communal table with strangers. A waiter pointed me to a four-top where two people were just finishing their breakfast and standing up to leave. I sat down and joined two other people waiting for their food, and another waiter quickly wiped down the table in front of me and handed me a menu (all in Chinese).

Also on the walls are breakfast sets, again all in Chinese. But because Australia Dairy Company has been so widely written up on the web, I knew its specialty is basically the breakfast set that includes macaroni soup, scrambled eggs with toast (you can ask for a sandwich during breakfast) and a drink, usually coffee or tea or a combination of both.

I went ahead and ordered the macaroni soup, a scrambled egg sandwich, and lai cha, which is black tea with milk.

Around me waiters ran back and forth with plates of orders and customers quickly ate their food, with the frenetic scene sometimes broken up by a man calmly reading his newspaper. I only had to wait for a few minutes before my macaroni soup arrived.

The bowl of macaroni is the Chinese’s answer to mac and cheese, but without the cheese supposedly because most Asians are lactose intolerant. So the pasta sits in broth and topped with slivers of ham. The soup was nice and hot and the pasta tender, but it’s nothing special. But since I ate this a lot as a kid, it was very comforting.

Then came my scrambled egg sandwich, with the yellow fluffy eggs pressed between two white bread. Australia Dairy Company is famous for its scrambled eggs, which some have called the most fluffy in town. While they were light and tasty, I didn’t really feel it was so extraordinary. It’s just good scrambled eggs. (I have to admit that the pressure to rush through your breakfast does make it harder to step back and reflect on what you’re eating.)

My lai cha came last (I had to flag a waiter down to remind him about my drink), and it was my first time having this classic breakfast beverage. And I actually enjoyed it (I usually drink black tea with just some sugar), with the black tea creating a deep flavor that becomes mild with the addition of milk. (I suspect this black tea is what the Chinese call “red tea” because it’s so dark that the leaves produce a red hue when steeped.)

My total breakfast cost HK$26 (or $3.50). To pay, you just ask any waiter (there are so many bustling around you don’t have to go to the same guy) for the check, and all he does is write down the total price. So basically you have a piece of paper with a number, which is the amount you pay when you go up to the register.

Despite all that’s been written up about Australia Dairy Company, nobody has a real good explanation about its name. The place is also known for its sweet steamed milk desserts, which are freshly made each morning and is popular for afternoon tea. In the window you see bottles of milk, but I don’t know if people actually buy that or if they're just for show.

While everything in my breakfast hit the spot, it wasn’t necessarily anything spectacular. A visit to the Australia Dairy Company is really a chance to soak in the local flavor and get some quick, cheap traditional breakfast. But don’t expect to sit around and people watch because it’s all about churn here.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Dining on breakfast and HK's bustle)

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


Janet said...

There is a big smile on my face! Reading your adventures in HK reminds me so much of growing up there. My daily food routine for breakfast was mac in broth; lunch was wonton mein; after school snack, a bottle of milk and Hong Kong Cocktail bun. Jook is for sick days; which I had a lot of; so I don't like jook.

Can't wait to see what other memories your trip brings me.

Thanks for sharing.

foodhoe said...

what an interesting breakfast, although at first I thought the sandwich was filled with mac and cheese (it has that fluorescent orange cast)! I love milk tea, it's served sweet isn't it? Macaroni soup, how cool is that?

Karen said...

can you post up a recipe for the mac soup? It looks so comforting - i love having that kind of simple stuff for breakfast.

Single Guy Ben said...

Foodhoe, the milk tea isn't sweetened. I guess you can add sugar to it, but most people treat it like coffee so they like it strong. Mine wasn't that strong (for me, at least) and I liked it without sugar, so I just drank it as is.

Cheeseplate, it's really simple to make the macaroni soup. My mom would just open a can of chicken broth and then add the macaroni and ham (and like I said sometimes peas). I think I'm going to come up with my own fancied up version though, so I may post that soon. ;-)

Miss Nerdy Pig said...

Hi Ben !I recently stumbled upon your blog and have really enjoyed reading about all your food adventures. I run a food blog with friends and I think our concept/ideology is very similar to yours. I also blogged about HK-style breakfast. Please check out my blog if you're interested in my take on HK-style breakfast.

Thanks and happy eating & blogging !