In the 60’s and 70’s, interest in Western food grew in Hong Kong. At the time, only high end restaurants served Western food and the price deterred many. As a result, cafes that served simple western snacks and drinks at a cheap price, and mimicked Western style cafes became very popular. The cafes would offer iced milk tea, coffee, icecream. Fans would hang from the high ceiling of old style Hong Kong buildings. Hence the Chinese name ‘ice room’ for these cafes.
These traditional style Hong Kong cafes had been disappearing as Hong Kong developed in the 80’s and 90’s and Western restaurants became commonplace. Instead of being in the forefront of the local food culture, they are now a dying breed from the past, with only a handful remaining in the city.
Traditional cafes didn’t have full service restaurant licenses and only served simple snacks like sandwiches and cakes. One can consider these cafes to be the predecessor of cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳), which serve anything from rice plates to noodles. Over the years, the line between these cafes and cha chaan tengs blurred as cafes that didn’t serve a full meal found themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
Kam Kee Cafe has a long history, like many other such cafes. The original Kam Kee was in Shau Kei Wan. After 45 years, the owner decided to retire due to old age and rising rent, and shut up shop. A new owner obtained permission to use the name to continue the restaurant. We went to the Wanchai Kam Kee and the owner re-created the decor of a typical cafe/ cha chaan teng back in the 60’s. Lots of history about the restaurant inside. The menu was in the form of a ping pong paddle. Reminded me of some of the toys I played with growing up in the city.
咖喱牛腩農夫包- curry beef brisket ‘farmer’s bread’. I guess that’s the local version of clam chowder in a bowl? The beef brisket curry was delicious, though the best thing about the dish was that the bread could and should be used to mop up all the curry. Made for a substantial and satisfying lunch, enough for 2 possibly.
Baked pork chop with cheese over rice. I dig food like these so yes I devoured it and made no particular critical assessment of the dish. LOL.
Borscht soup 羅宋湯 that came with the meal. Yes borscht is a popular and familiar soup to most in the city, even today.
Old style Vitasoys, before tetrapaks took over.
A little bit of Hong Kong culinary history, albeit recreated, right in the middle of modern Wanchai. Another of these old style cafe @klyeoh wrote about: