I will always remember how 2013 started — with one of the best breakfasts ever at the famous Australia Dairy Company, thanks to the recommendation of a foodie friend. As forewarned, the line was crazy, but was it ever worth it.

This place is a classic Hong Kong cha chaan teng — literally, “teahouse,” but its cultural equivalent is closer to an American diner. Like diners, these places have quick service, are open long hours (sometimes 24-hours), serve comfort foods, and just have that homey, down-to-earth atmosphere about them. They usually serve a mix of classic Cantonese foods as well as a lot of Hong Kong-style Western dishes.

Thanks to the aforementioned foodie friend, we knew just what to order here.

Macaroni soup with ham (fo tuy tong fun 火腿通粉): My dad used to make various versions of macaroni soup, so it’s something I grew up with, but I can see how it can be strange if you’ve never had macaroni this way. Think of it as Hong Kong’s version of chicken noodle soup, especially the Campbell’s kind with the strips of ham, which I think this closely resembles. (And, actually, it’s only now looking at the photos that I notice the cans of Campbell’s soup in the kitchen.) It is classic Hong Kong diner food, but I think it is skippable if you are not particularly hungry, because some of the other stuff is just not to be missed.

Scrambled eggs (chow dan 炒蛋): This may be more familiar territory, but you’d be hard-pressed to find scrambled eggs as fluffy and perfectly cooked as these anywhere else. You can get them on toast or as a sandwich. I think the open-faced version highlights the perfect eggs more.

Steamed milk (dun lai): Whatever you do, make sure steamed milk is in your order. (Steamed egg is also available, but we didn’t try it because we were more excited about the milk.) The name can be deceiving, because this is not a drink. It is more like a soft, warm yogurt or custard. The taste resembles fresh ricotta if you’ve ever made it at home — clean, fresh, subtle, with a bit of added sweetness. In Cantonese, it’s called dun lai, “steamed milk,” but in Beijing it is called nai lao or “cheese.”

Just as important as the food at the Australia Dairy Company is the atmosphere. After waiting in line for about 20 minutes, we were pointed toward a tiny table that we shared with another couple. The waiter scribbled down our order in a rush, and then, realizing we were getting everything, asked us why we didn’t just order the breakfast set. (Because we can’t read the Chinese menu… but there was no time to even be embarrassed.) When our food arrived shortly after, there was the awkward shuffle to fit everything onto our half of the tiny table, all the while trying not to knock over hot liquids or wake up our napping baby. We ate while waiters paced back and forth with orders. And when we were done, we were pointed toward the front desk to pay, and our spot was immediately cleaned. By the time we were out the door, another couple had taken our seats. It doesn’t get more authentic than this.

On our way out the door, I lingered a couple extra seconds to snap a few quick photos, panicking the whole time that someone would yell at me to get out of the way. When I stepped out the door, my husband asked me if I got some good shots, and I said, “No, I just took some quick ones ’cause I didn’t want them to yell at me.” He said, “What? You don’t have to leave until someone kicks you out! You should go back.” This coming from someone who snuck into the Hay Adams Hotel for “brunch” when Obama first arrived in DC for the inauguration in 2009. (He did get kicked out… but not before he’d done a few interviews.) I was still reluctant, but at his encouragement, I mustered up some pluck and marched back in there to document a bit of the action…

It was, in many ways, a fitting start to a new year.

Australia Dairy Company 澳洲牛奶公司 [map]
G/F, 47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan
Phone: 2730-1356
Metro: Jordan
There’s a breakfast set available from 7:30 a.m. to noon for 26HKD. It includes buttered toast, 2 eggs cooked to order, macaroni soup with ham, and coffee or tea. Cold drinks are an additional 2HKD.