Come take a trip with us to a bing sut café! For those of you who aren’t entirely sure what a bing sut café is – well, get ready to step back in time to 1960s Hong Kong!
In Cantonese, the term “bing sut” literally means an icy room. This term was popularised in the 1960s, when cafés basically advertised their ownership of an air conditioner (rare in those days!) to attract customers who were suffering from the stifling heat that us Hong Kongers are very familiar with! With their icy ACs, bing sut cafés became popular spaces for friends to catch up, neighbours to get to know each other and of course, a hotspot for couples to cosy up to each other!
The original Pak Lee Café in Shau Kei Wan has been thriving since the 1960s, and now the owner of this fifty-year family business has decided it was finally time to expand. Their Sheung Wan location was a great pick for the new venue – it’s a two-minute walk from the MTR station, seats a comfortable seventy persons, and we absolutely love the décor! Pak Lee symbolises community and celebrates the past; the café’s entrance is a total homage to a 60s-style movie theatre, decorated with old school movie posters (apparently some elderly people have walked in ready to purchase movie tickets!), which just brings out that bit of Hong Kong nostalgia that you just won’t be able to resist.
Starting with drinks, I opted for the pineapple ice – always the go-to drink to freshen up after a hot summer’s day! If you want something more soothing, the watercress honey drink is sure to keep your throat happy and healthy. One drink that almost called out to me was the “monk in the sea” – essentially a raw egg broken into boiling water, a traditional bing sut drink that used to be a high protein beverage for people after a long hard day of work!
Our starter was shrimp toast – and the sheer size of it prompted lots of “oohs” and “aahs”! Typically shrimp toast is a triangular piece of bread with a thin layer of minced shrimp on top – but Pak Lee’s fancy and megasize version is the king of shrimp toasts! Even though it’s made of simple and inexpensive ingredients, this should be a treat for anyone.
Always a crowd-stopper, the deep fried chicken drumstick caused quite a scene (or almost a heart attack!) for my finger-licking chicken-loving friend. The skin was beautifully crispy, with the meat inside juicy and tender. A hint of lam yu (Chinese sweet preserved bean curd) was also a great surprise.
The baked beef flank and rice with tomato is about as close to Cantonese comfort food as you’re gonna get. There’s nothing especially distinctive about Pak Lee’s version of the dish, but who doesn’t love runny tomato sauce with chunky beef over eggy fried rice (I dare you to say no!)?
What was quite different to other bing sut or cha chaan tengs was Pak Lee’s macaroni with pork neck meat. Hong Kong diners will be familiar with breakfast bowls of macaroni stewed in broth in the AM, but Pak Lee’s macaroni soup is made with Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup (as well as a few secret add-ins), creating an extremely flavourful and creamy broth to satisfy any hunger pangs. The highlight of my meal here was actually the pork neck meat, which was cut into wonderfully thin and delicious slices.
After so much food, our dessert of shaved red bean ice really hit the sweet spot – irresistibly rich and creamy, you will no doubt be slurping up every single last red bean before you can say the meal’s over!
So if you’re looking to take a trip back in time, head on over to Pak Lee for the ultimate bing sut experience! I’d recommend going in for dinner to get the full experience with friendly service, and avoid visiting at lunchtime where the lunch crowd will send you off in a mad frenzy. Food is incredibly reasonable for the location (expect to be stuffed with a full meal and drink for only $80) and if you love Canto cha chaan teng cuisine, it’s hard to find anything that you’ll dislike on the menu here!
The only thing missing from my trip were Pak Lee’s famous egg pearls (translation: deep fried dough in sugar!), which I so wanted to try… so I guess I’ve got to make plans for another trip to dear old Pak Lee Café sometime soon!
Pak Lee Café UG/F, The Pemberton, 22-26 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan
3575 9896 www.facebook.com/pakleecafesince1964