Hong Kong: Sun Kee Cheese Noodles and Experiencing Tap Toi

“There’s an English menu! With pictures!” I yelped with excitement as I pulled apart the laminated sheets showing off the menu and various specials. This was a sure sign that this place was frequented by more than just the locals.

The F Man and I grinned at each other as we studied the menu with names of popular dishes printed in English instead of the traditional Mandarin characters that usually come on a menu that is overflowing with items.

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Sun Kee Cheese Noodles is a dingy small eatery within Champagne Court

Sun Kee Cheese Noodles is a cha chaan teng  (茶餐廳), clearly a favourite with the celebrities as its walls, plastered with photographs, would attest. The eatery hidden away in a building named Champagne Court at Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, is not exactly a “hidden gem”. It’s practically famous since 2008 (we hazarded an intelligent guess because the most number of celebrity photos on the wall were dated time stamped 2008) and recently very instagram famous.

While the location is a little dodgy, this place gets no shortage of diners. When we stepped into the store at around 6.30pm, we wondered when we were seated in the quiet, near empty restaurant if this was the correct “Sun Kee Cheese Noodles”.

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The walls of both the inside and outside of the eatery is lined with press cuttings and photos

But in 30 minutes, the scene was transformed as the Friday night dinner crowd descended onto Sun Kee Cheese Noodles. The humble restaurant was bustling and while we had the luxury of a precious very leisurely 30 minutes to dine at our own table (yes, we didn’t have to share or “tap toi”, which by the way, is a way of life in Hong Kong… yet) and could take our time to order from the menu without any snappiness from the servers.

With the help of the English menu, we decided on the signature Instant Noodles with Pork Collar in Cheesy Sauce (HKD41) and  another Thai Style Chicken Fillet with Rice (HKD40).

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Anticipated the cheesy noodles for months!

Ever since Flora posted her list of Hong Kong Eats after her Hong Kong holiday and nudged me to visit Sun Kee Cheese Noodles when I went a little goo-goo-gaga about how delicious it looked on her Instagram, I have been anticipating the moment I would consume that bowl of cheesy goodness.

I am a big noodle fan (#noodleladysg), so anything noodles would totally rock my boat. Was I afraid that it would be overrated? A little. I mean, how good can noodles get seriously?

It took me awhile to locate Sun Kee Cheese Noodles because the eatery isn’t visible from the complex entrance. It’s way on the inside. But I told The F Man, I would die trying to find it and wouldn’t give up, even if it had already begun to drizzle.

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Thai Style Chicken Fillet with Rice and THE Sun Kee Cheese Noodles

We were justly rewarded with one of the heartiest and most delightful meals on our Hong Kong trip.

This is pure comfort food. The Thai Style Chicken Fillet with Rice was an interesting combination of fried chicken fillet (tender and well marinated) drizzled with black sauce AND Thai chilli sauce.

What about the raved about Sun Kee Cheese Noodles? Did it live up to they hype?

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This bowl made this noodle lady very happy

 It is as tasty as it gets. The cheese sauce wasn’t a lazy nacho sauce but rather a melted down cheese base with some form of thickener (could be corn starch, but I’m not too sure) which was so delicious. The instant noodles or gong zhai mian  (公仔面) had this wonderful umami-like “instant noodle aroma” and it was just the right puffiness allowing just enough of the wondrous cheese sauce to just cling on. The real amazeballs ingredient though was not the cheese, not the noodles, but the succulent and remarkably tender pork neck.

I have read reviews saying that this is a hit-or-miss and that it sometimes is too dry and hard, but I had nothing but good grilled pork in my bowl of cheese noodles. More explosions of umami goodness with that well marinated sweet and savoury grilled pork neck. I’m obviously having a moment here recounting my meal.

Is it exceptional?

No.

Is it Michelin Star type food?

No.

Is it fancy?

No.

But was it good?

Oh yes it was!

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And so… we also ordered some Braised Chicken Wings

And because we were on a roll, we decided to order some Braised Chicken Wings (HKD32) and French Toast (HKD20) as well. We were possessed by food monsters.

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Freshly fried eggy French Toast

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All you can drizzle maple syrup

While we were waiting for this second order of wings and toast, a middle aged couple joined us at our table. The crowd was already packing the eatery and it was time we shared the table. Service started to slow.

I noticed the couple speaking in Cantonese and then English. The accent was all too familiar. They were one of our own – Singaporeans! Being in Hong Kong and hearing a familiar voice even if it has only been a day out of town, was quite a comforting experience. I heard them chattering as they spotted the English menu and started pouring over the two-pager laminated sheet wondering what to eat.

After almost five minutes of deliberation, I smiled at them and decided to pay it forward.

On our very first morning in Hong Kong, bleary eyed after a red eye flight, we stumbled onto a traditional cha chaan teng where we decided to have our breakfast. After being seated and took a peep at the menu, we were totally confused. We had no idea what to order.

A woman we shared tables with looked at us kindly and spoke to us in English explaining the menu to us as best as she could. While we still had difficulties understanding, we were so surprised that she took the time to share with us how to order especially since she seemed to be eating her breakfast quite quickly too. While her kindness did not save us from some communication breakdown later on with the lady boss who snapped at us for not knowing how the order for a breakfast set went (there was a choose three items type of meal which we continuously misunderstood), it was a welcome gesture in an unfamiliar land with our limited knowledge of Cantonese and Hong Kong breakfast culture.

Remembering how warm it felt to be given some advice when I was not quite sure what to do, I looked at the couple and chirped, “You should really try the Instant Noodles with Pork Collar in Cheesy Sauce. It’s really good! We just had it!”

I saw their faces light up in surprise and the uncle grinned and asked, “Thank you! We were thinking about ordering that too. So it’s good, uh? And… I’m sure… you two are not locals, right?”

It wasn’t long before we started chatting happily while waiting for our food to arrive in the busy restaurant, connecting over our shared experience as Singaporeans in Hong Kong and reliving our adventures in the city so far.

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On our way from Champagne Court back to the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR

In Singapore, where I have the luxury of seating alone without sharing a table, I wouldn’t usually start a conversation with a stranger, even if they were seated across from me at the food court. I was really for the first time appreciating the culture and practice of table sharing in Hong Kong. Even in hectic and fast paced cities, just the sharing of a table can create beautiful opportunities to share moments with other strangers. Perhaps back home, having the choice to always avoid human contact and conversations during meal times continuously over time has made me hesitant and afraid to do so.

But the truth is, it actually is much easier than expected. It’s second nature for humans to connect and I think for too long, I have feared rejection and avoided it when I can.

While I’m not overly spiritual or religious, I do believe in God. Perhaps He had sent me exactly what I needed at a time when I felt disillusioned and was starting to look at interacting with others with increasing wariness. Whatever it was, a higher power at work or happenstance, coming back from Hong Kong, I actually felt happy and had an unexpected renewed sense of optimism in life and people.

What a meal.

Sun Kee Cheese Noodles 新記餐廳
G/F, Shop 13-14,
Champagne Court (Opposite The Mira Hotel), Kimberley Road,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Open Mondays to Saturdays from 7:30am to 11:00pm.

Open on Sundays from 12:00pm to 6:00pm.

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