Cha Chan Tang (aka Tea Restaurant)
45 Mott Street (between Pell St and Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013
Cha Chan Tang is a type of restaurant that is popular in Hong Kong and specializes in cheap Canto-Western style foods. It also happens to be the name of a restaurant in Chinatown that serves up this exact kind of food. Directly translated, “cha chan tang” means “tea restaurant.” They came to exist after the British colonized Hong Kong and brought the concept of having tea and cakes. Western food was very expensive so restauranteurs decided to make a “tea restaurant” just for locals which served up a fusion menu. This restaurant in Chinatown mimics these types of restaurants through their menu and decor (see above… they have these fake windows that play videos of Hong Kong streets/traffic on loop… pretty cool).
The reason I knew we had stepped into an authentic cha chan tang was because of the intense smell of Hong Kong style milk tea. Hong Kong style milk tea is made with black tea and condensed or evaporated milk. Sounds simple enough but the real deal is actually pretty hard to come by. To make this concoction, tea leaves are placed in a sackcloth (see above), which are then placed in a container with water that is brought to a boil. The sackcloth is said to make the tea smoother. The container is removed when the water is boiling, and then sometimes brought back to a boil. This repeated action intensifies the flavor and caffeine levels – hence, the milk tea is usually pretty caffeinated.
The milk tea looks just like this. You can then add sugar to your liking. It’s strong, milky, and very, very fragrant.
This is a classic pineapple bun. Growing up, I had one of these at least once a week. It is a slightly sweet bread that is made to resemble a pineapple. Nothing about the taste is pineappley. The crust is flakey and sugary while the center is soft and fluffy. This version is a buttered pineapple bun that is very common in cha chan tangs. A warm pineapple bun is served with a fat slab of butter in the middle, melting as it reaches your table. The bun paired with the strong tea is enough reason to visit the restaurant over and over again.
I also ordered this instant ramen with seared spam and fried egg. Again, a classic cha chan tang menu item. It is super simple, homey, and delicious.
T.W. and LAW both got the “spaghetti” with pork chop and black pepper sauce. The pork chop is fried and doused with this intensely peppery sauce and served over al dente noodles resembling spaghetti. Very hearty and flavorful.
H.W. got the Gan Chao Niu He, or stir fried rice noodles with beef and bean sprouts. Unlike the previous two dishes, you’ll literally find this dish on almost all Chinatown canto restaurant menus. It’s wildly popular but is done particularly great at this restaurant. It’s less greasy, more oniony, and the beef is much softer and flavorful than other places.
H.W. then also ordered these curry fish balls, probably my least favorite from our meal. The fish balls are decent but the curry is a little watered down. Other than this dish, everything else tasted super authentic, just like how I remember my meals in Hong Kong.