Russian food and eateries in Hong Kong | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Russian food and eateries in Hong Kong

During the last months there have been various mentions of Russian eating places and bakeries in Hong Kong including the search for Tkachenko's location etc. Someone also mentioned that the history of Russians in the territory was very sparse. I've just come across the newsprint feature presented below while clearing out old newspaper cuttings. It covers a bit more on the Russian eateries and the evolvement of well known named delicatessens.

 


 

From Russia with Love by Annabel Graham from the Sunday Morning Post,

May 25 1997

If you have lived in the territory for a long time you will remember the in­fluence of the Russians. You would have dined on bortsch and pirozhki at Chantecler, bought doughnuts and Napoleon slices from the Cherikoff Bakery, bet on Russian-trained horses at Happy Valley and, if you were lucky, been invit­ed to a few rowdy vodka and zakuski parties. Sadly, this colourful dimension to Hong Kong life and culinary scene has all but disappeared.  

Emigres from the eastern regions of Russia first arrived in Hong Kong early this century. They trickled down through places such as Harbin, Tianjin and Shanghai, each home to a large Russian population. Following the Communist takeover in China in 1949, large num­bers of White Russian refugees arrived in Hong Kong. Mostly they stayed only long enough to get their papers processed for other destinations, such as Australia or Canada. Some obtained foreign pass­ports but returned to Hong Kong to live.

 Like all minority groups, the Rus­sians in Hong Kong clung faithfully to their food and culture. Lydia Dorfman (nee Sofranoff) remembers her mother, Valentina, tirelessly pickling tomatoes, marinating mushrooms and salting cu­cumbers. Pelmeni, little crescent-shaped meat dumplings much loved by Siberians, were handmade and served in a broth or fried. Back home, vast quanti­ties of pelmeni would be produced in one session and buried in the snow, fro­zen and ready for use.

The retail food scene in Hong Kong 40 years ago was a good deal less sophisti­cated than it is now, and many essential Russian ingredients were hard to come by. There are memories of growing pre­cious pots of dill, chives and flat-leaf parsley, important herbs in Russian cooking. The passion for strong black tea was satisfied with bricks of Iron Buddha, which Russian tea greatly resembled. This was boiled up with milk, salt and a little butter. Tea was not the only thing brewed by the Russian community. Kvass, an alco­holic drink, was fermented at home from dark bread and raisins. It was drunk straight or used to flavour soup.

 Other foodstuffs were brought out by sailors on Russian ships. There was no shortage of vodka or, for that matter, caviar. As Ms Dorfman recalls: “Russian sailors would come to our home with tins of caviar. We ate it without the ceremony and reverence it is accorded today. Usu­ally we just had it for breakfast spread on toast or blini [a Russian pancake].”

Sour crème or Smetana is another important ingredient in Russian food. It is used extensively in cooking and dollops of it are liberally added to a whole host of savoury and sweet dishes. Ira Daiko, who arrived in Hong Kong from Shang­hai in 1946, remembers making her own in the early days. Dairy Farm was a source of Russian products. In the 1940s and 50s there were Russians on the pro­duction and farming staff, and special orders would be received for cream and cheeses. Ms Daiko tells of collecting curd cheese for Easter baking from the comp­any’s farm premises in Pokfulam.

Later, a Mr Gregory opened a delica­tessen called Greg’s in Prince’s Building, which supplied much nostalgic food for the minorities. Here Russians could buy caviar, smoked fish, black bread, horse­radish and herrings. The Gregorys were somewhat of an institution in Hong Kong: Mrs Gregory was reputed to be particularly formidable. The family business was eventually sold to Jardines and the Dairy Farm before resurfacing as Oliver’s

 The Russians in Hong Kong were hos­pitable, generous and gregarious hosts. Parties would usually begin with a large selection of zakuski, ~platefuls of little appetisers laid out on a table and washed down with small shots of cold vodka. It is a sociable and relaxed way to start a meal, and zakuski can be presented in the humblest or most elaborate of settings. At its simplest there may be marinated vegetables, stuffed eggs, herbed butter and bread, or there can be a riot of smoked fish, caviar, items in aspic, liver pastes and all manner of veg­etable dishes.

There was never a Russian club in Hong Kong, and the Russian Orthodox Church in Kowloon Tong was very much the meeting place for the Russian gen­tiles. Religious festivals were closely ob­served and there was a good deal of either feasting or fasting. In the book The Milky Way, which records the history of Dairy Farm, David Shaw assistant farm manager in the late 50s attests to the hospitality of the Rus­sians: “One of the major hazards for a young man coming out to the farm as I did was to get through the first Russian Easter and first Russian Christmas, such was the partying that went on.” Easter was the main religious festival, and feasting began in earnest after the Lenten fast. A tall yeast cake called ku­lich, and paskha, a rich confection of curd cheese and sour cream, would be prepared ready for the fast to conclude after midnight mass.

Ms Dorfman remembers: “The whole house would smell of vanilla when moth­er was baking kulich. Of course, we weren’t allowed to touch it and she would roll the cake up in a tea towel and hide it from us. Not only were there kulich and paskha, but also lamb, decorated eggs, pickled herring and smoked fish. We would come back from church and tuck in this huge meal at 1 a.m.

 While much of the partying was done in private homes, there was no shortage of Russian restaurants. Tkachenko’s, be­hind The Peninsula Hotel was a favour­ite, and the old Queen’s Cafe had a deli-style counter where you could buy pelment (those Siberian dumplings), pick­led cabbage and vinaigrette, or what non-Russians know as Russian salad.

The owners and cooks of these estab­lishments were more often than not Chi­nese from the north who had learned their skills first-hand from Russians in cities such as Harbin and Tianjin. It was even possible in those days to employ domestic cooks well versed in cooking Russian food. All the Russians I spoke to agreed that in their heyday these restau­rants served authentic Russian fare.

 They have all but vanished now, Cza­rina survives in Bonham Road, as does the Queen’s Cafe in Causeway Bay, but their Russianness has diminished through the years and today they stand as quirkish Russo-Chinglish restaurants. Interestingly, many Russian dishes have entered mainstream Hong Kong menus. Bortsch, known locally as Rus­sian soup (mor law see tong ) is still found on many a fast-food menu. It is usually recognisable by the presence of cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and a piece of beef brisket. Beef stroganoff without the sour cream but with tomatoes is another fast-food favourite, though the recipe has been so re-worked over time that it barely resembles the original.

 In Hong Kong 30 years ago, Russian bakeries dominated the scene. I remem­ber as a child going to Cherikoff Bakery in Waterloo Road and being bought lat­tice-topped pies filled with apricot jam, ring doughnuts, choux cream puffs and Napoleon slices. No childhood birthday party was complete without the last of these.

Forum: 

IDJ, thanks very much for this interesting read.

Regards, David

PS If you're new to Gwulo, there is more information about the Russian restaurants in the Tkachenko's thread.

There were a few traces of the White Russian community still around when I came to HK in 1974 - an old gentlemen with a top hat who drank all day outside a store in Boundary Street, a very old lady who lived on her own in Mong Kok, speaking neither English nor Cantonese, a very large, apparently somewhat unbalanced man who strode around TST in shorts and hobnail boots, reading out loud from the bible.

"Felix", the Garden Bakery catering manager. Racing tipster Peter Metrevelli. Racing trainer Sofranoff was still active, the last White Russian trainer I think.

My wife, HK born, remembers White Russians being a significant presence around the Homantin area into the 1960s.

Where exactly was the Russian Church in Kowoon Tong?

 

according to this website (http://www.orthodox.cn/localchurch/index_en.html)  it was at 12 Essex Crescent.

Before that there was a prayer room at * Middle Rd and before that it looks as though practitioners used St Andrew's in TST!

my friend who lived on cameron road (b1947) was christened in an annex made available for the russian orthodox community at st andrew's church.  there was a largish community in tst in the 30s-50s.  single men boarding at hankow road, moving to married quarters on the other side of nathan once they took the plunge :)

The SCMP magazine had a recent article on Hong Kong's White Russian community

http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/2092988/h...

 

 

My first meal out in HK was at Tkachenko's on Hankow Road in 1956.  The Dew Drop Inn, a ladies hairdresser, was next door on the corner of Middle Road. It was lunch so I thought a light omelette was in order and visualized an English sized one.   It was then I learned the Russians were hearty eaters.Their Borsch soup was a meal in itself.  Thankfully they also had a very popular bakery as did the other restaurants so you did not always need to eat flabby, tasteless Garden Company white bread (a bain of living in HK in those days). Their $4.50  five course lunch or $5.00 dinner became very much part of my life later on and it was a sad day when  they started disappearing one by one .   By the way  I think Rikki's were on Carnarvon Road  near the Grand Hotel.. They all sold pretty much the same food and  were all very excellent value . Would Kaiser's be considered  one of this group?  Nick

An advert in the Hong Kong Daily Press 1940-08-06. A Russian restaurant also on Hong Kong Island?

Metropole Hotel advert 1940
Metropole advert 1940, by Klaus

We have at least two Metropoles: one in Central and the other one in North Point.

Enjoyed tremendously your narrative, and thank you for sharing your memories!

Very minor point: Rus­sian soup (mor law see tong ) should really be pronounced as (ngor law see tong) as 'ngor law see' is 'Russia' in Cantonese whereas 'mor law' is a somewhat degrading term referring to Indians and Muslim in general.

I sailed with the Indo China Steam Navigation  Co (Jardine's) in the fifties and sixties and although I arrived too late to sail on a ship that carried  armed White Russian guards on board (to repel China Sea piirates) there were several left on the company payroll  years later who would be used on gangway duty, while the ship was in HK to stem smuggling activities.

Other White Russians I ran into  the late 50s were refugees on their way to a new life in Australia as second class passengers.They were a sad looking group and the children seemed very undernourished .

I can also recall  seeing a gang of Russian men working for  the PWD  repairing roads in TST, some of the men still wearing traditional smocks and baggy trousers, c.1959. There were hostels where they lived but I  have  no information on where these places were located

Maidestone,

I think Russian Soup (borscht) is called Law Soong Tong, not mor law see tong. It is made with locally available ingredients and not truly authentic. Could mor law see tong be some kind of lentil soup (dal) and not borscht?

You are abosolutely correct! It is 'law soong tong.' No idea what is 'maw lor see tong' though.

Cheers!

Going back to the original post, the reference is made to Borscht soup. For non-Cantonese speakers, the phonetic translation of the dish may have been referred to differently decades ago when compared to the more commonly used translation today.

Moddsey,

I think A. Graham was mistaken in her article. The name Law Soong Tong existed as far as I can remember, at least since the early 60s. mor law see西 tong would not be used to name a Russian soup as mor law was and is a widely used term to describe South Asians.

I agree with the commonly used Cantonese name of the soup as that is how I have known it. Perhaps lost in phonetic translation .....

It would be wonderful if anyone remembered a 1960s restaurant almost next to the Golden Carriage Restaurant, possibly on King's Road, North Point?

The last part of its name could be KALA.

Thank you so much. Any help is appreciated.

MW

The Russian eatery I recall was the original Queen's Cafe at 374 King's Road. 

1964 King's Road
1964 King's Road, by Eternal1966

Yes, there was Queen's Cafe, Golden Carriage, and several others.

I wonder if anyone would know the one I am referring to, with the second part of its name as KALA. The first part could be T_G_ before KALA?

The Chinese name in Cantonese would be something like Lo Dai Cheung. It could have been older than Golden Carriage.

Would anyone remember it?

MW

There was another "Russian" restaurant at the corner of King's Road and North Point Road where the North Point tram turns into to get to its terminus. That restaurant also sold cakes. The name was "Windsor".  

This is possibly the same eaterie as the Windsor Cafe, where we waited for the late evening transport to take us back to R.A.F. Little Sai Wan in 1957/8, although my vague memory of its location is that it was closer to Causeway Bay, opposite one of the cliff-like embankments on the south side of the road..  However, some of the married personnel at Little Sai Wan lived in flats probably close to the North Point road junction, so that could well have been the correct location. The vehicle was invariably a 3 ton Bedford lorry (known by us as a gharrie).  We sat beneath the canvas 'roof' on long wooden benches along the sides for the rather uncomfortable and, in the final stages from Shaukiwan, somewhat hair raising journey.  The drivers knew the road very well and treated it rather like a grand prix circuit - especially down the final camp; road, now known as the Leaping Dragon Walk.  I didn't know that it was a Russian cafe but we enjoyed many a late evening plate of fried eggs and chips in the ground floor cafe while waiting for the gharrie to arrive.

Cannot recall the Windsor Restaurant in North Point but there was a Winner Cafe in Winner House next to the HSBC on King's Road.

There was a Winner Hotel on King's Road diagonally opposite the Empire Theatre, later renamed the State Theatre. It was most probable that there was a "Winner Restaurant" within the hotel. I remember that on the 7th floor of the Winner Hotel there was a Chinese restaurant as I used to go there for "dim sum". In the 60s, Winner Hotel was demolished and replaced by a building which housed the then known as Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation on the ground floor. It was a large branch replacing the smaller one which was adjacent to the Metropole Theatre further down King's Road, opposite the Tram Terminus. 

Next to the Winner Hotel there was a HK-style Western Resturant which had set meals for about HK$1.50. There was a Shanghainess barber shop (as it was called in those days). There was also a grocery store nearby. 

In this days, there was a hub of activity around that location but nothing like what is today. 

Though not connected to the original discussion, you may wish to peruse some matchbox labels of restaurants in North Point from the 1960s listed here

Thanks, everyone for such interesting memories, anecdotes, and opinions.

I may be getting closer to the Russian restaurant I have been looking for. In Cantonese, it was called Lo Dai Cheung, probably on King's Road not far from The Golden Carriage Restaurant, and likely near the other ones that you have all suggested, including the Windsor.

Thanks so much again for all your contributions. Please let me know if you have any cues to this Lo Dai Cheung with a bakery, and an upstairs like a mezzanine below the proper second floor of the building. It had front windows with a King's Road view.

In the mid to late 60s there were two so-called HK-style "Western" restaurants on the north side of King's Road between North Point Road and Tong Shui Road. They were the "Mido" and the "Mayfair". The Mido was on the ground floor whereas in the "Mayfair" there was a mezzanine floor or cockloft. They were probably operated by the same person as both had similar menus and set lunches/dinners. On the same side, near the "Mido" there was a "Peking Restaurant" and they did a robust sale of BBQ meats in front. I can't remember "Lo Dai Cheung" but remember a "King of Kings" (Wong Sheung Wong) nearer to the tram terminus.

I have now spoken with two old friends about the cafe in North Point, where we awaited transport back to Little Sai Wan.  One recalled that there was a cinema on the opposite (South) side of the road but a bit further out of town.  He couldn't recall the name of the cafe but agreed that it was on the ground floor and was very Western in style and food, and that the decor was quite simple in keeping with those times.  The other friend agreed that the name was almost certainly the Windsor Cafe and that opposite it on the Southern side of the road there was a substantial cliff.  That was in 1957/8.  I now wonder whether it was the same place as described by Eddie as the Mido about ten years later.  However, I still have a feeling that 'our' cafe was  further to the West and and recall that we could clearly see the gharries coming up the slight hill and round a long gentle bend in the road from Causeway Bay.

The Empire Theatre is on the left and across King's Road is the substantial cliff mentioned. Further up on the right past the corner would be the Winner House Hotel. The signboard on the right shows the Winner Palace Restaurant located in the Hotel. Just past the Winner House Hotel and on the same side of the road were the Mido Apartments built in 1957.

1955 King's Road
1955 King's Road, by Moddsey

 

An interesting and intriguing photograph, Moddsey.  The view reminds me very much of how I recall the gentle, slightly up-hill bend in King's Road as it came out of Causeway Bay with the camera looking to the East.  So, from the topography, the road and the cliff, I would have placed 'our' Windsor cafe either just beyond the Empire Theatre or possibly even just in the next block.  However, there is a big problem . From the shadows, the sun was more or less behind the camera and that would suggest that we are looking more to the West, than to the East.  In that case Causeway Bay cannot be behind the camera and the cliff on the right must be on the harbour side of the road, where I do not remember any hills with cliffs.  I believe that they were all on the south side of the road, away from the harbour.  Our pick-up point at the Windsor cafe was definitely on the North side of Kings road.  I am very puzzled!  Andrew

In the recently posted photo, besides the hill across King's Road, there was also a hill just prior to the Empire Theatre on the same side of the road. This may account for the shadows. A portion of the same hill can also be seen below. As for the gharry pick-up to LSW, the pick-up at North Point would be on the left side for the road for vehicular traffic heading east.

1950s Empire Theatre
1950s Empire Theatre, by Moddsey

Thank you Moddsey and Eddie. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks, but the more I look at Moddsey's first photograph showing a more distant view of the Empire Theatre, the road layout depicted reminds me so much of the approach to 'our' Windsor cafe from Causeway Bay.  If that is correct, I believe that 'our' Windsor cafe was somewhere a bit further East beyond the Empire Theatre and possibly in the second block shown on the first photograph.  If so, my comments about there being no cliffs on the North side of the road, the cliffs on the South side being opposite the cafe, and my friend's thought that the cinema was diagonally opposite the cafe would seem to be wrong and should be ignored.  Certainly the Windsor was quite small, very modern and western in its style.  It served very good fried eggs and chips!

No worries. The photo below shows the approach to the State Theatre (formerly Empire Theatre) from Causeway Bay. The three-storey buildings to the east (right) of the Theatre were replaced by high-rise ones between 1957 and 1958. The hill to the left of the Theatre has been levelled but note the cliff to the south side of King's Road. 

1960s King's Road
1960s King's Road, by Moddsey

I have checked out the likely site of the Windsor Cafe on Google Earth and Street view, and I am fairly certain that it was close to the junction of Oil Street with King's road, possibly slightly to the East of the junction.  I have inserted 147 King's Road as an approximate identifier.  Google's Street View looking back along King's Road towards Causeway Bay and of the now wooded clff match my memory very well.

Eddie and Moddsey have now come up with a more accurate location for the Windsor cafe.  I agree that it was quite a bit further to the East of Oil Street and was somewhere just to the East of the North Point Road junction.  Please see my comments lower down. Andrew

Windsor Cafe site
Windsor Cafe site, by Andrew Suddaby

A rather blur photograph of King's Road and the aftermath of flooding in 1966. Directly opposite the Queen's Cafe was the Golden Carriage Restaurant and Bakery and next to it on either side was the Tchakalin Restaurant and Bakery and Mido Cafe.

1966 King's Road (After the Rains)
1966 King's Road (After the Rains), by Moddsey

Thank you, Moddsey!

You got a photo that shows the Chinese name for Tchakalin: 老大昌 or Lo Dai Cheung in Cantonese.

You are right: many Russian restuarants were close together.

Wow, priceless photo.

Would we be looking east toward North Point Pier? If yes, the Tckakalin would have been on the north side of King's Road, wouldn't it?

Thank you again.

Yes, North Point looking East. The three restaurants were in a cluster on the north side of King's Road. May have frequented these restaurants but memories are hazy after so many years. The Tchakalin rings a bell now,

Amazing, Moddsey. Thanks for your help.

Where do you get these wonderful photos?

Would you know what happened to the Tchakalin once 1970 came around?

Created a 'place' for the Queen's Cafe on the map. You may wish to add on other eateries and share your memories.

A fascinating piece of detective work. NP was pretty well foreign territory to me apart from a couple of attendances at the  NP Funeral Home. Try me on TST in the 50s and 60s  and I will probably be able to help!

Very nice, Moddsey. Thank you.

Dear Nick,

Sounds like you remember a lot of places. Wonderful.

What are some of your memories of TST and Kowloon in general? I know that covers a lot of neighborhoods, but personal stories from the 1950s and 1960s would be absolutely delightful.

NP might have been unfamiliar to folks from the Kowloon side, just as some Kowloon neighborhoods might have felt "foreign" to some from NP.

Could that be the case?

Tchakalin Bakery and Restaurant was incorporated as a limited company in 1969 but was dissolved in 1973. Further info is lacking thereafter. That said, the bakery and restaurant in Hong Kong may have evolved from the popular Tchakalian Bakery from Shanghai. See here

All your emails are very interesting and the photos are great. 

Starting from Oil Street (Oriental Motors) going east, we have the "cliffs" on the right hand side (south). The "cliffs" were blasted away by the late 50s. 

Empire Theatre became State Theatre in the late 50s also. Then there was a curve on the road. Just about there was the Winner Hotel on the south side. Passed that we came to North Point Road where the North Point trams turned into. I say that the Windsor Cafe was at that corner and along that block up to where the tram terminus was (still is) there were the several Russian Restaurants (Windsor, Golden Carriage, etc)  and a couple of HK-style Western restaurants (Mido, Mayfair). Queen's Cafe was on the opposite side (south). 369 Shanghai Restaurant was also there and so was Helen (or Helen's) restaurant. 

Pass the tram terminus we had Metropole Theatre on the south with the small HK bank branch just before that. That photo of the flood is interesting because at the very back of it you can see the damage which was done when the service reservoir overflowed and watch came rushing down Ming Yuen Eastern Street pushing several dozen cars down the steep street and ending up in a crush at the bottom on King's Road. 

Much further down the road was (and there still) the Hong Kong Funeral Home. 

I now recall those army trucks picking up those returning to Little Sai Wan. I was a kid then and I remember those soldiers jumping into the trucks and thinking to myself what a bunch of monkeys!! (Nothing discriminatory) Those boys were agile indeed. 

North Point was an interesting place in those days. It had a bit of everything. It was busy but not over-crowded.

Thanks, guys, for those great memories of days gone by.  

Hi Eddie and Moddsey,

Thanks for inserting a pin for the Windsor restaurant, Moddsey.  I think that you have located it well although I think that it might have been very slightly to the East of the North Point Road junction, rather than at it.

Good to hear that Eddie enjoyed watching us scrambling up onto the gharries.  The tail-gate was quite high up off the ground and there were no steps to help. It needed a bit of agility and even strength to haul oneself on board.  Some of our smaller colleagues had to be given a pull-up and those who were not very fit definitely struggled.  It all had to be done very quickly as the drivers were usually in a hurry to set off back to Little Sai Wan.  Andrew

Thanks, I have nudged the Windsor Restaurant marker slightly to the east. 

Thanks Moddsey.  Just the job.  Andrew

1968 Junction of King's Road and North Point Road
1968 Junction of King's Road and North Point Road, by Eternal1966

Wasn't the Des Voeux Road, Central branch of the Dairy Farm located in Windsor House. Was there ever a connection with the NP restaurant of the same name? The Paramount Night Club was on the first floor.

 

Nick

No connection to the Windsor House in North Point. There was a restaurant on the first floor in Windor House, Central and it served Western food. Can't remember the exact name though but its decor was similar to the dining halls in days of Yore with large wooden tables and chairs and flags/banners.

On the top floor of the building was the Paramount Restaurant and Night club which served Chinese food. 

Thank you to Eddie and Moddsey for your priceless input.

The link is most fascinating. Who knew?

An original Tchakalin in Shanghai also makes perfect sense,

The North Roint one was closed by 1973? Did it get a bit old and the owner was not interested in another generation of Tchakalin?

I'd love to know more about the hey day of European restaurants in Hong Kong, and what prompted them to either morph into their present day versions, or how they just went poof one day, beginning with the 1970s.

I have enjoyed all your input. Thank you so much again.

A photo is worth a thousand words, so they say. This photo shows exactly where I said Windor Restaurant used to be. On the left side where the letters "ist" are. My presumption is that "ist" is the second half of the word "Sunkist". [A soft drink popular during that period.] There is, however, no sign saying "Windor Restaurant". My deduction is that because when the photo was taken in 1968 the restaurant had already closed down.   

Pages