Hong Kong Cafe’s menu is among the biggest and most diverse in Sydney. It’s got spaghetti, baked pork chops with cheese, Sichuan-style fish soup, curry chicken on rice, wok-fried noodles, pineapple buns, French toast, club sandwiches and more. But for Hongkongers, this mash-up of cuisines and recipes is exactly what’s expected – but only if you’re dining at a classic cha chaan teng.

Cha chaan tengs proliferated in Hong Kong in the 1950s. There was a growing working class and a rising demand for milk teas, toast, cake and other Western foods, but the only restaurants that sold them were fine diners. Cha chaan tengs were the answer to that demand: cheap, casual diners with simple fare (both Western and Cantonese) and even simpler interiors. The service was frank and the atmosphere chaotic.

In Hong Kong, many of the historic cha chaan tengs have closed, but a wave of new eateries have opened recently. And in Sydney it’s the same. Arguably the most popular of them is Hong Kong Cafe, with outposts in Burwood, Chatswood, Rhodes and Wolli Creek.

For anyone new to the cha chaan teng experience it might be intimidating searching through the long list, particularly if there’s a line. It’s loud and the usual bustle is comparable to a popular food court. For a classic Hong Kongese experience, try the pineapple bun (a fluffy and slightly sweet bun stuffed with either a slab of butter or ham and eggs), a red-bean iced drink and French toast (buttery, thick-cut and filled with peanut butter).

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Updated: February 23rd, 2023

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