Thursday, December 04, 2014

25 Plus Plus: Sun Wah Cafe

Egg tart at Sun Wah Cafe
If you want to know what 25 Plus Plus is about, click here.

I don't get out to Cheung Sha Wan much, but if I needed a reason, Sun Wah Cafe 新華茶餐廳 would be a good one. Their egg tart is one of the best flaky ones I've had in Hong Kong. Baked in-house, the trays sell out almost as soon as they reach the front of the shop, so you're almost always assured of a warm one.

Dolly Varden cake, or "Barbie cake" from Sun Wah Cafe [pic via Openrice]
They serve the usual Hong Kong-style bakery items - egg tarts, cocktail buns, pineapple buns etc., but their baker is also known for something else, the Dolly Varden cake. Second generation owner, Ben Or, says that their baker invented it, although that's unlikely, but it was probably the first place that made and sold it in Hong Kong. Ben said that newspapers came to report on the cake, and dubbed it the "Barbie" cake, after which Mattel sent them a cease and desist. He chuckled and said that they don't even use the original Barbie dolls, and that it was the media that named it that way anyway. He ignored the letter (wisely).

Ben himself is a pretty interesting guy - his father started the cha chaan teng with a few friends, but it gradually became owned by just their family. As the eldest son of a Chiuchow family (known to hold Confucian ideals dear), he felt obliged to take over from his dad. He himself continued to do things he liked after hours - he's a squash coach and still teaches till this day, and even plays in semi-professional golf tournaments.

He works really hard to keep the cafe looking spic and span. True, the decor is rather 80s, but the floor is relatively clean, there aren't a million handwritten posters and flyers pasted on the walls, and everything is generally tidy - something that he believes sets them apart from most cha chaan tengs these days.

Cheung Sha Wan is changing rapidly - perhaps not as dramatically as Kwun Tong, but demolitions and buy-outs are happening daily. Ben says that their building narrowly missed being put up for sale as another building down the road refused a proposal, which means plans for "urban renewal" for their block isn't likely to happen... yet.

Sun Wah is pretty full most of the time, as there are lots of regulars thanks to the residential blocks that now surround it. One quote I wish wasn't cut off in the published article was this:
"Some customers had been coming every day for years. They grew older and older, and eventually one day, we wouldn’t see them again”. 
This is the sort of quote that really gets juices flowing in the wannabe fiction writer/screenwriter side of me - imagine, Wong Karwai-esque, fast forwarding through every day of Ben Or's life in the cha chaan teng - him at the cashier, customers shuttling in and out, greeting each other, sitting down, and a certain customer, coming in day after day, sitting in the same spot, and one day his/her shadow in the corner of the screen - their regular seat, is empty, while the rest of the people shuttle about...

Sun Wah Cafe* [map]
334 Castle Peak Road
Cheung Sha Wan
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2387 3698
6am-10.30pm daily

*Openrice says they have a branch in To Kwa Wan - that's not correct, this Sun Wah doesn't have branches.

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