Simple Fare

“Pineapple Butter, Ice Lemon Tea Little Sugar”

If there’s one thing that I could get in Singapore these days and yet I would travel to Hong Kong just for it, it would be the polo bun 菠萝包. And no one does it better than IMHO than Honolulu Cafe.

Hong Kong has a local cafe culture that is fondly known by locals as ‘Cha Chaan Teng‘ 茶餐厅. These cafes were different than the teahouses 茶楼 that served dimsum with Chinese teas, they were the product of colonialism and switching taste to Western drinks like brewed tea and coffee, and for cakes and pastries. The Western restaurants and cafes were not accessible to the locals, either because of status or price, prompting Chinese-owned Western-style cafes to pop up in the 1940s, providing “soy sauce Western food” 豉油西餐.

Founded in 1940s by the late Mr Yeung Jin Hei, Honolulu Café was one of the pioneer of this trend. Besides their famous egg tarts and Hong Kong milk tea, Honolulu Café has my favourite braised cow’s tongue with rice 牛脷饭, which they have unfortunately not brought to Singapore.

Singapore was the first official outpost for the reverent cha chaan teng and they opened in May 2016 at Centrepoint. The local franchise of the Hong Kong bakery café offers a wide array of more than 31 baked items, all freshly made in the premise by chefs from Hong Kong. In addition, this the only place for you to order the Hong Kong style 餐蛋面 (instant noodles or macaroni with a fried egg and lunching meat) for breakfast in Singapore.

Honolulu Crispy Egg Tarts 檀島酥皮蛋撻

Egg tart, chicken pie and chocolate tart

Honolulu Café’s egg tarts utilise a time-tested method by freezing the dough overnight before folding it to 192 layers for a crispy and flaky shell. And then these shells are filled with a creamy egg filling, baked to perfect timing every day at the shop to produce these sweet, wobbly, eggy custard that many us when we were young tried to lick them off the shell without breaking the shell – our own version of the ppongi challenge.

HK Style Chicken Pie 港式白汁雞批

HK Style Chicken Pie 港式白汁雞批

Our local bakery Polar has a similar version which I used to buy every week, but their crust got too buttery and filling too dry. This had the right mix, and a really moist filling of chicken, celery, onion and potato.

Buttered Crispy Polo Bun 脆皮菠蘿油

Buttered Crispy Polo Bun 脆皮菠蘿油

One origin story of polo buns is that in the early years, Hong Kongers were not satisfied with the original taste of bread and so they added sweet fillings such as sugar onto the bread. The crispy skin on the outer surface of the polo bun is baked from sugar, eggs, flour and butter, which adds an unique taste to ordinary bread. Another theory is that polo buns were developed from Russian round bread. Regardless where it originated, the polo bun is 100% Hong Kong and everyone agrees that the crust on the bun should be crispy and sweet, while the body is soft and delicious.

Cold slab of butter

The warm bun is often served on its own but for few more pennies, they would give you a thick cut of cold butter for you to put in the bun for an instant upgrade. If you liked your Yakun naya-butter toast, you would know what I mean. But this is out of this world. Very simple yet gratifying to the soul. The butter must be cold enough to be whole, and soft enough to squish it with the bun. I tried bringing home some buns and do this at home. Nothing beats a fresh bun off the oven with the cold butter.

Butter Condensed Milk Toast 煉奶牛油多士

Butter Condensed Milk Toast 煉奶牛油多士

Another cha chaan teng classic is their variations on the toast. There’s more variations than the theme of Paganini – toasted, not toasted, toast on outside not inside. And then you have N-combinations of things to put in between and all over it.

Colloquially known as dou tsi 多士, a homonym to “toast”, this one is just your regular toast. Sai-dou-tsi 西多士 is for French toast because France was known as fa-lan-sai 法蘭西, where an egg bath is added to the bread before toasting.

Whole chunk of butter

This one is the classic butter toast with more butter and condensed milk drizzled all over it. If only there’s a sprinkling of sugar on the butter then it would be perfect.

There’s many that claimed to be a HK cha chaan teng in Singapore but they did not even come close. I am just glad Honolulu has not changed their menu in Singapore. If only they have brought their braised cow’s tongue here as well.

Honolulu Cafe Singapore 檀島
The Centrepoint, 176 Orchard Road #01-33 F/G, Singapore 238843
Tel : +65 6734 6619

Visited Apr 2023

@honolulucafesg #honolulucafe #honolulucafesg #chachaanteng

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