is a column exploring the gastronomic landscape of Bensonhurst and the surrounding neighborhoods. Each entry will cover anything and everything even remotely related to food because here in Bensonhurst, food is always news.
For those willing to explore it, the bustling Chinese restaurant scene on 86th Street beneath the D train offers a tour of numerous provincial cuisines and styles of cooking. It ain’t the old-school American-style take-out joints; there’s seafood restaurants, dumpling shops and bakeries, Cantonese twists and Fujianese turns. While not every province of China is represented, with its own unique set of flavors and traditions, there are plenty of options to check out.
Among them, H.K. Tea & Sushi at 2033 86th Street stands out. Serving up street foods from Hong Kong (alongside sushi and Japanese for the less adventurous), the extensive menu is loaded with items you won’t find on in many other local shops. And after a face-lift following a devastating 2010 fire set by an arsonist, the place has a very welcoming, modern interior.
While some say a “guide” is needed at ethnic restaurants to help explain dishes, I find it more exciting to just wander in with little-to-no knowledge and point at other people’s food.
There’s plenty of adventure to be found in doing that at H.K. Tea. You might end up with Fok Kin rice, or fried pig intestines. Or perhaps some pan-fried instant noodles with spam and egg, or something with ox tongue.
On my visit, though I spotted a dish I hadn’t tried before – a cheesy casserole thing that my waiter explained was “cheese baked rice.” I ordered one up, with Portuguese chicken.
What? Hit a Chinese restaurant and order the Portuguese chicken?
Well, the dish is not actually Portuguese. It was created in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that, like Hong Kong, is now a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.
Macanese dishes are where Portuguese and Chinese flavors mingle, and this chicken is slow-simmered in coconut milk, saffron, broth, garlic and onion. It ends up very tender and flavorful, and is very popular in Hong Kong.
In the cheese baked rice, the chicken is served over a bed of rice and topped with a mess of veggies, including carrots, onions, peas and green bell peppers.
Sounds healthy, right? Great. Now let’s douse it with a bunch of cheese and bake it, baby.
The resulting casserole isn’t much to look at; basically an explosion of yellow pocked with colorful vegetables and lightly browned.
Remember, this is street food, and the flavors here don’t really scream complexity. Above all else is the cheese. It was hard to pinpoint the kind of cheeses used, but recipes found online suggest it’s a mix of mozzarella and cheddar. At H.K. Tea, it’s fairly mild and sweet, and with a few whips of the fork blends nicely to smother the rice.
This is, first and foremost, a cheese dish and the other flavors – chicken, carrots, peas – only punctuate that flavor, but never really stand out from it. Which, for a cheap cheese connoisseur like me, is just fine.
Overall, it was tasty, filling, unhealthy and dirt cheap ($7.25 for a heaping portion that fed two people), the way street food ought to be. One thing I failed to notice on ordering is that rice is just one option; this can also be ordered with thin “spaghetti” noodles, which seemed to be the more popular option.
Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back and try again, and perhaps this time with a side of Fok Kin fried rice. Because that’s my maturity level.
H.K. Tea & Sushi, 2033 86th Street, (718) 265-7800. Check them out on Yelp.
Is there a restaurant or specific dish you think we should check out? Let us know!