Hyphenated Chinese .... and the real thing!!

Restaurant Review: Hong Kong Tea House & Restaurant
565 W 200 S
Salt Lake City, UT. Ph: (801) 531-7010

Rating
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The one cuisine which I can never get enough of or even get bored of is Chinese-Indian (the correct term) or Indian-Chinese, as we Indians like to call it. For people critical of it's being termed as a cuisine check out the NY Times article on hyphenated chinese. So, anyway, the tastes of Indian-Chinese (chicken lollipops, chilli-garlic noodles, etc etc slurp!!) can be really mind-blowing, and in India it's even crossed over to become a higly popular street food. I still remember the little push-carts selling gobhi (cauliflower) or chicken manchurian doing brisk business well into the wee hours of the morning. To anyone who hasnt tasted Indian-Chinese and who loves spicy food (and I dont mean spice in a 'curry' way :S), do watch out for it, you wont be disapponted!

You would think the next best thing to hyphenated Chinese would be the real thing but if you live in Salt Lake City, no if you live in Utah, it's unbelievable how the Chinese restaurants can be so blase. I have a general rule-of-thumb when visiting Chinese restaurants - if the sweet and sour chicken is colored poisionous pink avaoid the place like the veritable .... In fact, I think they should make the sweet 'n sour chicken the mandatory widnow display to ward off unsuspecting diners. Of course, I never order this item, but if we are ever in a larger group there will be that one unadventurous soul who will do so. Anyway, the large number of buffets and chain-Chinese restaurants in SLC dont even come close to satisfying any of my cravings for good Chinese, and I do get hit by that particular craving a lot. That is, until some friends (thank you, guys, we're endlessly indebted) introduced us to the Hong Kong Tea House and Restaurant.

Dont be daunted by the humble exterior, the un-prepossessing interior and even the neighborhood this restaurant is in and I can promise you, your stomach will be thanking you once you are done. The hostesses are extremely friendly and the food is priced pretty reasonably. Just about the only disappointing thing is the limited parking :(

So, anyway, onto the real business the food. Perhaps the first thing a newcomer should try is the dim-sum that is served for lunch every day. The dim-sum comes in plates of different sizes - the small/medium and large plate and the specials. The small to large plate range from abt $2.25 to $4.25 per plate and I guess the special is a little more expensive. The quantity in each plate is generally 3 of each item even with the small plates. One of my all-time favorites here is the barbequed pork bun (steamed or baked) which is bbq pork stuffed inside the most incredibly fluffy, sweet white bun you have ever sunk your teeth into. The combinations of spicy pork, sweet bun and sometimes a dribble of salty soy sauce can get really interesting on the palate. Some of the other wonderful items you cant miss with are the perfectly fried salt and pepper calamari, the lightly pan-friend chives and shrimp dumpling, tofu or eggplant stuffed with shrimp, fried taro root, the brilliantly-colored Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce and a whole lot of others which I cant remember the names of at this moment. They also serve some of the commoner appetiser items like egg rolls, salt and pepper wings, fried shrimp balls etc and while these are as good as the rest I dont find myself ordering these all that often. If like me, you have a penchant for spice, do ask for their chilli oil as a dipping sauce. For dessert, we've tried the mango pudding which is a flavoured, gelatin-like pudding but the taste is really light and refreshing on the palate after the meat and fried items (almost like the Joy mango ice-cream on a stick that we got in India way back when) !!

From among the entrees, it's always a good idea to check the specials. We've eaten lobster, crab etc from these and they've been succulent and excellent. BigB's staple is the steamed sea bass ($18), steamed perfectly with ginger, scallions and served with soy sauce. Mine is the Szechuan Bean Curd with Rice. It's melt-in-your-mouth bean curd, fried and cooked in a sauce with carrots, peas and peppers - very satisfying. I dont see this on the menu nowadays, but if you ask for it, they will make it for you. Most of the other items on the menu are wonderful, but I'm tired of writing now :( Something that you must try out are the tapioca drinks, we tried a mocha flavored one (it was like a thin milkshake) and with the tapioca added to it. The tapioca as one of the hostesses explained tasted like a ball of chewy, gummy candy and was really interesting (in a good way :) in the drink. Sometimes they serve soup as desserts (yes, I know, what ??). The first time they explained it to us, we were skeptical, but then we ate the most delicious bowl of peanut-butter soup and were converted. We've tried red bean soup and black bean soup at different times and they've all been really good. Will update the prices of the entrees, next time since I cant remember, I think they're always between $8-$12 and the seafood can get pricier.

Bon Appetit!!

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