photographer, visual artist and designer.

Hong Kong: Cha Chaan Teng Culture

Cleaning utensils at a cha chaan teng in Hong Kong.

We had just placed an order for a bowl of fish ball noodles at a cha chaan teng in Cheung Chau.

“You’re just trying to make me look stupid, right?

With a pair of chopsticks and a soup spoon in his right hand, M contemplated if he should really dip them into the cup of boiling hot tea provided, just like I instructed him to.

“I’m not! That’s what everyone does here.”

I tried to assure him, although I couldn’t help grinning because it seemed unbelievable even to myself; no one around us were doing just what I told him to do at that point in time.

“Just do it.”

He burst out laughing.

“Trust me. Do it.”

And so, for the first time in his life, M dipped his utensils into a cup of boiling hot tea.

I then passed him a piece of serviette to wipe them dry, and he asked me why people in Hong Kong do that.

Here’s why:

Cha chaan tengs are not known for being clean; they are known for their affordable, eclectic Hong Kong-style western food that are cooked and served within the time limits before an impatient Hong Kong-er turns red and says something unpleasant. The dishes and utensils are washed in a hurry, scorched with boiling hot water to kill germs, and possibly left lying around on unclean surfaces. A little bacteria won’t kill us, but the process of cleaning the utensils with boiling hot tea gives customers the peace of mind that the utensils would be a lot cleaner than if they do not do anything to it at all.

Well, I guess now you know what to do the next time you eat out at a cha chaan teng.