Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Week in Hong Kong: Sweet Soups @ Wong Kei Tong Shui (王記糖水)

(See closest Auckland equivalents)

The Cantonese love to have their dessert in the form of a sweet soup, or tong sui (糖水, literally "sugar water").  It can seem like too much food after dinner, especially when it's made with a filling ingredient like taro, kumara or beans, but it's no worse than having bread and butter pudding after a heavy meal, right?

In Hong Kong, we were fortunate enough to live not far from a little shop specialising in sweet soups.  Wong Kei Tong Shui (王記糖水) is close to the North Point MTR station, and on most nights, you can see a queue going around the corner of the street.  Actually, there are two queues: the shorter one on the left, closer to the shop, is the one for dining in; the longer queue on the street side is the one for takeaways.


Queues at Wong Kei Tong Shui can go around the street corner.
Since the tiny shop only has a few seats, we have always opted for eating their desserts from the comfort of home. The polystyrene containers come in two sizes: most desserts could be had small for 15 HKD or large for 17 HKD.  The large tub holds roughly twice as much as the small one, so it is no surprise that I have never seen anyone order the small size.

Two servers are constantly filling takeaway containers from vats at the front of the store.
Although there were probably over 20 types of sweet soups available, we only tried a couple which we ordered over and over again, because they were so delicious we didn't want to take a chance with anything else.

Some of the sweet soups available.
One was a taro sweet soup with coconut milk and sago, or wu tao sai mai lo (芋頭西米露) listed on the menu as heung wu ye zap sai mai lo (香芋椰汁西米露).  They always ask you whether you want it with a drizzle of evaporated milk, or faa naai (花奶).  It went so quickly each time that I never managed to get a photo.

Another dessert we particularly liked was boiled glutinous rice flour balls, called tong yuen (湯圓), in this case filled with ground black sesame seeds and served in a thin ginger syrup.  This geung zap zi maa yung tong yuen (薑汁芝麻蓉湯圓) is the default offering, though you can also ask for the balls to be served in one of the other dessert soups, such as the sweet black sesame paste, or zi maa wu (芝麻糊).

Half-eaten tong yuen filled with ground black sesame.
On Christmas Day, we turned up for our usual dessert fix, only to find the shop shut!  For the first time, there was a queue for the dessert shop next door instead.  There were a number of others who were surprised to see their favourite shop closed; some joined the neighbour's queue, while others turned around and walked away.

Fung's Dessert (鋒少甜品) struggled with the unexpected patronage, with several customers having to demand their food after a long wait.  There was a delay with our tong yuen (though at least that meant they were freshly made) and we were disappointed with the number of balls that were served (only five in the container, compared with the eight or ten from our usual store).  The soup it came in was also more sugary and less gingery.

We were not able to compare the taro sago dessert between the two shops, because Fung's did not offer this option.  Instead, they had mango coconut sago soup, served cold rather than hot, which was actually surprisingly delicious.  The black sesame paste they made, on the other hand, was watery and bland.

There's a reason why there's normally a long queue outside Wong Kei Tong Shui.  Why not try it out, next time you are in North Point in Hong Kong?

Closest Auckland Equivalents

* Cheuk Cafe (卓悦美食)
466 Dominion Road, Mount Eden
(09) 551 3013

The only sweet soup here is the mango and sago one, but they have an exciting range of delicious and inexpensive desserts, as well as Hong Kong style snacks such as hot sandwiches and curry fish balls.  Although I have seen "durian snowballs" (balls with a thin glutinous rice skin, filled with durian and whipped cream or icecream) at China and Red Guard downtown, Cheuk Cafe is the only place in Auckland where I have come across durian pancake, that is, durian and cream served in a folded crepe (another of my favourite Asian desserts).  They also have an exciting range of icecream flavours, including lychee, mango, rose, durian and black sesame.
[Added 31 August 2014: Cheuk Cafe is now closed, but you can see another blogger's review of the place here.]

* Guang Zhou Soup Shop (廣州燉品店)
952 Dominion Road, Mount Roskill
(09) 620 2625

This plain looking shop with its hand-painted sign sells both savoury and dessert soups, as well as herbal teas and dishes with more solid substance.  Don't worry about all the Chinese on the walls; they do also have an English menu.  Prices here are ridiculously cheap, with a small coconut sago soup, sweet mung bean soup, peanut paste or sesame paste dessert costing only $2.  They may not be the best specimens of sweet soups, though well acceptable for the price, as the coconut sago we tried was thinner than the desserts we have had elsewhere.

* Hansan (漢山越南餐館)
Various locations, including Panmure and Newmarket
See for addresses and phone numbers

This Chinese-Vietnamese chain has some thick coconut cream desserts, not really liquid enough to be called a sweet soup, but warm and satisfying all the same.  Flavours include Banana Sago, Sticky Rice and White Bean, and Taro and Sticky Rice.

Restaurant Details

Wong Kei Tong Shui (王記糖水)
5 Shu Kuk Street, North Point, Hong Kong (香港北角書局街5號)
+852 2811 5611

Opening hours:
Mondays to Saturdays 6pm - 3am


  1. I've never really liked tong sui. We had it a lot growing up. I ate it, although begrudgingly. Maybe it would have been different if we had more variety. My mum craves the Chinese dessert ABC. It's basically shaved ice loaded with other ingredients like fruit, sweet vegetables, sweet milks and syrups. Did you have that when you were over there? The full name is Air Batu Campur which means mixed ice and is actually a Malaysian import.

  2. I don't like tong sui either, when it's watery and very sweet. But sometimes it's very well done and full of flavour, and you just want to have more! The best one we had, which was also very light and refreshing, was probably the pear, date and almond soup at Lei Graden (Mong Kok).

    I didn't have ABC in Hong Kong. Will have to give it a go next time.


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