i happen to think the perfect meal is a bowl of wonton noodles. and i think there’s two perfect examples of an ideal bowl, thankfully located right across the street from each other in central district in hong kong on wellington street.
for most of my life, i believed that tsim chai kee with its signature giant oversized wontons and cheap prices was my favorite small snack restaurant in the world. while the people over at chowhound and my mom argued more in favor of the favorite of both the rich and famous and time magazine/fodor’s and gosh near everyone else – mak’s noodles. luckily these two restaurants are located 20 feet away from each other.
we’ll start with mak’s, since it was open over chinese new year earlier than jim tsai kee. mak’s is almost universally praised for their soup base, great egg noodles and delicate wontons. they offer a much wider menu than their cross the street rivals, including things like beef brisket, beef tendon, fish balls and other varieties of accompaniments with one’s noodles.
i opted for some beef tendon beef noodles – wow, the soup was delicious – meaty and crisp with the right amount of beef flavor; the tendons were both pleasingly chewy and tender in the proportions one would expect – and the wontons were pretty much perfect.
unfortunately, the tiny proportion size (especially for the cost!) meant that i was still slightly hungry, so i ordered another bowl of the wonton noodles. without the beef flavor, the shrimp base of the soup came through stronger – if you like that sort of thing. again, the noodles and wonton were the right mix of chewy and tasty. really the perfect texture.
the masters at work:
so mak’s puts together an almost perfect meal. the drawback? the price. as you can see from the photos, mak’s is a tiny small snacks shop, but the beef tendon noodles (40 hkd) and wonton noodles (27hkd) – well, you can see their prices are quite high – especially considering the tiny portions. but the food is really quite good.
crossing the street brings you to jim tsai kee. as recently as 2-3 years ago, this was a formica round tabled place with bright fluorescent lighting open to the street. a coupe of years ago, the owners refurbished the place to this old chinese dark wood – it’s much nicer, but i think it’s lost a little bit of its formica soul.
i am, however, still a fan of the simple menu (three types of toppings: wonton, beef or fish balls, egg noodles or rice noodles, and some vegetables make up the entirety of the menu. even though they’ve raised their prices (when i lived in hong kong from 1997 through 2003, they were $10hkd for a bowl of noodles, now they’re $17), they’re still ridiculously cheap. and as the bowl is 50% larger than what you get at mak’s, and the noodles are equally as good, and the wonton are tasty, the value here is amazing.
tsim chai kee menu
the overly large wonton and a bottle of soy milk – $22 HKD
either one you choose, you can’t go wrong.