Header image courtesy of @junoshika
Breakfast is a meal that a lot of us neglect during the week in our never-ending pursuit to sleep in for just one more minute. Weekends, too, when a big brunch past noon takes precedence over an early morning meal.
There is no shortage of great breakfast spots in Hong Kong, but if you’re really craving an authentic local experience, a classic Hong Kong breakfast is the way to go, and an old-fashioned “ice room” (冰室, pronounced as bing sutt) is the place to have it at. Here’s your guide to all the traditional Hong Kong breakfast favourites, and the quintessential bing sutts to eat them in.
Bing sutts are the predecessors to modern cha chaan tengs, popular in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s when ice and refrigerators were a luxury to the typical person. Bing sutts were actually considered upscale at the time, with its airy interiors, booth seating, and iced drinks, but as Hong Kong grew, bing sutts quickly became outdated. Many of these cafés from decades past have now shut their doors, leaving behind a handful still serving a loyal customer base. Newer cafés that pay homage to these historical bing sutts have strived to retain the vintage flavour both in the food and the decor, recreating the mezzanine floor found in old bing sutts and serving up tried-and-tested favourites with modern updates.
Despite its off-the-beaten-path location in Yuen Long, business at Mrs Tang Café is always booming. Tourists and locals alike flock there for a taste of what local celebrities Shawn Yue and Chow Yun-fat adore. The signature pineapple bun is a must-have, stuffed with a fried egg, fresh slice of tomato, and a thick pat of cold butter. Their corned beef and cheese sandwich has also captured the hearts of customers over the years, the soft yet crispy roll practically overflowing with melted cheese, as well as their egg salad toast.
Craving soup instead? Mrs Tang’s tomato soup noodles are made with fresh tomatoes as opposed to a tomato base, producing a broth that’s both refreshing and filling. Don’t forget to wash it all down with an iced milk tea, served chilled instead of diluted with ice, or an iced lemon Yakult. If Yuen Long is too far for you, they also have two additional locations in Wan Chai and Kwun Tong, though nothing beats the true experience of dining in a traditional village house.
Mrs Tang Café, Hang Tau Tsuen, Ping Shan, Yuen Long
The Tiffany-blue exterior of Man Fong Café is hard to miss. Man Fong has kept its original décor inside as well, with the only new additions over half a century being new coats of paint on the mezzanine railings and wall paintings depicting stars of a near-forgotten era. The breakfast portions are modest but satisfying, with fresh fatty beef slices topping the staple macaroni or instant noodles. Instead of an iced milk tea, opt for their homemade chrysanthemum tea for a healthier option.
The real star of Man Fong Café is the massive deep-fried chicken thigh. Seriously, where do they find chickens with legs this big? Order it with a side of crinkle-cut fries or rice topped with a fried egg and sweet soy sauce for a truly indulgent breakfast or afternoon tea.
Man Fong Café, 1/F, Eldo Court Shopping Arcade, 112–140 Tuen Mun Heung Sze Wui Road, Tuen Mun | (+852) 2404 8168
Say your friends are in town for the first time and they ask you for recommendations on the best pineapple bun in town: Kam Wah Café tops the list, without a doubt. Their pineapple buns are known as Hong Kong’s greatest, and for good reason. It’s a bun the size of your palm, packed full of flavour both in the crispy top and the fluffy interior. The hefty slice of butter helps, too.
Kam Wah is almost always packed both inside and outside, with lines forming before a fresh batch is even out the oven. This isn’t to say Kam Wah is only good for pineapple buns—their egg tarts, Mexico buns (a Hong Kong-style concha created by a Chinese-Mexican family), award-winning French toast (we’re not sure what award exactly but it’s still dang good), and Singaporean stir-fry rice noodles are also delicious. Don’t forget to order a cha zau, a velvety sweet iced milk tea with condensed milk in place of evaporated milk.
Kam Wah Café, G/F, 47 Bute Street, Prince Edward | (+852) 2392 6830
Don’t judge Hoi On Café by its cover—this charming bing sutt has stood at its location on Connaught Road West between Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun for over half a century. Though it may look shabby, the quality of their food has remained high. Old-school soda pop and Vitasoy bottles line the glass refrigerators that stand by the door, as do their signature baked goods like cocktail buns, Swiss rolls, and coconut tarts.
It’s cosy in Hoi On, to say the least, and it’s frequently packed out with the Sheung Wan lunch crowd in addition to a band of local regulars. Must-orders at Hoi On are the French toast, which is only available at teatime and arrive at the table dripping in syrup, their stacked chives and corned beef scrambled egg toast sandwich, and a decadent drink of red bean ice, which you can get mixed with coffee, milk tea, or both on top of the regular additions of milk or coconut cream.
Hoi On Café, 17 Connaught Road West, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2540 6340
Star Café is one of those hidden gems that you either stumble across while lost in Tsim Sha Tsui, or you’ve really put in the effort to find it. You’ll be glad you found it either way, as Star Café serves some of the best tomato soup around. Nostalgia plays a big part in the restaurant’s charm: The menu is written on chalkboards on the wall, there’s an old brick TV that’s inexplicably always playing a classic movie, and old-school fans that sometimes don’t work line the walls.
The tomato soup is made with a combination of tomato paste and fresh tomatoes, and always comes filled to the brim no matter what toppings you order. Vegetarians craving an old-fashioned Hong Kong breakfast will be pleased to find (limited) veg options, but we prefer our tomato soup noodles old-school, with a fried egg and luncheon meat. Sometimes we’ll get it with cheese, too, making the whole affair almost hedonistic. Helpful tip: To efficiently reach Star Café, enter Champagne Court B at 16 Kimberly Road, walk to the end, then go down the stairs on your right.
Star Café, Shop 36, Basement, Champagne Court, 16–20 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2724 4408
Family-run Kam Po Café is the place to go for a hearty bowl of satay beef noodles. Sure, it’s “young” in terms of bing sutts—opened in 1978—but it holds its own compared to its historical compatriots. You’ve got an important choice to make at Kam Po Café: Do you want mixian (thin rice noodles), udon, macaroni, spaghetti, or good ol’ instant noodles under your flavourful satay? And do you want to treat yourself to a generous helping of thick-cut char siu alongside the satay beef? (The answer to the second question is yes, by the way.)
The sides are to be appreciated too, as instead of a thin omelette and plain white bread, Kam Po’s meal deals come with a sweet and savoury roll and a fluffy ham omelette. The spotlight is definitely on the milk tea here though, made with a smooth blend of four different kinds of tea and the classic Black & White Evaporated Milk. The iconic Black & White ceramic mug helps to keep your milk tea hot even after you’ve devoured your noodles.
Kam Po Café, G/F, 53 Hong Keung Street, San Po Kong | (+852) 2320 7684
Well-known by Tsuen Wan locals, Gala Café is a true diamond in the rough. The bright orange sign has been hung above its Tsuen Wan location for over 40 years, even during a brief transitory period before the new owners took over (the OG owner, advanced in his years, sold the business for over $30 million to spend more time with his family). The new owners have kept the original menu and spent almost a year learning his recipes to maintain authenticity, and the regulars are thankful for it.
You can’t visit Gala without ordering their famous five-inch-thick egg roll sandwich. The egg roll is reminiscent of a Japanese tamagoyaki, made with seven to eight eggs and whipped with evaporated milk. Their ham omelette also trumps the rest, with ham slices spilling out of an omelette that’s bigger than the plate.
Egg fans will rejoice at the many egg dishes at Gala, including a tall glass of vintage egg milkshake (made with two eggs, vanilla ice cream, and evaporated milk—lactose-intolerant diners beware) and egg custard with a whole raw egg yolk floating on top. Tsuen Wan locals also highly recommend the Swiss-sauce chicken wings, fried shrimp wontons, and Ovaltine milkshakes with crunchy chocolate malt crumble.
Gala Café, G/F, 40B San Chuen Street, Tsuen Wan | (+852) 2493 7308
The original owner of Kam Kee Café founded this old school bing sutt in 1967 in Shau Kei Wan, and the quality has remained unchanged since. Though its original location, as well as its successor in Sai Ying Pun, have now closed, it has grown into a wildly successful chain of bing sutts in Hong Kong. Kam Kee’s signature breakfast of pig’s liver macaroni may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we’ve been told it’s delicious (while we stick to our favourite satay beef).
You have your standard options of ham omelette, two sunny-side-up eggs, and milk tea as your sides. We also love the stir-fry beef spaghetti, a less oily version of the stir-fry beef flat noodles commonly found in bing sutts and cha chaan tengs. Kam Kee also makes a banging Black Cow drink, which most of us may know as a coke float topped with chocolate ice cream. Tip: The Wan Chai branch may be the smallest, but it’s the best.
Last but not least, we have Lo Fung Café, a tribute to the traditional bing sutts of old. Its updated bing sutt décor is super Instagrammable, filled with cinematic reminders of the 1970s and 1980s. Lo Fung has a menu full of fun modern updates to all of your favourite traditional Hong Kong breakfast foods: Examples include scrambled egg toast with heaps of truffle, a bread bowl filled with seafood and cheese, and iced Ovaltine sprinkled with cereal germ.
Upon entering Lo Fung Café, you’ll notice that nearly every table has the same drink order: a classic iced milk tea with a twist, topped with iced coffee or milk tea spheres that keep the drink chilled and undiluted. Lo Fung also has an unusual dish available for breakfast: Order the vintage shrimp toast, which is made by deep-frying fresh shrimp paste slathered on toast, a slight departure from its traditional cooking method.
Lo Fung Café, G/F, 216 Ki Lung Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2660 8136
Untouched by time, Mido Café has stood on the ground and first floor of a tenement building on the infamous Temple Street for over 50 years. You’ll be transported back in time with Mido’s authentic local fare and nostalgic décor. Classic films from Hong Kong’s New Wave period, such as Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild, have shot at this vintage café, utilising the vintage tiles, antique cash machine, and overall retro look to invoke nostalgia.
Most diners are gathered on the sunny second floor, enjoying traditional bing sutt dishes of pineapple bun with butter and condensed milk and butter toast. Local childhood favourites can also be found here, like red bean ice with lotus seed, and boiled lemon coke with ginger. The Hong Kong-style French toast is Mido’s signature, a messy plate of two slices of thin white bread deep-fried and drenched in syrup. We can’t verify if it’s real maple syrup, but judging by the amount of regulars, foodies, and Instagrammers regularly swarming Mido, we don’t think it really matters.
Mido Café, G/F, 63 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2384 6402