How to order food from a Cantonese Restaurant - 茶餐廳(Cha Chan Tang) Tea Cafe?

Special Request

One of my listeners is interested to find out how to order from a Chinese restaurant. This is totally a legitimate request, because you wouldn’t want to go to a Chinese restaurant and not be able to get all the delicious food that you wanted.

In general, around the globe, Cantonese chinese restaurants can be put into two different categories. The first one being the dim sum restaurants, where usually during breakfast time to lunch time you will get the traditional dim sum usually steamed in a steamer, or some other bite size dim sum that might be fried. At night, these restaurants usually serve classier foods, like seafood, and Hong Kong people usually go to these restaurants at night if they have a big enough group of people or if they are celebrating an occasion. These restaurants are usually called 酒樓 (Dummy PY: Jow Lao), literally means alcohol building, or 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao), literally means tea building. Interestingly, in the morning when we go for dim sum, like I mentioned previously in one of the other podcast episode, this activity is called 飲茶 (Dummy PY: Yum Cha) meaning drinking tea. And of course that’s not all we do, but it’s typical that tea is served. At night, alcohol is served if you order them, so hence there are 2 names but it’s basically the same thing. The other type is the Cantonese restaurants is called 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting) in Hong Kong. Literally means Tea restaurant. But more commonly known as tea cafe. They are a lot more casual, and it will be the slightly cheaper option for both smaller and larger groups of people. They serve tea or water right off the bat but you usually cannot choose your tea like the dim sum restaurant. 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting) Tea cafes, some people argued that it is an integral part of Hong Kongers’ identity. In modern day 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting), you can find many different kinds of cuisines with a Hong Kong take, a lot of interesting fusion foods that perhaps only Hong Kong has.

In this episode, I will be focusing more on ordering at the 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting) and the night time dishes at the Dim sum places, because for the Dim Sum places in the morning, they now have a piece of paper for you to choose your dishes, then the server or the waiter will just punch it in the system. I will not going to introduce any dim sum in this episode though, maybe leave that for another episode because I have lots of content to go through. In the Cantonese food culture, similar to many other Asian cultures, we love to share food. Back in the days before SARS hit Hong Kong, we used to dip our individual chopsticks into food that we shared. Now Hong Kongers are a lot more cautious, we usually will have chopsticks that we use to bring food into our bowls and then we have our own individual chopsticks to eat at our own bowl. No more random babbling, let’s get right into it.

How to order food at the restaurant?

First you will need to get the attention of the server or the waiter. In Hong Kong, they sometimes pretend not to see you calling them just to catch a break. So be sure you are loud and confident enough. First thing we do, which in Canada at non Chinese restaurants, it might be considered rude, we usually would put up our hand or wave at the waiter or server. Once you grab the attention of the server then you can say “唔該!" (Dummy PY: Um Goy) meaning excuse me or sorry here in this context, this term “唔該!" (Dummy PY: Um Goy) can also mean thank you in another context, which I will explain a little later. You can choose to say “哥仔" (Dummy PY: Gor jai) basically means “brother” not literally or "靚仔" (Dummy PY: Lang Jai) meaning handsome boy to get the attention of a male server. For female servers, you can say “阿姐" (Dummy PY: Ah Je) meaning “sister”, usually if they are younger they might be offended, or more generally you can say “靚女" (Dummy PY: Lang Nui) meaning beautiful girl. If you are unsure of the gender, it’s safe to just stick with excuse me “唔該!" They might not understand you if you haven’t nailed the pronunciation of “唔該!" meaning excuse me in this context, then you can just say “sorry” they will understand.

Different kinds of Cantonese dishes:

First of all, if you have no idea what to order, you can ask the server or the waiter to recommend food. In this case you can say “有啲咩好食?" (Dummy PY: Yao Dee Meh Ho Sick?) meaning what is good to eat? 有 (Dummy PY: Yao) means the word have, 啲 (Dummy PY: Dee) means some or a little, 咩 (Dummy PY: Dee Meh) means what, 好 (Dummy PY: Ho) means good, and 食 (Dummy PY: Sick) means eat, so literally means have what good to eat? Then they probably will ask, "你想食啲咩?"(Dummy PY:Nei Sheung Sick Dee Meh?) meaning what do you want to eat? 想 (Dummy PY: Sheung) means want. If you have already decided you can simply tell the server or the waiter, 我想要... (Dummy PY: Ngo Sheung You) meaning I want to have ...

For the most general picture, it is divided into:

Chicken - 雞 (Dummy PY: Ga-ee)

- 海南雞 (Dummy PY: Hoi Nam Guy) Hainanese Chicken, usually comes with rice. Otherwise also known as the Hainanese Chicken Rice 海南雞飯 (Dummy PY: Hoi Nam Guy Farn). The chicken served has yellow skin, chopped or sliced, with different dippings. Sometimes some restaurants serve with oily rice, 油飯 (Dummy PY: Yao Farn), 油 (Dummy PY: Yao) means oil and 飯 (Dummy PY: Farn) means rice. Said to have originated in Singapore, but you can also find this dish in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and other asian countries. This dish is quite common.

- 豉油雞 (Dummy PY: See Yao Guy) This is a well know Cantonese dish. The skin of the chicken is brown because it is cooked with soy sauce. 豉油 (Dummy PY: See Yao) means Soy sauce.

- 洋蔥雞扒飯 (Dummy PY: Yeung Chong Guy Pa Farn) 洋蔥 (Dummy PY: Yeung Chong) means onion, 雞扒 (Dummy PY: Guy Pa) means chicken fillet or chicken steak, 飯 (Dummy PY: Farn) means Rice. This is a very Hong Kong dish. Supposedly they call it the Western style dish but it’s really afusion dish from the colonial period. Supposedly many of these fusion food in Hong Kong was created to bridge the gap between western dishes and Chinese dishes so it’s easier for foreign people to eat at the time. But now it’s become just local dishes that everyone enjoys in Hong Kong. You are likely to find this dish in the more casual chinese restaurants 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting), instead of 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao).

Duck - 鴨 (Dummy PY: Ngap)

Goose - 鵝 (Dummy PY: Ngo)

You are more likely to find Duck - 鴨 (Dummy PY: Ngap) and Goose - 鵝 (Dummy PY: Ngo) dishes in 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao), the more traditional Chinese restaurants. Sometimes they are served whole, but sometimes they are served in soup noodles or rice. I believe you have heard of Peking duck? Peking Duck in Hong Kong we call it 片皮鴨 (Dummy PY; Pean Pay Ngap), 片 means slice, 皮 means skin, and 鴨 means duck. Usually in other places, this peking duck dish is referred to as 北京填鴨meaning Beijing duck. But in Hong Kong we rarely call it that. What they do is that they skin off the skin of the duck, The duck meat is usually cooked in another way. You wrap the Duck skin with a thin slice of wrapping bread thingy, then you put some other things in the wrap like green onions, grapefruit, pineapple, etc and you put some hoisin sauce or spicy sauce in and eat it as is.

Pork - 豬 (Dummy PY: Juu)

Speaking of pork the one dish that you might know would be sweet and sour pork, and Cantonese we call it 咕噜肉(Dummy PY: Goo Loo Yuk), Sometimes some places also referred to it as 生炒骨. The difference is 咕嚕肉usually it’s Me with the half fat half lean part of the pork, Whereas 生炒骨 is mostly the ribs part. This is a Cantonese Dish.

洋蔥豬扒飯 - similar to 洋蔥雞扒飯 (Dummy PY: Yeung Chong Guy Pa Farn) but this time it’s pork cutlet. There is another very popular one that my friends from South East Asia that live in Hong Kong really enjoy, called 黑椒豬扒飯 (Dummy PY: Huck Jew Jew Pa Farn) it’s the black pepper sauce pork cutlet served with rice. And these for fusion colonial dishes that are unique in Hong Kong.

Beef - 牛 (Dummy PY: Ngou)

中式牛柳 (Dummy PY: Chong Sick Ngau Lau) Meaning Chinese styled beef with sweet and sour sauce. You might find this dish tasting a bit similar to the 咕噜肉 (Dummy PY: Goo Loo Yuk) Sweet and sour pork, if you like that dish you might also like this one.

Lamb - 羊 (Dummy PY: Yeung)

羊腩煲 (Dummy PY: Yeung Larm Bo) It’s the Hong Kong style Lamb stew. Usually this dish is eaten during Autumn 秋天 and winter 冬天. I guess one of the reasons being that Autumn and Winter we need to eat some things that contain a little higher fat to keep us warm during colder times. Usually it comes with Lettuce and bean curd and stuff so you get to cook them in the lamb stew broth. It’s delicious but you might want to watch out for high cholesterol kind of thing.

Seafood - 海鮮 (Dummy PY: Hoi Seen)

This word 海鮮 (Dummy PY: Hoi Seen) might not be too unfamiliar to you, if you have heard of hoisin sauce? 海鮮 (Dummy PY: Hoi Seen) is seafood. Hoisin sauce in Cantonese is 海鮮醬 except that when I hear other people say Hoisin instead of Hoi Seen, just sounds a bit funny to me but obviously they might not know Chinese so I don’t blame them. On the other hand, when I do say Hoi seen sauce instead of hoisin sauce to people who don’t know Chinese, they usually can only understand hoisin but not hoi seen, so never mind. I give up. In English I am sticking with Hoisin until more people can actually understand me when I say Hoi Seen.

Can I babble a little more? Seafood in English sounds a lot like when we say in Cantonese 屎忽 (Dummy PY: See Fud) meaning someone’s bottom or buttocks. So there used to be a curse, let’s say when someone offended me, then I will curse the person, 生仔無屎忽, meaning your kid born will have no bottom. Sounds malicious no? But going back the joke is then someone might say 生仔無Seafood, so now it’s a double meaning. Both your kid born will have no bottom and no seafood. Anyway, seafood is a huge part of Hong Kong people’s food culture, since we were a fishermen’s village, we have quite a good access to seafood. Other Hong Kong people that moved to places that are not near the ocean might feel my pain of not being able to have cheap and good seafood.

In the seafood category we have:

魚 (Dummy PY: Yu) meaning fish.

One of Hong Kong’s signature dishes is 魚蛋 (Dummy PY: Yu Dan) fish balls. They are usually street food but you might find them in restaurants too. We also have 蜆(Dummy PY: Heen)meaning clams. I love 蜆(Dummy PY: Heen)clams, the one dish I enjoy a lot is 豉椒炒蜆 (Dummy PY: See Jew chow Heen) stir fried clams with black bean sauce. It’s really good you should try it. Then we have 蝦 (Dummy PY: Ha), fairly easy, the sound of the word shrimp is like when you are laughing and making the Haha sound. 瀨尿蝦 (Dummy PY: Lai Lew Ha) which is the Mantis Shrimps, if you didn’t know what it is, it’s bigger than a regular shrimp, and the shell is quite spikey so you might want to watch out for that when you eat it. The signature dish of 瀨尿蝦 is 椒鹽瀨尿蝦 (Dummy PY:Jew Yeem Lai Lew Ha) stir fried Mantis Shrimp. Next we have 蟹(Dummy PY: Hi) It is pronounced like the word Hi in english but the tone goes down instead of going up. 避風塘炒蟹 (Dummy PY: Bey Fung Tong Chow Hi) is fried crab with Typhoon shelter style. This dish I believe originated from the fact that we used to be a fishing village, and we get a lot of typhoon during summer time, so people find these typhoon shelters and have this dish. It’s super good. If you visit Hong Kong and go to places for seafood like Saikung, you have got to try these Hong Kong styled seafood dishes. Moving on to the starch or carb based dishes.

We have: Rice - 飯 (Dummy PY: Farn)

You will know our Fried rice - 炒飯 (Dummy PY: Chow Farn) in a tea cafe 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting), you will have many different fried rice options. Such as 楊州炒飯 (Dummy PY: Yeung Jow Chow Farn) the Yang Zhow fried Rice, this dish is actually a Cantonese dish instead of from YangZhou which is the East China region. This dish is cooked with shrimps, charchiu which is the BBQ pork HK style. But the one I really love is 鴛鴦炒飯 (Dummy PY: Yun Yung Chow Farn), in english the Yin Yang Fried Rice. You know the Yin Yang Taichi symbol? The dish is placed with half of one style, usually with a reddish tomato like sauce, the other style with white creamy sauce. Super good. No matter how you eat it. If you eat one style after another, or half a spoonful of red and white, or mix the two styles together. Regardless of how you eat, there is no right way, but it is just fantastic in my opinion.

Congee - 粥 (Dummy PY: Chuk)

I am not crazy about congee 粥 (Dummy PY: Chuk) because when I was growing up, usually I only ate it when I was sick. So I am not a huge fan. But if you like congee, sort of like a porridge. You can try 皮蛋廋肉粥 (Dummy PY: Pay Dan Sow Yuk Juk) in English the century old egg with lean pork congee. I have seen a lot of videos of people trying century old eggs 皮蛋 (Dummy PY: Pay Dan) as is. Some western people even call it the Eggs from hell. The egg itself is kind of like a transparent black colour. Back in the days, they discovered this method of storing and curing eggs because some duck laid eggs in slake lime. In modern days, they cure the duck eggs or the chicken eggs with table salt, calcium hydroxide and sodium carbonate for 10 days or more in order to get the century egg 皮蛋 (Dummy PY: Pay Dan) . If you have never tried it before, if you eat it whole, you are likely to be off put by the taste. So I definitely think that if you have never tried it before, find a dish that has century old egg 皮蛋 (Dummy PY: Pay Dan) as part of the ingredient to start with. It’s actually not as bad as you might think. Another congee dish I want to talk about is 艇仔粥 (Dummy PY: Tang Jai Juk) in English Sampan Congee, but the name of the congee in Cantonese means boat congee, so I guess you can already guess that this again relates back to the fishermen culture. This congee is cooked with seafood ingredients, like squid, fish, sometimes jellyfish, beef etc, depending on where you go they have different ingredients. This is also very cantonese.

Noodles - 面 (Dummy PY: Mean)

雲吞面 (Dummy PY: Won ton Mean) - Wonton noodles. The Wonton noodles 雲吞面 (Dummy PY: Won ton Mean) was originally from Canton, guangzhou. It didn’t start getting popular until the second world war period. At the time, there were civil war in China. There were 2 big civil wars one from 1927-1937, and one from 1945-1950, the Kuomintang or in English the Chinese Nationalist party and the CCP the chinese Communist Party had wars to basically fight for the power to rule China. Because of these civil wars, many people moved from mainland China to Hong Kong, including my grandparents. Many of these immigrants started businesses to make a living in Hong Kong, and Wonton Noodles 雲吞面 (Dummy PY: Won ton Mean) was one of them. Later it developed into our very own Hong Kong styled Wonton Noodles 雲吞面 (Dummy PY: Won ton Mean).

Thin rice noodles - 米 (Dummy PY: My)

星州炒米 (Dummy PY: Sing Jow Chow My) - the Singaporean Styled Fried rice Noodles. Although it’s called Singaporean Fried rice noodles, it’s actually not from Singapore. This dish is quite commonly found in Malaysia, or places where they serve Cantonese food. Some people say that the origin of this dish is from Malaysia. Note that there are differences between this dish in Malaysia and in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong this dish is cooked with a little curry where as in Malaysia they would add some ketchup or spicy sauce. 廈門炒米 (Dummy PY: Ha Moon Chow My) - Xiamen Fried rice noodles. Again, this dish isn’t from Xiamen, Fujian Province in China. You can’t even find this dish from Xiamen. This dish has no set ingredient or one correct way of making. But it is usually a little sweet and sour.

Thick rice noodles - 河 (Dummy PY: Hoh) When we talk about Thick rice noodles - 河 (Dummy PY: Hoh) you cannot miss 乾炒牛河 (Dummy PY: Gone Chow Ngau Hoh) the stir fried beef noodles. You again can find this in many places around the world where they serve cantonese food. Some people say to determine whether or not a restaurant or a chef is good, you can find out with this 乾炒牛河 (Dummy PY: Gone Chow Ngau Hoh) the stir fried beef noodles dish. The balance of taste and the ingredients is very important. Also how oily or how dry the dish is really put the chef’s skills to test.

Moving onto Drinks! Our drinks are also fairly unique and usually if you go to a 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting) a tea cafe, the food you order if not a la carte, it will come with a drink. You can add a couple of bucks, $2-6 HKD to upgrade to a cold drink. Other than coffee (Dummy PY: Ga Fair) 咖啡, you will be surprised how many options we have.

First thing first, milk tea. 奶茶 (Dummy PY: Nai Cha) in 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting) tea cafes are quite unique. It’s different from English milk tea, or boba tea. Some places still serve this milk tea called stocking milk tea 絲襪奶茶 (Dummy PY: See Mut Nai Cha) basically they believe that using stockings or a filtering cloth can make the milk tea even smoother. Then we have 鴛鴦 (Dummy PY: Yun Yung) It’s tea and coffee plus milk. 鴛鴦(Dummy PY: Yun Yung) just like the Yin Yang Fried rice, same 鴛鴦(Dummy PY: Yun Yung), the term actually means a type of chinese ducklings, where the male and the female are often seen together and they are different looking. This drink really showcases the unique blending or hybrid culture of Hong Kong. We also have Lemon water, 檸水 (Dummy PY: Ling Shui) and lemon tea 檸茶 (Dummy PY: Ling cha). 檸is short for 檸檬 (Dummy PY: Ling Mung) meaning lemon. If you want them cold, then you will say 凍檸水 or 凍檸茶, 凍 means cold.

Finally! Paying for your food. Again like how you got the attention of the server or waiter, when you need to get your bill you can say 埋單 (Dummy PY: My Darn) literally meaning is bury the bill. Sounds so dramatic, like we don’t want to pay for the food, just want to bury the bill. 埋單 (Dummy PY: My Darn). If your bill was already put on the table, then usually you just have to walk up to the cashier to pay. Keep in mind that if you are in Hong Kong at a tea cafe, oftentimes you might need to share a table. The restaurants need to make the maximum amount of money as quick as possible. Sharing a table is called 搭枱 (Dummy PY: Dap Toy) Literally means building a table. And sometimes, you can tell if the servers are urging you to leave the restaurants so they can have other customers, they will start wiping the table, in Hong Kong Cantonese, we call it 抺枱 (Dummy PY: Mat Toy),literally means wiping tables. It now comes to mean that they are trying to rush you out in a restaurant.


Chicken - 雞 (Dummy PY: Ga-ee)

Duck - 鴨 (Dummy PY: Ngap)

Goose - 鵝 (Dummy PY: Ngo)

Pork - 豬 (Dummy PY: Juu)

Beef - 牛 (Dummy PY: Ngou)

Lamb - 羊 (Dummy PY: Yeung)

Seafood - 海鮮 (Dummy PY: Hoi Seen)

Rice - 飯 (Dummy PY: Fan)

Congee - 粥 (Dummy PY: Chuk)

Noodles - 面 (Dummy PY: Mean)

Thin rice noodles - 米 (Dummy PY: Mai)

Thick rice noodles - 河 (Dummy PY: Hoh)

What do you want to eat? - "你想食啲咩?"(Dummy PY:Nei Sheung Sick Dee Meh?)

Excuse me or sorry - “唔該!" (Dummy PY: Um Goy)

I want to have … - 我想要... (Dummy PY: Ngo Sheung You)

Traditional Cantonese Dim Sum restaurant - 酒樓 (Dummy PY: Jow Lao)/ 茶樓 (Dummy PY: Cha Lao)

Tea Cafe - 茶餐廳 (Dummy PY: Cha Chan Ting)

Brother / Male server - “哥仔" (Dummy PY: Gor jai)

Handsome boy - "靚仔" (Dummy PY: Lang Jai)

Sister / Female Server - “阿姐" (Dummy PY: Ah Je)

beautiful girl - “靚女" (Dummy PY: Lang Nui)

Bill please - 埋單 (Dummy PY: My Darn)

Lemon Water - 檸水 (Dummy PY: Ling Shui)

Lemon tea - 檸茶 (Dummy PY: Ling cha)

Tea coffee plus milk - 鴛鴦 (Dummy PY: Yun Yung)

Milk tea - 奶茶 (Dummy PY: Nai Cha)

Stocking milk tea 絲襪奶茶 (Dummy PY: See Mut Nai Cha)

Coffee - 咖啡 (Dummy PY: Ga Fair)

Chicken Fillet in Onion sauce with rice 洋蔥雞扒飯 (Dummy PY: Yeung Chong Guy Pa Farn)

Soy Sauce Chicken - 豉油雞 (Dummy PY: See Yao Guy)

Hainanese Chicken - 海南雞 (Dummy PY: Hoi Nam Guy)

Peking Duck - 片皮鴨 (Dummy PY; Pean Pay Ngap)

black pepper sauce pork cutlet served with rice - 黑椒豬扒飯 (Dummy PY: Huck Juu Jew Pa Farn)

sweet and sour pork - 咕噜肉(Dummy PY: Goo Loo Yuk)

Chinese styled beef with sweet and sour sauce- 中式牛柳 (Dummy PY: Chong Sick Ngau Lau)

Hong Kong style Lamb stew - 羊腩煲 (Dummy PY: Yeung Larm Bo)

Stir fried beef noodles - 乾炒牛河 (Dummy PY: Gone Chow Ngau Hoh)

Xiamen Fried rice noodles - 廈門炒米 (Dummy PY: Ha Moon Chow My)

Singaporean Styled Fried rice Noodles - 星州炒米 (Dummy PY: Sing Jow Chow My) Wonton noodles - 雲吞面 (Dummy PY: Won ton Mean)

Sampan congee - 艇仔粥 (Dummy PY: Tang Jai Juk)

Century old egg with lean pork congee 皮蛋廋肉粥 (Dummy PY: Pay Dan Sow Yuk Juk)

Yang Zhow fried Rice - 楊州炒飯 (Dummy PY: Yeung Jow Chow Farn)

Yin Yang Fried Rice.鴛鴦炒飯 (Dummy PY: Yun Yung Chow Farn)

Fried crab with Typhoon shelter style - 避風塘炒蟹 (Dummy PY: Bey Fung Tong Chow Hi)

Stir fried Mantis Shrimp - 椒鹽瀨尿蝦 (Dummy PY:Jew Yeem Lai Lew Ha)

stir fried clams with black bean sauce - 豉椒炒蜆 (Dummy PY: See Jew chow Heen)

fish balls - 魚蛋 (Dummy PY: Yu Dan)

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