Cha chaan teng
|Cha chaan teng|
|Cantonese Jyutping||caa4 caan1 teng1|
|Literal meaning||"tea restaurant"|
A cha chaan teng (lit.: tea restaurant) meaning tea restaurant, is commonly found in Greater China, including particularly Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and parts of Guangdong. They are known for eclectic and affordable menus, which include many dishes from Hong Kong cuisine and Hong Kong-style Western cuisine. Since the 1980s they can also be found in the Chinatown districts of many Western countries like Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States.
In the early Hong Kong, only high-class restaurants provided western food and most of them did not serve local people. At that time, people saw western food as a luxury item. After the Second World War, Hong Kong culture was influenced by British culture. Hong Kong people started to like drinking tea and eating cakes. Therefore, some of the Hong Kong people set up the Cha Chaan Teng and their target audience was local people.  Providing different kinds of Canto-Western Cuisine and drinks with very low price led to them being regarded as "cheap western food" or "Soy sauce western food" (si yau sai chaan, 豉油西餐). In recent years, the management of Cha Chaan Teng began to change in coordination with the development of Hong Kong economy and society. During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Cha Chaan Teng became much more popular in Hong Kong as they still provided the cheapest food for the public.  In April 2007, one of the Hong Kong political officers suggested that Cha Chaan Teng be listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, because of its important role in Hong Kong society.
Name and description
Cha chaan teng establishments provide tea (usually weak tea) called "clear tea" (清茶 cing1 caa4), to customers as soon as they are seated. Some patrons use the hot tea to wash their utensils. The name, literally "tea restaurant", serves to distinguish itself from Western restaurants that provide water to customers instead of tea. The "tea" in the name refers to the inexpensive black tea, not the traditional Chinese tea served in traditional dim sum restaurants and teahouses (茶樓 caa4 lau4). Moreover, some cha chaan tengs prefer the use of the word "café" in their names.
The "tea" may also refer to tea drinks, such as the Hong Kong-style milk tea and cold lemon tea, which are very popular in cha chaan tengs. The older generations in Hong Kong use yum sai cha (飲西茶 lit. "drinking Western tea"), when dining in these restaurants in contrast with yum cha.
Fast service and high efficiency
Usually, tea restaurant have high efficiency, with each customer averagely spending 10-20 minutes to finish a meal. Customers typically receive their dishes after five minutes. The waiters take the order with their left hand and pass the dishes with their right hand. This embodies Hong Kong’s rush lifestyle. In rush hour, it is normal for a lot of people to queue outside the restaurant.
Long working hours
Cha Chaan Teng workers may work 7am to 11pm, some even working a night shift. Long working hours are characteristic of Hong Kong. However, the cost of fast service is a bad service attitude. If you order and finish the food slowly, or even paying slowly, waiters may scowl, stare or even swear at customers.
Cha Chaan Teng’s Trend
Because of the limited lands and expensive rent, Cha Chaan Tengs are gradually being replaced by chain restaurants, such as Café de Coral, Maxim's and Fairwood. As chain restaurants dominate the market, Hong Kong’s Cha Chaan Teng culture is disappearing.
Cha chaan teng serves a wide range of food, from steak to wonton noodles to curry to sandwiches, e.g. Hong Kong-style French toast. Both fast food and à-la-carte dishes are available. A big cha chaan teng often consists of three cooking places: a "water bar" (水吧) which makes drinks, toast/sandwiches and instant noodles, a "noodle stall" which prepares Chiuchow-style noodles (including wonton noodles), and a kitchen for producing rice plates and other more expensive dishes. The invention of drinks like yuanyang (鴛鴦), Iced tea with Lemon (凍檸茶) and Coca-Cola with Lemon (檸樂) are often credited culturally to this style of restaurant.
Food and drinks
- Coffee (Two types exist: instant and in powder form, in which the latter is more prominent)
- Black Coffee—Hong Kong people usually called them jaai fea(lit. "Vegetarian Coffee", emphasizing on its plain texture) or "fei sha jaau naai" (lit. "get rid of sand and milk", i.e. coffee without sugar (the "sand") and milk)
- Hong Kong-style milk tea—A drink highly popular in Hong Kong and its standard is judged by its aroma, smoothness and concentration. The tea is soaked in an iron container for several hours to let the flavor come out.
- Yuanyang—A mixture of coffee and tea, originated in Hong Kong. According to traditional Chinese Medicine, coffee and tea is "hot" and "cold" in nature respectively. A mixing of both thus then yield the best combination for beverage.
- Black and White Yuanyang-- A mixture of Ovaltine and Horlicks, originated in Hong Kong.
- Lemon Tea
- Lemonade—Often goes without sugar or syrup.
- Lemon with Coffee
- Lemon with Ribena
- Lemon with Honey—Often, to reduce cost, the honey is substituted with "Watercress Honey"
- Soft drinks—Usually Coca Cola, 7-up, Fanta and Cream Soda are mostly found.
- Fruit Punch
- Mint Punch
Most drinks could have ice added to become the cold ones, but usually an additional 1 to 5 dollar are required. Some (though less frequent nowadays) would ask for a glass of ice but that requires additional charge as well.
- Toast--- It could be toast with condensed milk and butter/peanut butter, toast with both jam and butter, toast with butter in a piece form, or French Toast
- Sandwich---With egg, ham, minced beef or a mixture of them as the ingredient. Club Sandwich is also very common. The greatest difference between the Sandwich in Hong Kong and other country would be that, only white bread would be used, and the customer would also have the liberty to cut off the edge of bread or toast the bread before making sandwich.
- Egg tart
- Bread--- Such as pineapple bun (with or without butter), cocktail bun
- Macaroni, spaghetti, oatmeals
- Satay beef bun, barbecued pork bun
- Various Fried rice and noodles
- Instant noodles
- Beef chow fun --- Beef chow fun is a staple Cantonese dish, made from stir-frying beef, hefen (wide rice noodles) and bean sprouts and is commonly found in yum cha restaurants in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and even overseas, as well as in cha chaan tengs.
- Instant noodles
- Noodles with fish balls, wontons and the like
- Barbecued meat --- Not all Cha Chaan Teng have them.
- Congee and Youtiao
A feature of cha chaan teng are the set meals. There are various sets throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The lunch and dinner sets usually include a soup and a drink. Generally there is an additional HK$2 charge for cold drinks. Sometimes an additional HK$1 is charged for toasted bread.
Other sets include:
- "Nutritious set" (營養餐) - It comes with milk and other nutritional food
- "Constant set" (常餐) - Provided all day long, hence the name (it usually consists of a main course, omelette, white bread with butter and a drink)
- "Fast set" (快餐) - Immediately served (usually rice with sausages/ ham/ fried eggs with gravy)
- "Special set" (特餐) - Chef's (or Boss's) recommendation
Tables and seats
Generally, the tables in Cha Chaan Teng are square table for 4 people or round table for 6 to 8 people. For each table, there is a piece of glass that covered on the top of the table and the menus are put between the table and glass. Cha Chaan Teng also provides "Cargo seat" which refer to the design of the train, During the lunch or dinner, customers are requested to "daap toi" (撘枱) which means they have to sit with other strangers in the same table. This action is more convenient for customers, who are in hurry, and allows the owners to fit more customers into the Cha Chaan Teng at once.
Other interesting facts
Most Cha Chaan Teng in Hong Kong and Shenzhen would offer a cup of tea (the staff would call them "Gaat Sui", literally "empty water") to each customer after they are seated. The tea is bland and Hong Kong people would usually use it to clean the eating utensils. The utensils may be provided in the following two ways: either the waiter provides the utensils required after taking order (such as fork, knife and spoon for rice with steaks / fillets on plate, and chopsticks for soup / fried noodles), or placing all the utensils in a circular container placed on the table. Chopsticks would be separated from fork, knife and spoon. The hygienic condition of some of the Cha Chaan Teng might not be satisfactory, so the utensils would be washed by the cup of tea before using them. Some newer generations of Cha Chaan Teng would place everything including napkins into a drawer under the table to save space.
Before 2007, most Cha Chaan Teng would not stop people smoking in it, and some waiters would even smoke during their work which may cause great annoyance to customers who did not like smoking. Starting from 1 January 2007, Hong Kong Law prohibited everyone from smoking within the indoor premises of restaurants.
When the waiters are taking orders, they would use some abbreviation, such as the character 反 (faan, meaning "opposite") to represent 白飯 (baak faan, meaning "plain rice"), or 0T for lemon tea (0 reads as ling, which is phonetically similar to lemon which is "ning". T simply means "Tea"). This is because the waiters do not have a high proficiency of language and the operation pace within the restaurant is so fast. Waiters, then, are unable to put every character on the order sheet when submitting to the kitchen. For customers, if they want to have cold drinks without ice, they would say 走冰 (zaau bing, lit. "go ice") or 走雪 (zaau syut, lit. "go snow"). In drinks like coffee or tea, 飛砂走奶 (fei saa zaau naai, lit. "fly sand go milk") means without sugar and milk, and 少甜 (siu tim, lit. "less sweet") in iced lemon tea means less syrup. If the amount of rice and noodles is not enough, one would say 加底 (gaa daai, lit. "add the bottom") for more rice and noodles, which costs around HKD$3-5 more. If rice dishes where the rice is not fried with the ingredients (such as rice with scrambled eggs and shrimp, in which the ingredients are cooked and poured on the surface of the steamed rice), customers may request for 炒底 (chaau daai, lit. "fry the bottom") for using fried rice which would also cost HKD$3-5 more. If Nissin Ramen or Udon is requested instead of normal instant noodles, HKD$1-2 would also be needed.
Mostly there would be spring onions sprinkled on the surface of the congee and soup noodles. One may ask for 走青 (zaau cheng, lit. "go green") to omit those spring onions.
There is also the difference between "wet frying" and "dry frying". The former technique is to fry with thickening sauce, while the latter one is to fry with soy sauce.
Most plastic ware placed on the table is provided by beverages companies which could have an advertising effect. Those plastic ware include containers for toothpicks, plastic menu holders etc. Brands like Ovaltine, Horlicks and Ribena are the usual providers.
To minimize cost, Cha Chaan Teng usually will not order utensils which bear their own brand name. As a result the patterns on the utensils are always the same, which could be purchased easily in various department stores or groceries. Tiles are placed on the walls and floors for easy cleaning.
Other kinds of local restaurant related to cha chaan teng in Hong Kong include chaan sutt (餐室 lit. "meal chamber"), bing sutt (冰室 lit. "ice chamber"), and bing teng (冰廳 lit. "ice dining room"), which a provide a lighter and more limited selection of food than cha chaan teng.
In the old days, these eateries only sold different types of "ice", sandwiches and pasta but no rice plates. However, some of the restaurants bearing these titles today ignore the tradition, and provide all kinds of rice plates and even wonton noodles. Original chaan sutts, bing sutts and bing tengs, which can be regarded as the prototype of cha chaan tengs, are now scarce in Hong Kong.
In June 2009, Hong Kong retail design store G.O.D. collaborated with Starbucks and created a store with a "Bing Sutt Corner" at their store on Duddell Street. It is a concept that fuses the retro Hong Kong teahouse, style with the contemporary look of a coffeehouse.
- The similarities between the different set meals were satirized of by My life as McDull, a McDull movie.
- An important part of Hong Kong culture, cha chaan teng is featured in many Hong Kong movies and TV dramas, including the popular sitcom Virtues of Harmony. The TVB-made soap opera tells the story of a family who runs a cha chaan teng, usually boasting the egg tart and "silk-stocking milk tea" produced by them. Stephen Chow also played a cha chaan teng waiter in the 1998-comedy Lucky Guy (行運一條龍) and a cha chaan teng meal-delivery-boy in the King of Comedy (1999).
- Some beverage producers use the words cha chaan teng to name their products, such as "cha chaan teng milk tea" and "cha chaan teng lemon tea".
- On 19 December 2007, lawmaker Choy So Yuk proposed during a Legislative Council session that Hong Kong's cha chaan teng be recognised and put up to UNESCO as an "intangible cultural heritage of humanity". The proposal came about after a recent Hong Kong poll found that seven out of ten people believe the cafes deserve a UNESCO cultural listing.
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- DeWolf, Christopher (21 April 2010). "Hong Kong's best bing sutt: Guide to old-school diners". CNN Travel. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
- Starbucks with Traditional Hong Kong Style
- Chong, Vince (23 December 2007). "Keeping alive a tea cafe culture". The Straits Times. p. 28.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cha chaan teng.|
- A comprehensive gallery of the cha chaan tengs found in Hong Kong