I grew up in Hong Kong and spent half of my life living overseas. Every time I go back to Hong Kong to visit, I cannot help but notice new buildings rising in the city and new neighbourhoods burgeoning in the older parts of town. Shops and restaurants I used to go to have gone out of business, and sections of the city in which I grew up have been torn down and rebuilt. I was only too happy to find two local restaurants that had survived all the changes and were still in business on my recent visit. They had transformed too, and fortunately for the better.
Tsui Wah Restaurant dates back to the 1960’s and 1970’s. From a modest cafe or cha chaan teng (tea and meal house to the locals) which serves tea, coffee and toasts, it is now the landmark of the cha chaan tengs with a restaurant chain with over 6 locations, and soon to become a public traded company. Its menu has also expanded to include lunch and dinner specialties. I frequent the Tsui Wah on Wellington Street, a side street in the city centre of Hong Kong Island. I normally like to go there for breakfast when I am in town, for I love their oatmeal and french toast. On my recent visit, I went there for lunch and ordered something I had not had for a very long time.
The deep-fried fish skin is a rare delicacy. It is dog fish skin, lightly floured and then deep-fried. I dip the fish skin into the broth. There is a softness in the first bite and crunchiness to follow. The reason why dog fish skin is chosen is that the restaurant uses dog fish to make their fishballs. So nothing is wasted here.
My vermicelli comes with three shrimp dumplings and braised ribs. The soft part of the ribs is chosen and its melts in the mouth. It is quite a filling lunch.
However, the meal would not be complete without a cup of tea, or milky tea as the order should go. It is strong and smooth, because they put evaporated milk in Ceylon tea. This is the only tea I drink when I go to a cha chaan teng in Hong Kong.
Patrons usually do not stay long in this restaurant in the morning or during lunch time, because they all have to go back to work. During peak hours, you may be asked to share a table, and this is commonly acceptable, as long as you do not elbow your neighbour and over turn the tea. On the other hand, dinner customers and late night patrons love to linger. (The Wellington Street branch offers 24 hours service.) There is a relaxed atmosphere here that makes one feel like home.
I strongly recommend this restaurant to any visitors to Hong Kong for an experience that is truly indigenous.
Tsui Wah Restaurant, 15-17 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. http://www.tsuiwahrestaurant.com