Learn Cantonese Slang: Say it like a pro in Hong Kong’s famed ‘cha chaan teng’ restaurants

  • Learning English and Cantonese is a piece of cake with fun crossover slang  
  • This week, we look at some common slang used at cha chaan teng – Hong Kong-style tea cafes
Kelly Fung |

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Cha chaan teng, a type of tea restaurant that originated in the old days, are a favourite with Hongkongers. Back in the 18th century, Western cuisine was a privilege limited to the upper class and most people could not afford it. 

After the second world war, British culture started to affect Hong Kong. Adding milk to tea and eating cake became popular at the time. As Western food was expensive, locals launched cha chaan teng to sell cheap, fast Canto-Western food, known as “soy sauce Western food”.

Instead of offering water to customers, cha chaan teng provide tea. Soon, cha chaan teng were all over the city and became a go-to place for Hong Kong people.

Their high efficiency, seating arrangements, impatient staff, and Cantonese jargon are a distinctive part of Hong Kong culture. Here are some slang expressions related to cha chaan teng.

Cha chaan teng lingo:

【茶走】–  (cha zau):  “tea walk”
Meaning: tea with condensed milk, without sugar (coffee walk would be coffee with condensed milk, without sugar)
【細蓉】– (sai yung): “tiny hibiscus”
Meaning: small wonton noodles 
【飛砂走奶】– (fei saa zao nai): “fly the sand, walk  the milk”
Meaning: “sand” refers to sugar. The phrase refers to coffee without sugar and milk

'Cha chaan teng' no-nos

What people would say when they’re in a cha chaan teng

【搭枱】–  (daap toi): “build the table”
Meaning: share a table with others 
Example: The restaurant is full. Should we daap toi?
【走青】–(zau tseng): “walk green”
Meaning: no spring onions or coriander on top of the food
Example: I will have beef brisket soup noodles  zau tseng.
【行街】–  (hang gaai): “walk on the street”
Meaning: takeaway/grab and go
Example: Excuse me, I cannot finish the stir-fried beef noodles. Can I have it hang gaai?

Bonus: Check out these additional food-related sayings in Cantonese