When I talk about Hong Kong culture I always mention the Cha Chaan Tengs. It is the place I go to get my favourite comfort foods in Hong Kong. As well as getting a real taste of Hong Kong. Going to a cha chaan teng is something I enjoy a lot and find it to be one of the most iconic things to do in Hong Kong. I also think most Hong Kongers cherish going to a cha chaan teng.
Cha Chaan tengs started to pop-up in Hong Kong around the 1950s. Its name comes from the fact that they are serving a hot weak tea when sitting down. At the time western food was too expensive and the cha chaan tengs offered a cheaper alternative for the middle class and just like that western food was mixed with local traditions. It gave people a cheap and fast alternative in the busy city.
Before I go to eat at a cha chaan teng I always get excited and my adrenaline rushes. Going into a cha chaan teng I know it's going to be a stressful few minutes because of the speed of the restaurant and I need to order within 2 minutes after entering. My favourite place to sit is the booth, it makes the whole experience more cozy and relaxed. As the menu is either placed under the glass covering the table or the wall it's easy to find. After ordering the food and drinks, it will start to arrive some minutes after, super quick. when finally having the food in front of me, I can't wait to eat. The taste of the west and the east fit perfectly together. Right after taking my last bite and putting my fork down, the staff will rush over to clean the table.
But why is cha chaan teng such an important part of Hong Kong culture? Maybe it is the special atmosphere. It is not something you can find anywhere else, the fast pace, the traditional environment and the yummy food. The style of the restaurants is special, they keep some of the traditional Hong Kong design. Which include everything from the floor design, the use of fork and spoon instead of chopsticks. The classical metallic cups, the black+and+white cup or the white cup with a red or green stripe on top is all a staple at the cha chaan teng. Another distinctive thing is the use of simple plates and bowls, that creates a feeling of being at home. Another thing I like about cha chaan tengs and is distinctive is that everyone goes there, so you will see some older people might be reading the newspaper while sipping milk tea or coffee, a group of teenagers laughing, couples on a date or workers having their break. The food is another factor that is important to mention. The food is simple, tasty and soul warming. The menu most likely contains milk tea, coffee, french toast with peanut butter, satay beef instant noodles, pineapple bun, scrambled eggs and much more. Some cha chaan tengs also have special dishes or combinations. The cha chaan teng symbolises the mix between eastern and western culture like many other things in the city, the importance of keeping traditions and describing the word typical Hong Kong.
As Hong Kong is rapidly changing, Hong Kongers see the importance of keeping the culture and heritage. I believe people want to keep the cha chaan tengs alive because they represent the identity of the city. They tell stories since they have been around since the 50s and have been there during the change in Hong Kong. Hopefully they will stay longer so Hong Kongs culture can keep living.