During our food tour of Chinatown, we had about half an hour to explore Chinatown, including the Maunakea Market and the surrounding area. We decided to check out a place we had passed earlier: Char Hung Sut. Char Hung Sut is another one of those old school places in Chinatown, and they’ve been producing manapua and other dim sum for a rather long time. Indeed, I’m not even sure how long, since aside from finding mention of it in a 1960 Hawaii tourism guide, I can’t find any reference to how long they’ve been around. But in any case, they make most short lists I’ve found online for where to go to get good manapua.
In several ways, this place dovetails nicely with two of my other Chinatown reviews: Royal Kitchen and the Ying Leong Look Funn Factory. Like the former, they are one of the premier vendors of manapua, those soft bao-like buns that are all over the place in Hawaii. Indeed, Char Hung Sut is basically the historical source for the modern manapua with the big, giant steamed bun: the late Bat Moi Kam Mau who used to own the place is generally regarded as the baker that popularized the oversized manapua.
Second, like the Look Funn Factory, walking into Char Hung Sut is like walking into a factory. Indeed, Char Hung Sut is one of those places where, upon walking in the door underneath their big sign, you immediately wonder if you’ve walked in the back door by mistake, since you pretty much step right into the production line. But nope, you’re in the right place, a few seconds after you walk in, one of the ladies will grab and order slip and ask you what you want. They’ve got a menu posted on the wall, but it’s basically the classic Hawaiian-style dim-sum, with a selection of manapua, pork hash, half moons, and other dim sum.
Cutting to the chase, we ordered up two manapua (like many Chinatown businesses, Char Hung Sut runs primarily on a “we’re open until we sell out” business, so that’s most of what they had), and walked back to the Kekaulike Market to enjoy our bounty. I can easily see why these are well-respected manapua: first, these manapua definitely establish the substantially larger size of a manapua over the related bao buns, since a single manapua is fist-sized. But it’s a really soft and fluffy bun, with a reasonably generous amount of filling without being overstuffed. As far as the filling? This was one of the better char siu fillings I had on the island, with a nice, deep pork flavor and just a minimal amount of sweetness, like a good barbecue.
Overall? It’s clear why Char Hung Sut has the one of the better manapua that I sampled on the island, a nice counterpoint to the baked manapua over at nearby Royal Kitchen. It’s a quality product, affordably-priced, and still being made the old-fashioned way. It’s worth a stop in Chinatown.