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Cha Chaan Teng: Everything You Need To Know About Hong Kong's Local Coffee Shop Culture

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Cheng Sim  •  Oct 13, 2020

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From bustling shopping spots to unique cultural celebrations, there are many reasons why Muslim travellers would add Hong Kong to their bucket list. Besides promising an exciting city adventure, Hong Kong is also known for having one of the most unique food scenes in the world.  If there’s an iconic food culture in Hong Kong that stands out from the rest, it has to be cha chaan teng! Roughly translated to ‘tea restaurant’ in Cantonese, let’s dive deeper into this dining culture and discover the food adventure that awaits you! 
What is cha chaan teng?
When you’re exploring the busy streets of Hong Kong, you’re likely to spot a cha chaan teng (meaning ‘tea restaurant’ in Cantonese). Similar to the traditional coffee shop culture in Malaysia and Singapore, fondly known as ‘kopitiam’, Hong Kong’s cha chaan teng is always packed, always loud and always popular among the locals.  Cha chaan tengs are also famous for its long queues during breakfast and lunch thanks to the affordable all-day set meals! Most cha chaan tengs aim to accommodate as many diners as they can, so don’t be surprised by their fast, no-nonsense service to keep the stream of diners coming. Some say you can getyour meals in less than 5 minutes, which is a glimpse of the busy, fast-paced life of Hong Kong! As much as cha chaan teng is a part of Hong Kong’s traditional food scene, it was hardly accessible to just about anyone back in the days.  During the British colonial era in Hong Kong, dining in a Western restaurant was considered a luxury experience that only expats can afford. In hopes of making Western cuisine affordable and accessible to the locals, casual restaurants like cha chaan teng was born.  Serving a twist of Western and Hong Kong flavours, the dining culture also gave birth to signature fusion dishes such as Hong Kong-style French toasts, egg tarts, and iced lemon tea!
Must-try food and beverages
With all that talk about food, let’s check out the must-try food and beverages you can find in a traditional cha chaan teng! Gazing at the menu alone is enough to make us excited to visit Hong Kong for an authentic cha chaan teng experience. 
1. Hong Kong-style French toast
If you’re new to the cha chaan teng experience, start with a plate of Hong Kong-style French toast. Imagine slicing across the browned and deep-fried toast to unveil a sweet peanut butter and jam center!You would often see a slab of butter sitting on top of the French toast, but when you drizzle your snack with condensed milk, it’ll send your tastebuds to cloud nine!
2. Hong Kong egg tarts
No trip to Hong Kong is complete without sampling their world-famous egg tarts. One of the most popular pastries in Hong Kong, take a bite into the flaky crust and let the sweet egg custard take you to pastry heaven! Since it’s served in a bite-sized portion, follow the locals and order an entire box for yourself because it’s really that good!
3. Pineapple bun
Another signature cha chaan teng dish that’s a hit among the locals is the pineapple bun (bo lo bao)! Unlike its name, this traditional Hong Kong-style pastry doesn’t have any pineapple flavour, but only patterned to resemble the fruit. Encased in a soft and fluffy bun, take a bite into the golden crust and revel in the creaminess of the melted butter filling. We recommend enjoying it warm when it’s straight out of the oven! We definitely can’t wait to try this again on our future trip to Hong Kong.
4. Hong Kong-style milk tea
If there’s one drink you shouldn’t miss, it’s definitely the Hong Kong-style milk tea. Traditionally prepared usingevaporated milk and English Breakfast tea, the milk tea is usually poured in a tea strainer that’s shaped like a silk stocking. After you catch the action behind the beverage counter, get ready to savour the smooth, aromatic and milky concoction that is so well-loved by the locals (and new milk tea fans like you!).
5. Iced lemon tea
For the perfect end to your cha chaan teng experience, quench your thirst with a glass of iced lemon tea! With English Breakfast tea as its base, it’s usually enjoyed with a few lemon squeezes, some honey or sugar and lots of ice. And it’s a drink that you’ll definitely be needing after exploring Hong Kong all day. 
Finding halal cha chaan teng in Hong Kong
The meals served in Hong Kong’s cha chaan teng usually contain pork and lard, so it’s rare to find a halal version in this bustling city. The closest thing to a halal cha chaan teng experience in Hong Kong is Chrisly Inn Bakery that has recently moved to Trademart Drive in Kowloon Bay! Owned by a Hong Kong-born Muslim named Martin Khan, our team had the chance to dine at Chrisly Inn Bakery and were treated to many authentic local snacks that are popularly served in traditionalcha chaan tengs. We alsochatted with Martin Khan to find out the business’ early beginning and challenges in starting a halal bakery in Hong Kong! Chrisly Inn Bakery went to great lengths to be the exception by ensuring all ingredients used in their bakery are halal. Our favourites are the pineapple bun (bo lo bao) and egg tarts which are baked to perfection. 
WATCH: How to recreate the Cha Chaan Teng experience at home
Since we can't travel to Hong Kong right now, let's recreate an authentic Cha Chaan Teng experience at home! Watch Malaysian Celebrity Chef Ili Sulaiman shares easy recipes to make Hong Kong-style French toast, macaroni soup with chicken ham, and iced lemon tea at home. You can also check out the full recipes here! It's so easy to do that we even tried it ourselves 😃 How to participate in the Cha Chaan Teng challenge (sorry, this content has ended!)
  1. Learn how to make these Cha Chaan Teng dishes from Malaysian Celebrity Chef Ili Sulaiman's video (it's so easy we even tried it ourselves!)
  2. Recreate any one of the Cha Chaan Teng dishes from the video or feel free to add your spin and be creative!
  3. Share your photo on Instagram with the hashtag #CCTChallengexHHWT#DiscoverHongKong #MissYouHongKong #MissYouHK and tag @havehalalwilltravel and @DiscoverHongKong
  4. The challenge ends on 26 October 2020, Monday (GMT+8)
You can stand a chance to win 5 x GrabFood gift cards (worth RM50) or a return trip to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific! There’s so much love about Hong Kong and we can’t wait to fulfil our dreams of travelling to this bustling destination once the situation gets better. To inspire your future gastronomic getaway, check out our ultimate guide to halal food in Hong Kong! This article is brought to you by Hong Kong Tourism Board.