Saturday morning at Char Hung Sut
What Is Char Hung Sut?
Char Hung Sut is a Hawaii institution that opened 1945. Char Hung Sut was first famous for manapua (imagine char siu bao, but slightly different in size and texture, and with many filling options...everything you need to know about manapua is in this post), but now they're also known for other treats including steamed pork hash and half moon. It's like local-style dim sum to-go.
FYI: Char Hung Sut is considered an "old school Hawaii spot." There are not many family-run, old school spots left, so we love and treasure them deeply. Other spots include places like Crack Seed Store, Tasaka Guri Guri, Helena's Hawaiian Food, Sam Sato's, and Hamura Saimin. I'll cover all the old school spots on the Onolicious eventually, they are true Hawaii gems.
It's a takeout spot, so be prepared to bring your order home to eat...or to the beach, or even eat in your car! Char Hung Sut packs orders in white cardboard boxes, simply tied with a ribbon. People love to bring a big box of Char Hung Sut to social gatherings. Food is a big part of Hawaii culture, and this is just one example.
Entrance to Char Hung Sut
Where Is Char Hung Sut?
Char Hung Sut is located at 64 N Pauahi Street in Honolulu's Chinatown. They don't have flashy signage (look up for the small white sign with the store name written in red) and the entrance is so slight, easy to miss.
Come on a weekend though, and you'll spot the entrance by the long line of locals patiently waiting their turn. I'm not a big "line person" in NYC and SF, but there's something about food lines in Hawaii, specifically at old school local spots like Char Hung Sut. Something about it feels sweet and gentle. People always chat with each other in line, sharing favorite items and tips. I actually look forward to standing in line when going on a weekend ^_^
I love the experience of going to Char Hung Sut as much I enjoy the food. There's no super formal cash register or ordering area. Everything (including where you wait in line), is intermingled with the kitchen where they do the dough rolling, steaming, baking, packing, etc. It's all out in the open. You really feel like you're in there. It's a very cool feeling.
What To Order At Char Hung Sut
The line moves pretty efficiently at Char Hung Sut so it's best to plan your order in advance. They have a menu posted on the wall, but it's posted at such an angle that it's hard to see until you're almost at the front of the line (and by then it's too late to hem and haw over your decision)!
This is what we like to order:
Steamed Manapua from Char Hung Sut
What is a manapua? This post explains it all. Manapua is like Hawaii's version of a char siu bao, with a few critical differences. They're much bigger than a char siu bao (many things in Hawaii come in pretty big portions heheh). Some place make manapua in many different flavors, but Char Hung Sut just does the giant classic steamed char siu manapua.
Ma Tai Soo in the making at Char Hung Sut
Ma Tai Soo
Ma Tai Soo is a smaller, baked flaky pastry. The pastry itself is a tiny bit sweet. It's rolled out and filled with a mixture of char siu pork, shrimp, and water chestnuts. They are so nice warmed in the toaster oven for breakfast.
Pork Hash in the making at Char Hung Sut
Pork hash is similar to the shumai you find at Chinese dim sum restaurants, but bigger! It's basically seasoned pork stuffed into a wonton wrapper and steamed. It's best hot, and dipped into a mixture of soy sauce and Chinese mustard. Note: you can buy a small container of Chinese mustard here for $0.20.
Keep in mind that items like manapua and pork hash are not trying to replicate Chinese dim sum. They have similarities but manapua and pork hash are strictly a local Hawaii creation. The roots are Chinese (many local Hawaii dishes have Asian roots), but they have since become their own food item.
In the case of pork hash, some people complain that Char Hung Sut's version is made of only pork (and doesn't include shrimp and mushrooms like nearby dim sum spots). But the thing is, they're not trying to remake the same dim sum item. The dim sum version is called shumai. The local version is called pork hash. Two similar but completely different food items.
Half Moon from Char Hung Sut
If I was allowed to eat only one item at Char Hung Sut, it would be the Half Moon. They roll the skin/dough into a thin circle and put in a spoonful of savory pork filling. Then it's folded it in half and sealed with beautiful crimped edges. The pastry is steamed until the dough turns semi-translucent.
Half Moon is perhaps the "lightest" item on the menu, and feels wholesome and elegant at the same time. I looovvee Half Moon.
Char Hung Sut: Insider Tips
- Parking in Chinatown is tricky. If you got during late afternoon weekday hours, you might be able to find street parking. Otherwise there are multiple indoor parking lots in Chinatown. I prefer the Chinatown Municipal Parking lot at 1-35 N Beretania Street (enter on Beretania Street between Smith and Nuuanu Street).
- Be care not to jaywalk in Chinatown! The police ticket jaywalkers.
- Cash only.