For most Macau local communities, yum cha is part of their lives. From the past called “the tea house stairs”, till today’s “chinese restaurants” or even the famous “Cha Chaan Teng”, made chinese dim sums; It has entirely transformed to its current eating habits. In the past, the traditional flavor of “one cup two dim sims” traditional dining habit almost went distinct.
“One cup” means using covered tea cup making a good cup of tea; the server carry a big pot of boiling water adding water to each tea patrons. Nowadays most restaurants have used tea pots instead. The “two pieces” refer to dim sum, such as shrimp dumplings, siu mai, etc., pushing dim sum carts or hanging dim sum trays around the teahouse. Till now, most restaurant have placed order method in a form of dim sum checklists. Only a handful place still keep its old traditions.
The formation of today’s tea stall
Tea drinking culture originated from Guangzhou. In the early 1930s, a large number of mainlanders traveled frequently between Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangzhou by boat; They all arrive and disembark Hong Kong and Macau districts quite often. Hence, this make them approach teahouses having dim sum and drinking tea fill up their stomach. This led to the rise of the morning tea culture in Hong Kong and Macau.
There are four types of traditional tea-drinking houses: Tea booth, Tea House (Cha Guan), Tea Room (Cha Gui) and Tea Restaurant (Cha Lou).
Tea house for public
Among them, “Cha Lou” is a good place for blue collars (working class) to drink tea and take a break; the environment and its facilities are extremely simple; and yet usually built on the side of the road. On the other side they also build a tea place. Thus, the tea booth also called “One cent house”. One cup of tea sold for one cent each.
“Teahouse” referred to an upgraded version of tea booth; mostly locating the “working class” concentrated in location such as harbors, fish markets, fruit distributon stalls, and meat markets. Their focus specialises in providing “fast food” to the general public and providing a place for chit chattings. It cost only two cents consumption filling up the stomach; which also called “one cup, two dim sims.”
“Tea Room” mostly gathered middle-class people, pursuing comfortability. The tea and dim sims are more exquisite, and don’t mind too much about service charge; majority all “socially” well-established, or businessmen who looking for services. As the economy gradually well developed, it quickly moved to the tradition like our tea restaurants nowadays.
“Tea Restaurant” is a place that provides magnificent catering and beverages. The consumption level is high, and the main service focus is to serve guests that completely don’t care about service charges. The catering time starts from morning till sleepless nights.
As time changes, the living standards of Hong Kong and Macau residents gradually improved. At present, most of them are “Cantonese restaurants” as most mainstreams. Fast food businesses such as Cha Lou and Cha Guan gradually shifted to fit the needs of people coming from different working class and other occupational regions. It gradually moved backto the North districts serving the focused public segments with cheap and high-quality ingredients.
The rise of sharing table in Tea stalls
“Sharing a table to eat” is one of the common scenery that happened in authentic, traditonal tea stalls in Macau. Most of the “regulars” of these old stalls are normally around neighbourhoods, and ninety percent of them are seniors, majority “silver-haired group types”. Open in the morning before sun rise, until noon; it closes at three in the afternoon. As soon as the steamer starts working at the door, the crowd filled up with people; from there you have to wait in line if wanted to grab a seat.
When placing orders, the attendant always has an “Auntie style” servicing attitudes; the rule of the thumb is to make no other choices, but to follow her instructions; Need to know their rules very well, less nonsenses, place orders in one go without missing anything. They will place an order shout out loud and yell until the kitchen noticed her voice. Well, missed out some orders? Start again, remember don’t urge, just mention the new order lightly; We often referred as “Grab a small order in the messing loop”. Four TVs placed in all the shop’s corners; broadcasting different channels. The stall is quite lively and noisy. You can’t hear any conversations at all when crowded. Everyone needs to shout out loud, indeed is quite interesting.
The price is extremely low, and the environment is hygenic. Can only expect “ordinarily clean when you see the surface”. However, the kitchen that provides the authentic food, is just “one of the bests non-stop eating.”
Choice of Fai Chi Kei Tea Restaurant
Today we just pass through the Fai Chi Kei food blocks in the North district area; Only a small number of “segmented” tea stalls were open close by the neighbourhood area. Among them, the Cheong Kong delicacy (Fu Lai Cha Lou) were so attractive to me; it has served the neighborhood for decades; It is located near the Fai Chi Kei Bus Station. Seeing the white smoke and the scent of food from the steamers at the doorway, I couldn’t help but bring two friends along having breakfast and feel the human touches from the neighborhoods.
In my mind, they are the “steamed fish experts”; whatever the fish market stalls have, the Cheong Kong owned what they have the “today’s special”. When enter in this food stalls, almost ninety percent need to share the big table; Noticing each table ordered steamed fish. Whatever fish types are available on request, without too much other stock out worries. When I came to Cheong Kong, I suggest to call it “Steamed Fish of the Day”; it all get ready on the table immediately in ten minutes. It is not fishy or overcooked; the fish sauce is so delicious; versus the temperature all controlled accordingly; and the first bite is always tender and fresh.
Everything starts from fish orders
Today I also ordered a plate of fried red fish with tomatoes. It was so deliciously gracious, it only cost thirty five dollars only. I even couldn’t buy such good fish at the market with this same price; That was just unbelievable. In addition to all these various steamed fish types, there are also other side dishes, dim sums, porridges, noodles and rice dish worth a try. There are also many “just in time steaming order” stacked up steamed dim sums in pillar trunks; they are relatively cheap and provide variety of choices.
In addition to steamed fish balls and fried red fish, we also ordered steamed minced fish stuffed with green peppers and placed on the table right away; topped with their home made soy sauce, and served with a bowl of white rice. This is an old style way of eating.
It appeal in a special kind of bouncy and elastic textures; it’s the mastery craftsmanship with many years of experience that make this perfect piece. It takes time to remove the bones, minced off the fish meat, and use of considerable wrist force to make refreshing bouncy minced fish balls. At the price of fifteen dollars in exchange of hundred percent handmade skills, being so thoughtful for just the sake of providing supreme food priviledges to their neighbourhoods with such a low selling price sets; the kind of considerate attitude towards food perfection, is just so rare to find in Macau.
And yet, a highly compacted and pressed “handsome” white rice, is good enough for two persons; one small bowl just only costs seven dollars. Along with another pot of nice Pu’er chinese tea, the kind of taste bud enjoyment seems entering into likewise, high up paradise on earth.
In addition, the sweet and sour pork cubes all fried and ready; its all thinly coated, crispy from the outside, and juicy on the inside chunky sliced meat; all well served with diced green pepper, pineapple, with sweet and sour red sauce, which is extremely appetising. Other handy recommended dishes such as steamed fish heads in black bean sauce; sliced beef with bitter melon, barbequed items with rice, steamed rice rolls, etc. also one of the best dishes.