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Ngau Kee Food Cafe in Central (my first meal in Hong Kong)

This was my first meal in Hong Kong (about a month ago now) and it wasn’t the kind of meal you move continents for. It was, however, the kind of experience you move continents for. And check out the natty stools.
In summary, Ngau Kee Food Cafe is a cheap family run eatery of which there are probably thousands in Hong Kong. The picture of the stools says it all. This is not fancy stuff. It is a simple Chinese cafe but for an ex Londoner that is what makes it all the more different. Quite frankly I was lost from the moment I walked in. They spoke no English. I spoke no Cantonese, Mandarin or other Asian dialect. It was evident from the look of surprise on their faces that not too many other Westerners have travelled 7,000km to eat there.

The menu was long. Aggressively so. The kind of length that you know will result in terrible food at any Western restaurant. I choose something after some inter cultural haggling and bemusement on their part. It turned out to be some wide rice noodles and beef. It was ok, I don’t really have too much to say about it really. The kind of thing you could get at any Chinese restaurant in London.

And that is the nub of my problem. I am sure I ended up getting what they thought I could manage. What I wanted was what was different, something to punch my mouth around. The fault is mine, I can’t order, I can’t speak, I don’t have the knowledge to get what I don’t know. I’ll learn.
Interestingly I googled Ngau Kee Food Cafe when I got back and found out it is actually quite reckoned and semi famous as a cheap authentic eatery. Also what you order is beef brisket with noodles. What I did was a bit like going to Yung Kee and forgeting to order the roast goose. Shows how bad my gweilo (the HK term for a foreigner) ordering skills are.

So from now on before every meal I will be reading OpenRice, having a look at my new favourite blogs (check out the right side of this page under Hong Kong), reading CNNgo (I know who knew they might be good resource?!) and asking our secretarial pool to transcribe Chinese characters for me.

  • That said, this cost me 25HKD or about £2.20…
  • 3-5 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong

13 Comments

  1. G

    Kau Kee restaurant is one of most famous "cha chaan tengs" (cheap HK-style eateries similar to Ngau Kee) for their beef brisket noodle. Check it out! It's in Central.
    http://www.openrice.com/english/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=1618

    *PS, As a Honkie, I am awfully guilty of not trying it out myself yet (couldn't be bothered to wait in line). If you do go, let me know how you like it!

  2. Tom

    G – I've been meaning to go there but I have heard that their beef brisket sells out pretty early so am waiting for a suitably rainy Saturday (this one looks like it might be suitable). Last time I was in the area I went to the Fish Ball place which I really liked.

    Thanks for starting my Cantonese lessons. I now know about three phrases/ words!

    And when I finally make it there I will definitely take pictures.

  3. Mr Noodles

    I've been looking forward to your first HK post! And kicking off with some noodles too! They look OK to me but not a continent moving bowl of noodles.

    Looking forward to hearing about the fish balls, which taste SO much better out in HK.

  4. Tess

    $2.20 barely gets you a glass of water in San Francisco…
    This makes me think of the part in "Garlic & Sapphires" when Ruth Reichl goes to the sushi bar, sits next to a glamorous Japanese supermodel-type, and says, "I'll have whatever she's having". Just keep an eye out for the hottest/hippest looking person in the cha chaan tengs, & order what they order. xo

  5. Tom

    Mr Noodles. My third meal in HK was actually fish balls (I went wrong with some Shanghai food for my second). And they were excellent (in a dirty way). A whole new texture/ taste style.

    Tess – I know but I have been hearing about the amazing pizza and burgers you can get out there… You don't know how lucky you are till you miss it. Ok, enough is enough I actually just have to buy some Reichl books. But they don't have amazon here. I am lost.

  6. kake

    Or you could learn to read Chinese menus yourself :) I gave it a go (see my blog link) and to my surprise it's not actually that hard.

  7. Tom

    Kake – thanks for the link. I am truly impressed. I had actually been considering giving that a go (or at least rote learning the symbols for pork, chicken etc.) but a lot of my work colleagues were of the view that it is not worth it as in HK the food names are often not literal. I.e. a dim sum will be a heavenly dragon lightness and not, erm, steamed pork and chives dim sim.

    That said, maybe I need to look behind what they are saying!

  8. sarah

    Tom, nice to meet you through our mutual friend Maison Cupcake. I see some of the queues outside the little food places at lunch time and I'm amazed. Can it really be that good?

    I read Reichl's Tender at the Bone recently and I'll lend it to you… it has a few markings but you're welcome to it. It might be easier than shipping it over from Amazon or ordering it locally. Email me: simplycookedblog at gmail dot com

  9. Lizzie

    When I first went looking for Kau Kee I ended up in Ngau Kee. When I realised my mistake I sheepishly snuck out.

    I got to Kau Kee around 7pm on a Friday night and while they'd run out of hor fun they still had ngau lam (the beef brisket). As for it with tendon (ngau gun) – http://lizzieeatslondon.blogspot.com/2010/06/noodle-frenzy.html

  10. kake

    Oh, sure, yes, you may need to learn what the various flowery/poetic names for the dishes are too, but that's not the hard part :) I posted about this a month or so ago — http://kake.dreamwidth.org/28378.html

  11. Tom

    Sarah – I've been a few of them (not at lunch as queuing outside in a suit is not a winner for me) and am pretty impressed. Cheap and if you order right; fantastic.

    I'll drop you an email now.

    Lizzie – haha! I love that. But you were only back in HK for a bit so you had to make every meal count. It was just directly opposite where I was staying which was why I popped in. I need to go and visit early on a Saturday to try some of their classic dish.

    Kake – just read your post and you are right. It is a weak excuse and one I will hopefully overcome (eventually…)

  12. stephen

    Mr. Tom
    you said that “They spoke no English. I spoke no Cantonese, Mandarin or other Asian dialect.”” hahaha …….this is a funny experience, i can tell you that it only in daytime.
    i’m living in central ,every week i will be there to have my dinner twice a week , i see a lot foreigners, and also see have two guys can speak english.
    next time you go trough in night time ( 6pm to 11pm ) you can go try their famous food ,they got a photos and already stick on a glass outside, their style is “family” , whole family working together

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