Food + Beverage
A nostalgic restaurant serving traditional Hong Kong food opens in Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui district. The menu is old style cha chann teng fare, with a few modern twists – and the decor pays homage to a long defunct amusement park.
Lai Yuen Restaurant is the newest in a number of nostalgic eateries to open in Hong Kong in recent years. The eatery has a typical cha chaan teng style menu, which is, essentially, a Chinese interpretation of mostly Western dishes.
Think of it as fusion cuisine from bygone era.
Signature dishes run from roasted whole chicken with glutinous rice to baked whole pork knuckle with sauerkraut and potato wedges.
There are sandwiches and crispy buns; classic thick toasts; fried noodles, pasta, and udon; fried rice; Southeast Asian classics; Hong Kong style slow-cooked curries; baked rice and spaghetti; instant noodles; rice and noodles in soup; classic snacks; classic desserts; and special drinks.
Reflecting current trends, there are even a few healthy dishes, such as organic green salads. You would never have come across dishes such as this in Hong Kong in days of yore!
One of the more interesting innovations is the ever popular deep-fried chicken leg paired with an organic green salad.
Cha Chaan Teng
Cantonese for tea restaurant, cha chaan teng is a term used to describe simple restaurants serving Western-inspired dishes targeted primarily at a Chinese clientele.
The word “tea” refers to the very weak tea that is served when customers sit down instead of the water that would usually be served at a genuine Western restaurant.
Interestingly, many diners never drank the tea. Instead, they used it to rinse their utensils – the same way many people do at tea houses serving Cantonese style dim sum.
There was one key difference between tea houses and cha chaan teng. After rinsing utensils in tea at a tea house, the tea used for rinsing was disposed of and diners drank more of the same tea.
Diners at cha chaan teng usually ordered another beverage. If it was tea, it was usually stronger and served with lemon or milk.
In addition to adapted Western dishes (often served with a choice of spaghetti or white rice), cha chaan teng traditionally also served curries, Southeast Asian fare, and a few Chinese entries.
Eat Like a Local
Noodles in soup are highly popular in Hong Kong – and that often means macaroni in broth, especially for breakfast.
Slow cooked curries and baked rice dishes are popular at both lunch and dinner.
Afternoon tea is an institution in Hong Kong, and I’m not talking scones and cucumber sandwiches. Instead think caramel French toast, a king-sized chicken drumstick, or an onion pork chop bun.
If you fancy toast, forget the butter and jam. Have it slathered with condensed milk instead!
If you want Coke, make sure it is served with a slice of fresh lemon. Otherwise wash it down with milk tea, Horlick, or lemon water.
For a full-on local experience, try the traditional style Yuan Yang, which is 50% tea, 50% coffee. It is definitely an acquired taste. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park
Subtle design elements inspired by a now defunct amusement park have been incorporated into Lai Yuen Restaurant’s interior décor.
Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park was opened by businessman Cheung Kwan in 1949. Located on a 1.6-million-square-foot site west of Lai Chi Kok Bay on the Kowloon Peninsula, it was reputedly the first large scale amusement park in Southern China.
Amusement park rides included a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel. There were also a castle, a haunted house, a dinosaur house, an ice-skating rink, games, stalls, theatres, a zoo – the list goes on.
Performances of Cantonese opera were one of the amusement park’s most popular attractions.
Entrepreneur Chiu Te-ken purchased the park in 1961 and renamed it Lai Yuen. Song Cheng, the first ever theme park based on Chinese history, was launched near Lai Yuen in 1979.
Lai Yuen was one of the biggest shows in town until Ocean Park opened in 1977. Facing declining attendance and falling profits, the park closed in 1997, the same year Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty. The site was redeveloped for housing.
The brand was revived in 2015 as an “entertainment production platform through carnival popups”.
From late June to early September 2015, for example, a 20,000-square-foot temporary amusement park was set up along the waterfront overlooking Victoria Harbour in Central on Hong Kong Island.
Lai Yuen Restaurant is the brand’s first food-and-beverage outlet. Should the concept prove popular, who knows? It could be Hong Kong’s next McDonald’s.
Lai Yuen Restaurant – 12-16 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. The restaurant is a short walk from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station.