cheng banzhang - hong kong
Rating: 8 / 10
If the waiting room at Cheng Banzhang is purgatory, then the restaurant itself must be heaven.
Deep in conversation the night before with a couple of fanatic foodies, I was informed of a secretive Taiwanese place for Beef Noodle soup in the suspicious location of Lai Chi Kok.
Not on any tourist itinerary, the location alone had me chomping to go. I wrote down the details, made sure I had dropped a pin in the right place and headed off for a rendezvous with Taiwan, well, culinarily speaking.
I hopped off the MTR and walked to the approximate area, and then stood in dumb confusion. In front of me was a huge office building. On the ground floor: retail shops. I asked a couple of people but nobody had heard of it. I re-checked the address and noticed it wasn't on street level, proceeded to enter a freight elevator and find a long hallway decorated with accolades bestowing honours upon the kitchen within. I had found it.
I was pointed into the waiting room where I sat staring at the walls until a table was free. That odd feeling of limbo where you are almost at the peak but then realise you need to stop for breath. I waited a good twenty minutes which only spoke of the popularity. Finally my turn came and I was shown to a corner perch at a communal table. I was the only white person in this huge dining room and that made me feel right at home.
I chose to order the regular beef noodle soup and return another time if it delivered. Then I could be a bit more adventurous and get the spicier version with tripe.
After marking my choice on the menu (love the text saying Operated by Taiwanese People), the old lady took my order and barked it to the chefs who were midstream in a massive order. I smiled at whoever curiously looked at me, and returned to my thoughts.
I ate the entire bowl serenaded by the slurping sounds of unknown neighbours. Everyone smiled and grunted loudly in satisfaction. My soup was delicious, tho I instantly regretted not getting the spicier version as soon as the bowl was served. Despite appearing tame, the broth was flavoursome and the noodles reminded me of the small alleyways in Taipei i'd eat at after nights out. The beef was tender as a pillow and the spring onions added that hint of acidity.
Nothing and I mean nothing makes me happier than finding these local gems, going out of my way to reach them and then realising they were worth the effort. To be able to experience this bizarre side of Hong Kong life for all the Taiwanese living or visiting the country, was an honour I'd love to repeat at a further date.
Next time i'll order the spicy version and smile harder.
These recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
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"Tastes are subjective, so take everything with a pinch of salty tears"