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Kam Wah Cafe store-front

Hong Kong’s Culinary Staple, the Cha Chaan Teng

 Feeling hungry? Chatteris Tutor Billy Hatcher explains the historical development of the classic Hong Kong-style cafe, as well as giving you some mouth-watering lunch ideas, in this quick guide to the cha chaan tengs of Hong Kong!

 

 

A Cha Chaan Teng employee prepares some baked goods

Famous for their blend of eastern and western cuisines, and characterised by speedy service and affordable prices, cha chaan tengs are a Hong Kong culinary staple. Comparable to American diners, cha chaan tengs offer customers an extensive selection of food and drinks at almost all hours of the day. From pineapple buns served with a thick slab of butter and French toast with sweetened condensed milk, to macaroni soup, bowls of noodles, plates of sandwiches, red bean ices and milk tea, there is certainly no shortage of choice.

 

The history of cha chaan tengs can be tracked directly alongside Hong Kong’s colonial history, where an influx of expatriates introduced many local Hong Kongers to western cuisines and culinary practices, such as pouring milk in tea. However, although there was a growing appetite for this new cuisine, western restaurants remained extremely expensive and out of many people’s budgets.

 

It was in this climate in the 1950s that cha chaan tengs emerged, where local ingredients and practices were employed in an effort to produce cheap western food, creating a new, affordable and unique cuisine. Ever since, cha chaan tengs have been full of customers, so be prepared to share a table with strangers during rush hours.

 

Although different cha chaan tengs have their own specialities, there are certain staple dishes that can be found at almost all cha chaan tengs. For pastry lovers, pineapple buns are a must-try. Named after their resemblance to pineapples, these sweet pastries are often served with a thick slab of butter, but are also delicious with savoury fillings such as a pork chop or a fried egg. Also, Hong Kong-style French toast is a fix for any sweet tooth. A spin on the classic French toast, the bread is deep-fried, sandwiching peanut butter or a sweet filling in the middle. If you feel overwhelmed by the sheer variety on offer, then an all-day set is a safe choice. Drawing inspiration from a full English breakfast, this order includes toast, scrambled eggs, and macaroni soup as well as a drink, and will leave you stuffed every time.

A traditional style Hong Kong milk tea cup.

 

Although all cha chaan tengs offer delicious food and drinks, there are certain cha chaan tengs that are worthy of their fame. Perhaps the most renowned cha chaan teng is the Australian Dairy Company in Jordan, which is known for its silky scrambled eggs and steamed milk pudding. In Mong Kok, Kam Wah Cafe boasts some of the best pineapple buns and Hong Kong-style curry, and Capital Café in Wan Chai serves amazing French toast and milk tea.

 

Cha chaan tengs truly are a must-try when in Hong Kong, and with chain restaurants slowly taking over from individual restaurants, make sure to keep an eye out for the iconic vintage decor and neon signs of a local cha chaan teng.

 

 

Fancy more than just a taste? Join the Chatteris International Graduate Programme to experience life in Hong Kong and all the culinary delights that it entails, while working on an impactful career. Apply now!

 

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