Great Food

Howard Chen
22nd Aug 2023

There's been a rise in Hong Kong style cafes, also known as cha chaan teng's in Sydney the past few years. They usually follow the same formula: a bold and bright aesthetic bordering on kitschy simulating the streets of Hong Kong and a box ticking ordering system to speed up the process on a largeish menu. These cafes can be likened to a British/Irish greasy spoon cafe or an American diner, just showcasing Hong Kong cuisine instead. The menu can be quite daunting for a newcomer, with several items you wouldn't get at a typical Cantonese restaurant. 

Since British occupation started, western cuisine was a privilege afforded only by the upper class in Hong Kong and only available in full-service restaurants. It wasn't until post World War II that Hongkongers set up cha chaan tengs that targeted a local audience and made "western food" affordable for the rising lower class incomes. The predecessor to this is the bing sutt, which were more like cafes and served cold drinks and pastries but expanded their offerings to keep up.

Famous items and dishes at cha chaan teng's include Hong Kong-style milk tea, Hong Kong-style French Toast, Pineapple Buns with a thick slab of butter, and Baked Pork Chop Rice. The last dish can be found at pretty much every shop in Sydney, and while I have enjoyed ordering this dish in the past, it wasn't until ordering it at Great Food in Carlingford that I understood why this dish is so popular.

Great Food, found in Carlingford Village feels like stepping into a time capsule into the 80s/90s. Unlike the cha chaan teng's of today with new and bright decor, you get an aesthetic that the Bob Hawke Beer and Leisure Centre would dream of. As an elder millennial, you get an immediate feeling of nostalgia walking into the shopping centre, especially if you ever frequented these Asian shopping centres growing up. This feeling is amplified walking into Great Food. This place straddles the line between cha chaan teng and a full restaurant and it does it well.

It has all the hallmarks of a great Chinese restaurant to someone who contains all the intangibles for recognising a great Chinese restaurant. If you see three out of four of these attributes in a Chinese restaurant, you should recognise you're in for a good time in regards to the food:

1. The menu has several misspelled items, as English is their second language. Do you care about aesthetics or taste? They care about the latter.

2. The service is abrupt, and almost downright rude. This means they know their food is good and they're doing you a favour by letting you eat here.

3. The decor and menu are dated and fading and probably need a major uplift. Again, do you care about aesthetics or taste? They care about the latter.

4. The restroom is either partly a storeroom or it's very minimalist and something is out of order, or the floor is wet from being hosed down recently.

Check, check, check, and check.

Everything in their lunch menu outside of their special lunch sets is under $14, so it's very affordable.

I ordered:

$11.80 - Braised Eggplant and Minced Pork with Rice

$13.80 - Baked Pork Chop Rice

$17.80 - Pork Rib in Peking Style Special Lunch Set

The sauce game here is sensational. Generally I find the sauces in most Chinese restaurants either a little too sweet, a little too salty, a little too acidic, or a little too bland, but the sauces here hit the goldilocks spot and are just right. The Baked Pork Chop here is the epitome of ugly delicious. It looks and tastes nothing like the other ones in Sydney and it's because the cheese is mixed into the tomato sauce rather than just added on top, so it's nice and creamy with a sweet and mellow taste. The Pork Rib was crispy, crunchy, and the sauce was very good. It's a milder sweet and sour sauce with more sweet than sour. The Braised Eggplant was tasty but the least enjoyable of the three. While the sauce was rich and very satisfying, the eggplant could have been cooked just a little bit longer so it would have been soft all the way through.

An extremely satisfying and nostalgic meal, I'll be trying other dishes on the menu and hoping to come with more people if I'm ever in the area again. If you're a short drive away I do recommend visiting.