The Cha Chaan Teng: Hong Kong's Own Unique Cuisine

British colonialism has certainly influenced Hong Kong casual dining.  The Hong Kong grown cha chaan teng, which translates to “tea restaurant,” is a casual dining restaurant that is a hybrid of east and west.  The affordable fare ranges from more Chinese noodle in soup dishes to food found in North American restaurants such as french toast (Hong Kong style) and steak.  Of course, some dishes are unique to Hong Kong, including plated rice dishes like baked groupa and creamed corn and pastries like egg custard tarts (also popular at dim sum) and pineapple buns.  One can also find pasta dishes, almost always spaghetti (usually served with some sort of sauce or meat) or macaroni (usually in a broth).  Popular Hong Kong drinks include Hong Kong style milk tea (a very strong mixture of teas (Chinese tea and English Breakfast, usually) with evaporated milk and sugar), yin yang (half coffee, half Hong Kong style milk tea) and hot Coca-Cola with lemon (an accquired taste, but apparently very good for colds).  Prix fixe three course meals can also be found.

People from all walks of life eat at cha chaan tengs.  In the morning and during the lunch rush, one might find people who have jobs within close vincinity to a restaurant.  Cha chaan tengs are also popular post-bar destinations.  Portion sizes, unlike other restaurants in Hong Kong, are quite large – great for those who want a huge breakfast or want a lot of greasy food after a night out.  As breakfast and lunch tend to be extremely busy, communal dining is very common – something that many people from North America might not be used to.  These restaurants have service, but customers pay at the cash rather at the table.

Decor generally is fairly plain, perhaps even cheap-looking.  However, it’s part of a cha chaan teng‘s charm.  These places are a part of post World War Two Hong Kong’s history – many served as hang outs for the young, much like diners did for the same era in North America.  Cha chaan tengs exist outside of Hong Kong as well, including North American cities with a large Chinese population such as Toronto.