Authentic Bing Sutt In Hong Kong Since 1966: Star Cafe At Tsim Sha Tsui 在香港尖沙咀区1966年开始营业的星座冰室, 瑟缩在闹市中的地库
Welcome to a piece of Hong Kong’s local culture!
The Star Cafe located in Tsim Sha Tsui was once the haunt of film stars. The bing sutt is still popular with locals and tourists. It was opened in 1966 by a group of Cantonese movie stars. Star Cafe is part of a unique Hong Kong dining culture called bing sutt (冰室) popularized around the 1950s as a result of the convergence of cultures. After the 2nd World War, Western food became increasingly popular in Hong Kong with the British colonization. However, such food remained beyond the financial reach of many people. Bing sutts used to be high-end places to go. Local diners started offering dishes with Western influences at affordable prices (this must be one of the earliest versions of fusion food).
This type of fusion cuisine or “soy sauce Western 豉油西餐” (adding of Chinese ingredients into Western dishes) started the trend for cha chan teng 茶餐厅 and bing sutt 冰室 (smaller menu than 茶餐厅), serving localized versions of Western comfort food as well as iced drinks, coffee, and tea. Such places are no-frills, low-priced and operate round-the-clock. The perennial air of boisterousness is characteristic in such places.
Star Cafe had changed hands a few times since then, and the current owner took over in 1999 when the previous owner was getting too old. There are no elegant decorations and it's hidden away in a busy area – making you feel like you went back in time 20 years to a quieter time.
The ambience at Star Café provides its own unique vibe; think 1960s bomb shelter chic.
The deco here looks very retro and I felt as if I had stepped back in time.
The old CRT TV was blaring news and TV dramas above the entrance, while one of the staff read the morning paper in the middle table. In true greasy spoon style, a cigarette dangled from the chef’s mouth – thankfully there was a fan directed at him and the room was odour-free, and quite comfortable temperature wise actually. This isn’t something you take for granted, as HK is the city of walk-in fridges where people buy things i.e. malls.
When it comes to service, this tiny cafe is fantastic. The owner is very nice and friendly when serving customers. It feels like you're right at home having a meal when you come here.
Tomato soup abounds in Hong Kong. Most cha chaan tengs serve a local variation of borscht, a beet-less version that more closely resembles minestrone, as well as a straight-up tomato soup of the Campbell’s can variety. The latter features stewed tomatoes and a choice of meat and noodle type.
Star Cafe is so well-known for its tomato noodles that a large portion of their menu is dedicated to it. It is one of the few places which use fresh tomatoes to make their special broth while most others use Campbell soup. You have a choice of macaroni, instant noodles, vermicelli or spaghetti, as well as to add ingredients such as beef/chicken, luncheon meat, vegetables, etc.
At Star Cafe, fresh tomatoes are used rather than the canned variety, and accordingly, its version of tomato soup noodles, which occupy an entire section of the menu, practically becomes its own genre. Forget the overly salted, acidic version; this is tomato bliss. The best bet is to get the tomato noodles with mixed egg and instant noodles. The egg is whisked in the boiling soup, giving it a wispy quality that accentuates the subtle sweetness of the tomato base.
I am just so impressed with the humble instant noodles that always tastes so good in Hong Kong. Don’t let the gooey appearance of the broth put you off – tuck in and slurp it all up! The taste is light without a presence of sourness from the tomatoes.
In order to locate this cafe, look for the road sign which says “16-20 Kimberley Road” and enter the building next to it. There are only two staircases leading down to what seemingly appears to be a dodgy basement and the easier one to locate is to walk directly to the back and on the extreme right – there is a partially hidden stairway next to this restaurant which leads down to the rather dimly lit basement.
Nostalgia is one of the things that keeps people coming back to the Star Cafe, a windowless, basement eatery in a run-down shopping mall.
I hope Star Cafe will continue to operate as long as they can, because it's almost impossible to find a place like this in Hong Kong anymore.