ice chambers: hk's coolest eateries

maybe it’s just a part of the current hipster wave, maybe people get more nostalgic as the world modernises at a dizzying rate or maybe it’s simply the honest, wholesome good eats that are increasingly becoming a rarity in this culinary age of over-processed, genetically-modified food. whatever the reason, the revived popularity of hong kong’s traditional coffeeshops known as bing sutt adds to the city’s already exciting gourmet scene.

these bing sutt, meaning ice chambers, are so named as back in the sixties and up to the seventies most homes were not fitted with air-conditioners whereas these eateries were and so people would go there to enjoy the cool air.

there are a handful of these decades-old eateries still surviving and they have stuck to their guns, offering a menu that has remained unchanged over the years — plus a regular clientele that has stayed loyal. then there are the new establishments that pay homage to this heritage by recreating the same decor, ambience and traditional staples within new spaces.

follow our bing sutt trail to find your way to some of hk's best polo buns and milk tea:

lan fong yuen it was actually a cloth strainer that, after having countless cups of tea poured through it, turned a murky brown and at a glance, resembled nude pantyhose.customers began calling the beverage it produced si mat nai cha or pantyhose milk tea. now a ubiquitous offering in the city and hong kong-style restaurants outside the country, it was at this 50-year-old bing sutt that the creamy, velvety drink was invented and it is still one of its main crowd pullers. read more...

starbucks starbucks in any city is still starbucks, except when half the shop is dressed like a bing sutt like in this outlet on duddell street, where you’ll find the city’s last four remaining gas-powered street lamps lighting up a short flight of granite stairs that date back to the late 19th century. both are protected as declared monuments of hong kong. read more...

sing heung yuen technically, this street stall falls more neatly into the dai pai tong category but many bing sutt had their origins as such and this central institution offers all the same staples, and then some.sing heung yuen’s most famous dish is their tomato soup with macaroni, a simple dish of watery tomato soup with pasta. read more...

wah lok it’s all too easy to miss this old timer, hidden among a warren of traditional shops that flank a stone staircase and several stand-alone kiosks in the middle of the steps. from its facade to its interiors, nothing shouts for attention and it’s rarely mentioned in the city’s travel or food guides, which makes this one of the most authentic bing sutt around. read more...

pak lee cafe since 1964 walking into this relatively new and modern-looking outlet is sure to make one question the name, which references the founding date of the original pak lee in sai wan ho where the hon family still enjoys brisk business. read more...

 

there are a handful of these decades-old eateries still surviving and they have stuck to their guns, offering a menu that has remained unchanged over the years

kam kee cafe it started as a 20-seater bing sutt in shau kei wan over 40 years ago and would have continued serving its time-tested menu (which included the now hard-to-find “beef juice” or bovril in water) in the same location but rising rent forced it to close its doors in 2012. it would have been the one that got away if not for regular customer rick chui, who bought the business over and reinstated it in its current premise. read more...

 

cafe match box the scroll pasted on its glass doors say it all, in chinese: fully air conditioned. this was what first gave rise to the monikerbing sutt and while it’s an all-new incarnation, match box’s keen attention to detail has produced an ice chamber that could easily pass for a decades-old establishment. read more...

 

...some of hk’s best polo buns and milk tea

kam wah with two other bing sutt within walking distance in the vicinity, kam wah holds its own with a long-held reputation for its polo bun and milk tea. both live up to the hype that draws many tourists to venture here. the bun is fluffy and pillow-soft with a crispy top, a great balance of textures that will have you easily downing two in one sitting. read more...

 

man wah cafe & bakery on a street diagonally across kam wah is this 40-year-old bing sutt, which is not on your typical tourist radar and caters to a local clientele of working class folks from the commercial areas in its vicinity and neighbourhood regulars. the interiors are a haphazard, almost messy display of retro wallpaper, chinese new year buntings and laminated menus plastered across the walls. read more...

 

capital cafe this is a newly minted chain (there are currently three outlets) that aims to recreate the bing sutt experience while drawing inspiration from popular cha chan teng australia dairy co. capital is owned by a pair of brothers, one of whom works in the music industry and hence the name, a tribute to one of hong kong’s oldest record labels. read more...