Monday, August 26, 2013

[香港 HONG KONG] - Cold milk tea in a Schweppes soda glass bottle? SWANK! 瑞記咖啡 Shui Kee Coffee, Sheung Wan

Unsuspecting goodies await us in the Muncipal Services Building, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

It's pretty amazing how much fun local affordable food (at times not necessarily the healthiest) can be found if you carefully search and dig around. No foreign tourist will actively seek something like this out, because it doesn't look interesting, appetizing, or even worthy of Michelin's time...but to lonesome expats living abroad, the thrill of the hunt alone is worth the while.

Not too far from the MTR station of Sheung Wan, find your way to the Municipal Services Building, where the wet market is housed. Head to the top floor and you will find the cooked food center.

There is absolutely no English on the menu or signage, and to make things more interesting, the name "Shui Kee" 瑞記 is listed from right to left (the old style traditional way of reading Chinese), so it shows up as 記瑞. The sign is high above near the ceiling, and the shop is in one of the corners.

Look for the red menu near the window, and the calendar near the door
So this looks like your average run of the mill cooked for stall. What's so special about it, you might ask? Well, it's actually a combination of food culture, what locals eat and where some might hang out during certain times of day, and doing something simple enough at a very high level that very few competitors can emulate (and in some cases absolutely cannot).

The prices can be a challenge to read, particularly if you are not familiar with old style methods by vendors.
Ahh...why bother reading the menu. I'm here for a breakfast. Cold milk tea and HK old style French toast!

 To the left is the small kitchen, where a legendary 80+ year old man works
This is what I came here to eat, old style French toast
This is the weirdest looking HK style French toast I've had. Perhaps I've lived overseas far too long and am used to peanut butter sandwiches deep fried. But this one is a classic style of egg mix over white bread/toast, with the crust removed. Then some sweet condensed milk on top. It's pretty decadent and obviously only a once in a blue moon kind of treat once you are over a certain age, but damn delicious.

But this is REALLY why I came here.

Now Shui Kee 瑞記 is actually most famous for THIS. It is certainly weird to see a cream soda bottle being used as a carrier for a Hong Kong milk tea beverage, but I believe there are a few reasons behind this.

The obvious one is environmental, why wash an additional cup?

The next one is's cutesy in a sense, and practically everyone in HK has grown up drinking a glass bottle soda, or a glass bottle Vitasoy, one of numerous childhood memories.

It's probably easier to keep these cool, so the milk tea can be kept at a cold temperature and served without ice (which dilutes the drink).

But the most important thing is that this was probably the best cold HK milk tea I had during my entire trip, and the most memorable. Everything about the drink was flawless...the refreshing cold temperature, the degree of sweetness (just right), as well as the depth of flavors and texture from the tea brewing. As simple as this drink seems, it is actually very difficult to get it right. And this 80+ year old man figured it out years ago.

In a day and age where real estate and bling jewelry is king in Hong Kong, and no younger generation of folk are willing to take over these mom and food shops or to get into food business to keep the traditions alive, one can only lament that some day food culture like this will just slowly fade away.

I hate to say this, but please enjoy while you still can.

May the chef and his food continue to thrive until at least my next trip, and yours.

Shui Kee 瑞記咖啡
Shop 17, 2/F, Sheung Wan Municipal Services Building, Sheung Wan