Cha chaan teng are an indelible, much-loved old school institution on Hong Kong’s restaurant scene, as much a part of the city’s fabric as designer labels and real estate, and far more affordable. These fast and furious, all-day, east-meets-west “tea diners” serve anything from sarnies with scrambled egg and luncheon meat (that’s spam to you and me), to rice with meat sauce, albeit usually with a good pinch of MSG, to yin yeung (coffee and tea together, with milk). But Cantopop is doing things differently and making it more accessible to the uninitiated in the process. Helmed by Margaret Xu, Hong Kong pioneer of organic, locavore eating, who already owns private kitchen Yin Yang, and backed by the boys from Ital-American osteria Posto Pubblico, this is cha chaan teng2.0.
From the interior to the menu, everything is being remixed. There are no bookings taken, so just rock up and pull up a stool under the canary yellow dai pai dong (hawker)-style hanging lights, beside concrete ‘breeze blocks’ against playful egg-themed pop art walls, while you order a sous vide version of the quintessential Cantonese barbecued pork, char siu.
All ingredients are free of chemicals and MSG, and sourced locally where possible. This includes using “music eggs” from a local farm, where the chickens listen to tunes a few hours each day [Ed. presumably to relax them for the chopping block or to compensate for being cooped up], organic vegetables, plus luncheon meat and noodles that are made in-house.
Signature dishes include Canto scotch eggs, Hawker’s Vongole (egg noodles with clams) and Lionhead (meat ball) on a sizzling plate. There’s no wine list, so do as the locals do and wash it all down with tea, coffee, tea and coffee together, Horlicks, beer or a Hong Kong Sangria (think fruit punch, but with bubbly).