Hong Kong's restaurants come and go, but none struck home quite as hard as when we heard the news that one of our city's most treasured bing sutts (traditional cafes) is closing down at the end of 2019. Quietly tucked away along Canton Road in Mong Kok, China Cafe first opened in 1964, making it one of Hong Kong's oldest bing sutts.
While there are not that many traditional bing sutts left in Hong Kong, they're still around, right? So what makes this place so special? Having played host to numerous movies scenes in some of Hong Kong's most legendary cinematic productions including C’est La Vie, Mon Chéri (1993), PTU (2003), Tales from the Dark 1 (2013) and Fulltime Killer (2001), the interior of this humble little cafe is adorned with vintage fixtures. Through its seemingly lacklustre shopfront, everything from the ceiling fan and wooden bannister, right down to the rigid seats and floor tiles still remain true to it era.
In comparison to the bustling streets outside, the cafe is relatively quiet as most of its customers are usually old regulars and local residents in the neighbourhood. Offering a small menu of no-frills dishes such as char siu egg sandwich and ham noodles, along with rare items that are hard to find in any cha chaan tengs like beef porridge, kayan toast and "gwan sui daan" (a beverage made from hot water, sugar and an egg yolk), China Cafe was never about any of that fancy stuff. They couldn't care less about keeping up with the times to attract customers – and that's what made it so special.
"There's no particular reason, I'm just tired. The government always talks about preserving heritage but really, what has that done to help people like us?", explained Uncle Tam, the cafe owner. "The reality is, I can't afford to keep this place running without any help, and I have no one to hand off the cafe to. If that's the case, then I guess what's meant to be is meant to be". After chatting with Tam, it was clear that he had accepted, almost with a slight relief, that it was time for China Cafe to come to an end.
If you wish to support this precious gem of a cafe one last time, do it before December 31. Their freshly baked pineapple buns and Hong Kong-style milk tea are highly recommended.
1077A, Canton Road, Mong Kok; 2392 7825
Opens daily from 6am to 7pm until December 31