Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yue Hing - Hong Kong

Revisiting the Racist Chinese Toast Man
Two years ago I met my girlfriend-to-be at a boring meeting in Hong Kong. She was offering to bring a colleague of mine to a classic charcoal street stall for food and I invited myself along. I was interested to try some street food but was more interested in her. In my mind, Yue Hing was our first date. She'll laugh at this, no doubt - I was just an arrogant New Yorker that she had no interest in but I knew I was going to win her over.

Throughout that meal two years ago the cook spoke to Puffin in Cantonese while eyeing me or pointing to my colleague. I got the distinct impression he didn't like us. I asked her about it and she bluntly replied "He was telling me how lucky you are to be eating his food because he wouldn't serve you if you weren't with me." She said it so matter-of-factly. We've since joked about it from time to time but it's not funny to me.

Fast-forward two years, here we were in Hong Kong debating going back to Yue Hing. I asked "Do you think I'd take you somewhere in NY you weren't welcome? No, I wouldn't." It didn't even faze her: "but Babe, the toast is sooooo gooooood. So, let's just go and you be on your best behavior." Huh? Me be on MY best behavior? I decided to go only because it might make a good story. I was ready, I imagined him giving me that look again and me bashing in his eye and clearing the table with a violent arm swing. (I fantasize about such things precisely because I never act on them.) However, as we got within a few steps of the stall, the strangest thing happened....

....he greeted me like an old friend, all smiles, and gestured for me to take a seat. Within no time I was munching on peanut butter and condensed milk toast, which I have to admit, was the best thing I ate in Hong Kong and there wasn't a close second. He chatted and smiled with Puffin as she told him in Cantonese that I was her boyfriend and I'd be taking photos of the food. He seemed pleased by this. I was so caught off guard that I started to doubt my recollections about the previous visit.

His Dad was just as pleasant. In this father and son team, the Dad is the drinks-maker and he is an absolute pro. This is one of only 28 Dai Pai Dongs left in HK and I bet the Dad can remember when they were everywhere. After I took a sip of Puffin's iced lemon tea, I gave him two big thumbs up and asked her to order me one.

I was really impressed by this tea. It seems so simple but it was the best tasting iced tea I've ever had in my life. You can tell it's made with a lot of patience and care. I watched as the Dad measured each ingredient precisely and crushed the lemon wedges. He's probably been making this drink for 50+ years and it shows.

When Puffin's luncheon meat sandwich arrived it looked a bit different from the rest I'd seen in HK. Tasted different too. The secret ingredient? Peanut sauce. Spam, lettuce and peanut doesn't sound like a nice combination but it worked. I was downing everything that came my way and snapping photos when the Son appeared table-side to brag in Cantonese about his noodle and egg bowl. He suggested to Puffin that I come back for that some time. "Why wait, tell him I want one now." He looked surprised and happy. He disappeared into the stall and soon I heard the egg sizzling and a wok being scraped and banged.

The egg noodle was not bad, but not up to the peanut toast standards. You would be wise to make a visit to Yue Hing and get yourself an order of the peanut butter toast and iced lemon tea. I doubt you will eat something better. As we walked away I put my arm around Puffin and made amends "Ok, so perhaps I was wrong Babe, he was so nice to me." She stayed quiet. "Babe, what you thinking?" Well, she said, almost apologetically "he said that you're welcome back any time, just make sure I come with you."

82 Stanley St
Hong Kong

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  1. ((: yay! i waited soooooo long for this! next up will be me, my gf and her grandma! maybe that would win me some cantonese points with the guy! i loveeeeee love love the peanut butter toast! and the ice milk tea is good too!

  2. @Pesky - you got nothing to worry about....

  3. Asian breakfast places. I don't understand why, but their sandwiches always taste miles better than anything I could ever hope to make (even if I tried to use the same ingredients).

    The 2nd to last sandwich picture is droolworthy.

  4. @Nicholas - you are right about that 100%. I don't know what kind of magic these guys know but their stuff, as simple as it is, tastes so damned good. Puffin's sis was trying to make peanut butter/condensed milk toast at home and it was a hilarious disaster.

  5. It's the atmosphere as well. Despite the lack of backs to the stools and nowhere to put my huge backpack (had to lay on my laps), I always hit up the dai pai dongs in Kowloon and have some steamed noodles with peanut and sweet sauces...brings back lots of childhood memories...

  6. @Thoughtful - yep, the atmosphere is awesome, sitting out in the street, smelling the charcoal fire.

  7. great post! i laughed (and drooled) all the way through

  8. @Sandy - glad you laughed. You should definitely go here on your next trip to HK, the toast is the absolute BEST.

  9. Lovely! I used to live in Hong Kong (LOOOONG time ago) but I never saw these. Indeed the iced teas in Hong Kong (and Macau) are the best in the world!