When thinking of Hong Kong cuisine, dim sum may first to come to mind. While dim sum and other Cantonese fare are some of Hong Kong’s most popular and well-loved specialties, there are many other types of food from Hong Kong that are just as tasty, authentic and true to the culture.
A dense, bustling cosmopolitan region, Hong Kong is made up of a mostly ethnically Chinese population but it has always been a cultural melting pot due to its long history as an international entrepot. As a booming trading port, Hong Kong attracted migrants from mainland China, Portugal, Russia, India, Indonesia and Arab nations. From 1842 to 1997, it was a British colony (except during World War II, when it was under Japanese occupation). A heavy western influence can be found in all of Hong Kong culture, and its cuisine is no exception.
Between the 1930s and 1940s, Hong Kong restaurants and tea houses serving western-style dishes steadily became in trend. The dishes were called see yauh sai chan, or “soy sauce western food,” with European-style meat dishes, soups, pastas and other fare cooked with Cantonese or local ingredients and techniques. Eventually, more tea cafés serving affordable Canto-western foods, called cha chaan teng (which literally translates to “tea restaurant”), began to emerge.
Some of the most popular western-influenced fusion dishes are baked spaghetti, borscht, ham and macaroni, and rice dishes topped with Portuguese-style sauces. You can find some of these Canto-western dishes at several Chinese restaurants in the East Bay, including the following in Berkeley, Oakland and El Cerrito.
Baked spaghetti at Duck Duck Chicken Café
A new addition to downtown Berkeley, Duck Duck Chicken (DDC) is a cute Hong Kong tea café that serves modern Canto-western fare alongside traditional Cantonese food. A popular dish here is the baked bolognese spaghetti. A ceramic dish of spaghetti noodles topped with fresh tomatoes, bolognese sauce made with ground beef and a mix of mozzarella and American cheese is baked in an oven until the cheese is pleasantly browned and melted over. Unlike its Italian counterpart, the meat sauce is a bit sweeter to the taste.
Duck Duck Chicken offers many other Canto-western dishes, like cream of mushroom and chicken soup, Russian borscht and pork chop with tomato sauce.
To complete the “tea restaurant” experience, try these dishes with either coffee, Hong Kong milk tea or lemon tea on the side (for an extra $1, drinks can be iced). Duck Duck Chicken Café, 2017 Shattuck Ave. (between University and Addison), Berkeley
Curry Spaghetti at Gum Kuo
Located in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown, Gum Kuo is a prime example of a cha chaan teng restaurant. Loud inside with bustling workers and hungry customers sitting at glass-surfaced, square tables, it has the look and feel of a café in Hong Kong. The menu is populated with a good mix of Cantonese and western-style dishes, ranging from breakfast foods like long fried Chinese donut sticks and Hong Kong style-french toast to main courses like roast duck, noodle soups, ham and macaroni and baked spaghetti.
A common pasta dish popular in Hong Kong is spaghetti with curry sauce. At Gum Kuo, you can order curry sauce with meat and seafood options, like chicken, pork, beef, beef stew, prawns, fish cutlets or fish balls. On a recent visit, I ordered the curry sauce with beef stew. The beef was braised until tender and combined with potatoes and onions cooked in the curry sauce. Spaghetti noodles, served on the side, are meant to be mixed together with the sauce before eating. Gum Kuo, 388 9th St. (between Webster and Franklin), Oakland
Macao-style pork chop roll at Shooting Star Café
Shooting Star Café in Oakland Chinatown is a more modernized version of a classic Hong Kong tea house. A glass display case filled with pastries and desserts greets you as you enter the restaurant and the smell of both french fries and XO sauce fills the air.
One of the western-style dishes you can get here is the Macau-style pork chop roll.
Given that Macau, an island neighboring Hong Kong, used to be a Portuguese settlement and trading port, and Hong Kong once had a robust Portuguese population itself, you’ll see a heavy influence from this European nation on HK cuisine.
Based on a bifana (Portugeuese pork cutlet sandwich), Shooting Star’s pork chop roll comes with two sandwiches, served on Portuguese bread rolls with fried pork cutlets, tomatoes and lettuce, and a side of french fries. Unlike a bifana, the pork in this HK-style sandwich has more of a soy sauce-braised flavor, reminiscent of the taste of a classic Chinese gua bao (steamed bun).
Other Canto-western food options on Shooting Star’s menu include the baked pork chop over rice, the baked ham and macaroni and macaroni soup (with your choice of Spam, ham, sausage, chicken, beef or egg). Don’t hesitate to add a refreshing glass of Hong Kong milk tea to complement your meal. Shooting Star Café, 1022 Webster St. (between 10th and 11th), Oakland
Hong Kong french toast, baked Portuguese chicken at HK Home Kitchen
Because of its humble and unassuming facade, it’s easy to overlook HK Home Kitchen even though it stands at the corner of a busy intersection in El Cerrito. Inside, you’ll find a customary Chinese restaurant dining room with round tables, lazy susans and a menu of Cantonese fare that seems to go on for miles. Many Canto-western dishes are featured, including sizzling hot plates, baked dishes, and meat or egg dishes served with rice or spaghetti noodles.
On a recent visit, I ordered the Hong Kong french toast and the baked Portuguese chicken. Hong Kong french toast has become a classic staple in many cha chaang teng restaurants and is different from American French toast in that the bread is deep-fried after being dipped in egg. The dish is served with butter and topped with syrup or honey.
The baked Portuguese chicken is topped with a curry sauce made with coconut milk, then browned in the oven before serving. At Home Kitchen, this dish had a hint of tomato sauce and included green peppers, eggs, onions and potatoes. HK Home Kitchen, 10140 San Pablo Ave. (between Central and Lincoln), El Cerrito
Hong Kong-style rice plates at Heat Café
A cozy lunch spot, Heat Café in Berkeley is known for its affordable combination specials of classic American-style Chinese dishes (think beef with broccoli, sweet and sour pork, etc.). But those looking for a taste of something different can find a few Canto-western style cuisine dishes on the menu, too.
Heat offers a Hong Kong-style rice plate, with your choice of seafood, chicken or fried pork chop in either an onion sauce, Portuguese sauce, black pepper sauce or tomato sauce, all served with rice (For an extra $1.50, baked rice can substitute regular white rice). I tried the pork chops with Portuguese sauce made with a mild coconut milk curry flavored with onions. Heat Café, 2364 Shattuck Ave. (between Channing and Durant), Berkeley