Thursday, 16 June 2011

Eat Like A Local @ Tsui Wah 翠華餐廳 & Ocean Empire 海皇粥店

Whilst dim sum makes for a great breakfast or lunch, few people have the time, money, or metabolism to indulge a daily dumpling habit. So what are the alternatives? Well, for many Hong Kongers, they like to pop into cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳). These are best described as the Hong Kong equivalent of the American diner.

These diners are open from breakfast to late into the night, and serve a bewildering array of dishes encompassing Cantonese favourites, HK-style western food, and increasingly so, local versions of South East Asian dishes. For example, breakfast might be HK-style French toast or macaroni in broth w/fried egg, and lunch or dinner might consist of Hainan chicken rice or Malaysian curry.

One of Hong Kong's most famous cha chaan tengs is Tsui Wah (翠華餐廳), a small chain whose flagship branch is on Wellington Street and consists of three cavernous floors. This isn't the place for a quiet chat, and more often than not, you're expected to share a table with other diners.

I pitched up at Tsui Wah with some colleagues, and was confronted with multiple menus. I kept it simple and ordered fish combination w/rice vermicelli in fish soup (鮮味魚四寶米線), with the 'combination' consisting of squid balls (墨魚丸), fish balls (魚蛋), fish roll (魚春卷), and fish paste puff (魚腐). The quality may not have been the best, but as a workday lunch, it certainly beats the living daylights out of a tired old sarnie. And for a mere HK$30 (apx £2.50), it's certainly great value.

With hindsight, though, I should've gone for the Kagoshima pork cartilage in special sauce & fish balls w/rice noodles in fish soup that my colleague ordered. She kindly let me have some of the cartilage (豬軟骨) and it was fantastic, with all the porky goodness demanding to be sucked clean off the soft bone.

However, it was the flowering chives (韮菜) served with an abalone sauce that stole the show. This dish wouldn't have felt out of place in one of Hong Kong's swankier restaurants, never mind a humble cha chaan teng.

At the end of the day, Tsui Wah can be uncomfortable and noisy, and you can probably get better quality food at specialist 'hole-in-the-walls' like Lau Sum Kee. But for all that, a visit to a cha chaan teng is a must-do, as it is a unique Hong Kong experience.

Tsui Wah 翠華餐廳
G-2/F, 15-19 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
香港 中環 中環威靈頓街15-19號地下至2樓
Nearest MTR: Central 中環

Despite being called Mr Noodles, my favourite Chinese breakfast is congee, or as it's called in Cantonese: juk (粥). As this rice porridge is a slow-cooked affair, locals go to a congee shop or juk diem (粥店) for convenience.

Ocean Empire (海皇粥店) is a mini-chain that serves many different types of congee, all priced around the HK$20 mark. I went for my favourite of fish slice congee w/coriander (芫茜魚片粥). For those of you that make congee at home, coriander is a great addition as it introduces an extra herby flavour whilst adding colour too. As I've come to expect from Ocean Empire, this was a fine bowl of congee with delicate flakes of fish and a deep ginger flavour.

Congee is usually topped with a couple of bits of deep-fried dough stick (you tiao 油條). However, some people like to order extra you tiao, and I'm no exception although I like to have it wrapped in rice noodle roll (cheung fun 腸粉) to make zhaliang (炸兩). Ocean Empire rather exuberantly names this dish in English as twisted doughnut ricesheet roll.

Ocean Empire's version is a good one. As you can see, the freshly made cheung fun is almost translucent. The fried doughstick is also crispy on the outside and isn't too oily. Incidentally, if you sit near the open kitchen, you can see the cheung fun being freshly made to order. They do quite a big range of cheung fun, and I can also recommend the dried shrimp ricesheet roll (蝦米腸粉). Other dishes include snacks and stir-fried noodles that are mainly served as accompaniments to the signature congee.

Some of Hong Kong's hole-in-the-walls can be inaccessible to non-Chinese readers, and it's to Ocean Empire's credit that their menu is in Chinese (both traditional and simplified characters), English and Japanese. In other words, there's no excuse not to come here!

Rather bizarrely, despite having multilingual menus, a few of their outlets only have Chinese signage. Ocean Empire's logo is as above, if you want to identify this superior juk diem.

Ocean Empire Food Shop 海皇粥店
Shop 1-2, G/F, 15-23 Sugar Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
香港 銅鑼灣 糖街15-23號地下1-2號舖
Nearest MTR: Causeway Bay 銅鑼灣


  1. I love the congee from Ocean Empire but a must have is the 'ngau lei so' 牛脷酥 (ox-tongue pastry). It goes well with the congee or just eaten on it's own!

    Pork and century egg congee wins it for me each time.

  2. I just have to say... i can eat at Tsui Wah like three times in a day in HK. Noodles, lunch and death by their HK style french toast at night lol. soooo good! (and good value!)

  3. Thebao - welcome! The ox-tongue pastry sounds a treat. I really ought to look beyond the congee and cheung fun, the next time I visit Ocean Empire.

    catty - Tsui Wah is a such an institution. If only there was somewhere like it in London.

  4. I went to Tsui Wah last year! That congee looks delicious, sad I didn't make it there. London needs more yau tsa gwai.

  5. To be fair, I only discovered the ox-tongue pastry last year when I was in HK as I always thought that it did contain an ox-tongue in it - not sure why since there is nothing I don't eat but this freaked me out for some unknown reason.

    There's an Ocean Empire at HK Airport so there is a chance to have one before I leave!

    Trick is to go with a few people or with relatives that love to feed you and order everything on the menu because 'you don't get to eat this in the UK'!

  6. Lizzie - you must try Ocean Empire when you're next in HK.

    Thebao - as you will see in the next few posts, there's plenty of 'you don't get to eat this in the UK' dishes.

  7. I'm kinda regretting not getting that return flight form HK now. But then again it is just over the border from Guangzhou. Easily done.
    Excellent write ups. You are making me change my travel planes now...

  8. Awww your postsss made me so homesick>.< The glorious 奶油豬 of Tsui Wah grrrr...

    As for congee, have you been to Tasty Congee & Noodles 正斗? Personal favourite, especially the deep fried dough in cheung fun:)

    Great posts!

  9. Mzungu - thanks! There's a few more posts to make your mouth water...

    Wingz~* - welcome and thanks! I've never been to Tasty 正斗 but having been on their website, I must give it a try the next time I'm in HK.

  10. When I lived in Tokyo, a friend took me to have congee in Yokohama saying "all Asian cultures have soupy rice but Japan's is crappy so we have to go eat Chinese stuff" hehe. It's true, okayu is not Japan's finest culinary hour...

  11. Have you been to Kau Kee 九記 before? They do the best beef flank 牛腩 ever. I remember when I was a kid that my dad dragged my whole family around in the rain just for a bowl of noodle soup! YUM!

    Damn, I want to be in HK now...

  12. Sasa - I guess this is why okayu (Japanese congee) isn't that well known!

    Thebao - I'm not sure is the answer! Before I started blogging, I didn't always pay attention to where I ate. That said, I'll definitely keep an eye out for Kau Kee on my next visit.