Hong Kong style
Yummy Juice Cafe3005 B Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95818
A couple of years ago, I went to Richmond, British Columbia—a suburb of Vancouver largely populated by recent Chinese immigrants—on an assignment to check out all the Asian food I could. It was a wonderland, particularly when it came to Hong Kong-style snack foods. I tasted everything from fried chicken knees with spicy salt to sweet, waffle-like egg puffs and left town in a state of awed satiety and a longing to get to Hong Kong someday.
That day seems unlikely to come soon, but some of the Hong Kong-style snacks I was so drawn to can be found here in Sacramento at Yummy Guide Cafe. It’s a modestly modern establishment on Freeport Boulevard, right near McClatchy High School. The location is well-chosen, the more so since every afternoon there’s a special on snacks: just $2 for things like noodle bowls, fries, dumplings, French toast, spicy pig ears and much more. There’s also a menu of cool Asian desserts; drinks with jelly and pearls; and sweet, strong, milky teas—plus coffee that sent me into a trembling caffeine high for the better part of an afternoon. When I Googled the place, I found references to it in local high-schoolers’ blogs, so it must be stealing some of the adolescent crowd away from the McDonald’s next-door.
I was particularly happy to see the egg puffs I enjoyed in Richmond on the menu. They’re made to order, hot and slightly crisp at the edges. The name seems to refer to both the eggy-sweet batter and the shape of the finished waffle, in which oval batter puffs are connected in a kind of honeycomb shape. The puff’s browning fragrance wafted out from the kitchen as it cooked. The interior of each little batter pocket was more doughy and less puffy than it could have been, but it was still a subtly comforting treat.
That, however, was at the very end of the meal. We started off by looking at the vast menu and finding ourselves frozen. Sometimes I get a deer-in-the-headlights feeling when I’m trying to choose at a new place, especially if many of the offerings are unfamiliar. Yummy Guide has some of the Chinese-American basics, but there is also a huge variety of other things: $3.99 lunch specials of things like beef curry with potatoes and preserved-vegetable and ham fried rice; baked meats with spaghetti; sizzling steak and other meats; spam and egg sandwiches; noodle bowls and soups; lo mein; porridge or jook; and a long menu of items where you get three things for $16.99, among them salt-and-pepper spareribs and Chinese greens with garlic. And those are just the things you can make a meal out of! If you start looking at the snack menu, your head will really start spinning.
The only approach was to dive in heedlessly, which we did by ordering a dish of salt-and-pepper tofu to start. It arrived in a mound of pale golden chunks, crisply and delicately battered, piping hot and custardy within. The green onion and jalapeno pieces of the spicy salt were left very large, rather than finely chopped, but I enjoyed the hit of heat from each piece of pepper.
I finally settled on one of the rather odd lunch specials, beef in curry sauce—in part because a guy at a table near us was having it and gave it the thumbs up. Tender sliced beef was swimming in mild yellow sauce, with chunks of browned potato and slices of onion and bell pepper. It came with my aforementioned coffee and was a great deal at $3.99, but the main dish seemed strangely like something out of an old cookbook of the British Raj.
For that matter, maybe it was. Some of the menu has a colonial-holdover feel, as if it were a lunch counter in Britain in 1960. Ovaltine and Horlicks are available, for instance, and the emphasis on meat plates also seems awfully English.
My husband had the mixed grill from a section of the menu labeled “sizzling steak.” It came with tasty, gravy-like peppercorn sauce, and, yes, it sizzled madly on a cow-shaped iron plate. Its fat, tender chicken wing was delicious, as were slices of beef and pork. A fried egg on top was merely supererogatory, while the stubby hot dog was actively regrettable. It came with soup of the day (a bland tomato-vegetable) and garlic toast—not what one would expect from the average Chinese restaurant but perfectly in keeping with the postcolonial mix of Hong Kong cafe fare.
From there, we transitioned to those tasty egg puffs for dessert and left happy but with a lot more of the menu to explore. I think I’d be most likely to go back for an afternoon snack, perhaps after an outing to Land Park. If I had a late-night lifestyle, I might want to stop by for something tasty after barhopping. Yummy Guide, open until 2 a.m. daily, is a late-night place in a closes-early kind of town. But mostly, I’d just want to check out more of the cafe’s wildly diverse offerings. Some are peculiar, and some wonderful, but if you want to explore the weird and teeming world of Hong Kong-style snacks, this cafe is, as the name says, a yummy guide.