Hung Fook Tong
Hung Fook Tong may be a recognizable brand to some as a producer of bottled beverages and packaged desserts, widely available at grocery stores such as T&T .
Additionally though, the Hong Kong based company has several retail outlets (the company calls them "tea rooms") across the GTA; sit down cafes that serve Chinese desserts and herbal teas. For this weekend visit, I arrive at Hung Fook Tong's Scarborough location well past 10pm.
Like its fellow niche competitors, interior design at Hung Fook Tong is an afterthought. In the corner of a non-descript Chinese plaza and bathed unflatteringly in the glow of fluorescent lights, we sit at simple wooden tables with menus slipped under glass pane tabletops. Ambiance isn't necessary when you sell a product this specific, but if I had to describe the design aesthetic I'd venture high-school-cafeteria-cum-Hong-Kong-street-food-vender.
But who cares? All that matters is the inexpensive snack foods -- almost everything on the menu is in English and under $10 - and this particular Hung Fook Tong has been serving up tiny bowls of sweet stews and fruit for close to a decade. The restaurant isn't crowded and service is efficient as my friends and I receive our orders in timely fashion.
Black glutinous congee with mango ($5.50) is a blend of simple syrup soaked mango cubes, evaporated milk and chilled congee made with black glutinous rice. The rice maintains a somewhat al dente chewiness; the sweet soupy consistency has a comfort food quality to it and it sates our craving for sugar.
Boiled egg white and milk with hasma and ginger ($7.50) is a perfect warm up dish for a chilly winter evening. Hasma, or frog fallopian tubes (did I mention this was not a genre of food you can find at your corner store?) is a clear jelly-like substance with no particular flavour. The hasma is present ostensibly for naturopathic health benefits and to add texture to the dish.
The "boiled egg white and milk" itself is actually steamed custard, which on this night seems slightly overcooked. Instead of silky smooth, the ginger infused dish is nearing pudding consistency and leaves some grainy aftertaste with each spoonful. It warms me up, but this dish requires attention to detail to be sublime. That nuance is lacking tonight.
Purple sticky rice with pearl delight ($4.50 - top photo) is again glutinous black rice (but this time not in congee form), mixed in a soup with evaporated milk, some red bean, simple syrup and glutinous rice balls. The main attraction here being the tiny dumplings made of (white) glutinous rice, resembling something akin to sweet rice gnocchi. The chilled, sweet stew isn't unlike the milk at the bottom of a bowl of sugary cereal, but the rice balls are a hit -- tender and chewy with just a bit of bite left in their core.
Mango supreme ($5.50) is an apt descriptor for a generous serving of mango cubes, in fresh mango juice with simple syrup and tiny tapioca grains. This mango dish is, like most Chinese desserts, simple and highly dependent on the freshness of its ingredients. On this evening, like much of the fare at Hung Fook Tong, it is adequate. The mango is sweet but not particularly fresh, while the soup and tapioca are tasty and inoffensive, hitting the spot but not enough to distract from conversation.
Hung Fook Tong has been around as long as I can remember and has always been known for somewhat middle of the road fare. It certainly was average on this night, but you learn to temper expectations going to a chain like this.
There are other restaurants that do Chinese dessert better but also enough that are decidedly worse. In the GTA you could probably count Hung Fook Tong's competitors with your fingers and toes, so being decent is, quite frankly, good enough.
After all, sometimes you just crave frog fallopian tubes and fried chicken wings side by side at 12am. For that reason alone, I can say with some certainly I'll find myself back at Hung Fook Tong for snacks eventually. Considering how long this place has been around, I'm guessing I'm not the only one.
Writing and photos by Simon Yau