Outlets open and shut within the blink of a watch. Skyscrapers spring up out of nowhere. The skyline by no means stays the identical for lengthy.
Not like cities with previous bones — like London and Paris — there aren’t as many tangible artifacts on this Asian metropolis of eight million individuals.
Probably the most dependable Hong Kong historical past comes not in museums or structure, however slightly, within the type of meals.
“If you wish to expertise Hong Kong of the 1960s, you actually have to have a look at meals as a result of it is primarily the meals that has survived intact,” says Daisann McLane, who runs meals concierge and experiential tour firm Little Adventures in Hong Kong.
The group’s meals and tradition walks take vacationers into the scrumptious underbelly of Cantonese life — uncovering all the pieces from cafes and bakeries to markets and tea retailers.
McLane tells CNN Journey the tales behind a few of her favourite Hong Kong meals experiences — and what they reveal concerning the metropolis’s colourful historical past.
Preserved in time
Earlier than Hong Kong was a British colony, a producing metropolis or a buzzing finance capital, the territory was primarily inhabited by fishermen.
In its earliest days, earlier than it turned referred to as “Hong Kong,” the territory was a strategic port for European and Asian sailors — to not point out pirates — typically used as a relaxation cease on lengthy voyages.
The dried fish present in Hong Kong, and the encircling area, was extraordinarily priceless.
In a pre-refrigeration age, haam yu served as a kitchen staple, providing sustenance to sailors on lengthy voyages and an accessible supply of protein for Chinese language villagers.
“At any time when I see the dried fish hanging by the facet of the highway — the dried fish on the pink ribbons — these have been one of many authentic merchandise of Hong Kong island and the Pearl River Delta area,” says McLane.
“The age of crusing would not have been potential with out these dried meals to maintain individuals alive throughout lengthy voyages.”
The deep-rooted trade remains to be omnipresent right this moment, particularly within the dried meals streets in Sai Ying Pun the place vacationers go to get a whiff of the previous.
The place to seek out it: To go to Hong Kong’s dried seafood commerce, vacationers can discover Tai O fishing village on Lantau Island or just stroll the lanes of Sai Ying Pun, round Des Voeux Highway West, Queen Avenue and Centre Avenue, the place retailers overflow with dried mushrooms, complete fish, sea cucumbers, goji berries and extra.
By the mid 1950s, lots had modified in Hong Kong.
The British having planted their flag in 1841, colonialism was properly beneath means.
After World Battle II, Chinese language immigrants poured into Hong Kong, fleeing the communist takeover and the Nice Leap Ahead famines of the 50s and early 60s.
As Hong Kong recovered from the conflict, it turned to manufacturing — which ushered town into an period of growth and productiveness.
Factories boomed and the inhabitants swelled, simply as globalization was taking maintain around the globe.
Coupled with an inflow of factory-produced meals like white bread, peanut butter, evaporated milk and immediate noodles, the manufacturing unit created a singular culinary expertise that encapsulates this period: the cha chaan teng diner.
“The fashionable Hong Kong we see right this moment has its origins in submit 50s Hong Kong,” says McLane. “And one of many main modifications we see is the explosion of recognition of the Hong Kong espresso store, the cha chaan teng. Though there have been cha chaan tengs as far again the 1920s, they actually got here into their very own in post-war Hong Kong, and are particular to that historic second.”
“The rhythms of the manufacturing unit imposed themselves on the consuming tradition, so that you needed to have quick meals for these individuals who solely had a brief break for lunch,” says McLane.
On the time, you can discover a cha chaan teng on each nook, serving easy white bread sandwiches, pork chops, and milk teas because the go-to snacks.
Nonetheless right this moment, the menus are chock-full of scrumptious cultural amalgamations like egg tarts, Hong Kong-style French toast, and yuanyang milk tea — a mixture of robust black tea and low.
“You may sit in a cha chaan teng and have peanut butter and condensed milk on toast, and a milk tea, and from there you possibly can undergo 75 years of Hong Kong historical past.”
The place to seek out it: Household-operated For Kee Restaurant (200 Hollywood Highway, Sheung Wan; +852 2546 8947) serves up a well-known pork chop bun and a style of previous Hong Kong. Hoi On Cafe (G/F, 17, Connaught Highway, Sheung Wan; +852 2540 6340) is one other stalwart — the 70-year-old cha chaan teng is legendary for its handmade egg tarts and icy drinks.
A saucy expertise
Typically neglected however important to the Hong Kong culinary expertise is Soy Sauce Western delicacies — immortalized in Wong Kar-wai’s well-known movie “Within the Temper for Love.”
Like an upscale model of cha chaan teng eating, this hybrid eating type began booming within the 1950s and 60s.
“The elite of Hong Kong had traveled round Europe and to the UK. They got here again to Hong Kong with a extra cosmopolitan style for issues like steak, and wished to eat issues that reminded them of their journeys,” says McLane.
Answering the decision, Cantonese cooks from worldwide motels just like the Mandarin Oriental and The Peninsula took what they knew of Western cooking and opened their very own Soy Sauce Western eating places — full with tuxedo-clad waiters, tableside service and crisp tablecloths.
However within the technique of adapting Western meals for Cantonese palates, the expertise turned like a caricature of the true deal — not in contrast to consuming “Chinese language” meals in the US.
“For a Westerner, it is like going to a restaurant the place time stopped in 1955 as a result of they’re nonetheless serving meat, potatoes, Cobb salads, soufflés — stuff you’d by no means see on menus anymore,” says McLane.
“By way of culinary historical past, it is a distinctive expression of Hong Kong individuals of that point, and their aspirations — cosmopolitanism.”
They might have quirks in spades, however Soy Sauce Western eating places have gotten a uncommon species today — so attempt one whilst you nonetheless can.
The place to seek out it: Tai Ping Koon Restaurant (21 Stanley St, Central; +852 2899 2780) serves up one of the best of Soy Sauce Western. Sammy’s Kitchen (204-206 Queen’s Highway West, Sai Ying Pun; +852 2548 8400) is among the nice previous institutions.
Introducing Cantonese 2.zero
Hong Kong’s culinary story would not be full and not using a style of latest Cantonese delicacies.
Over the previous 5 years, the Cantonese meals panorama has by no means been extra thrilling.
Enter “Trendy Cantonese” — a brand new breed of eating places in Hong Kong that pays tribute to age-old recipes, updating them with premium substances, sudden taste combos and playful displays.
“You might be getting this youthful technology of cooks who’re pushing the delicacies, rethinking it — however not making fusion meals,” says McLane.
She says the motion started with Lau Kin Wai, the writer, meals historian and restaurateur behind Kin’s Kitchen — a Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant — who pioneered the private kitchen scene in Hong Kong.
Revolutionary cooks like Lau Chun — Kin Wai’s son, who helms the kitchen — are designing small menus and resurrecting labor intensive dishes that had fallen out of vogue.
“On condition that Cantonese cooking is so custom certain, that is nothing wanting a revolution,” says McLane.
“I do not assume there was any level in Hong Kong historical past that has been this inventive and intellectually radical — except maybe the emergence of the fashionable cha chaan teng within the 1950s and 60s.”
The place to seek out it: Strive conventional Cantonese delicacies with a contemporary contact at pioneering Kin’s Kitchen (5/F, W Sq., 314-324 Hennessy Highway, Wan Chai, +852 2571 091three).
Seventh Son (Four-6/F, Kwan Chart Tower, 6 Tonnochy Rd, Wan Chai; +852 2892 2888) — a spin-off of historic Fook Lam Moon restaurant.
Hidden in a elaborate basement location, Mott 32 (Customary Chartered Financial institution Constructing, Four-4A Des Voeux Rd Central, Central; +852 2885 8688) serves up modern artwork, high-quality cocktails, and Chinese language meals utilizing premium substances.
Head to Ho Lee Fook (1 Elgin St, Central; +852 2810 0860) for creative substances in a cool environment.
The road at Little Bao (66 Staunton St, Central; +852 2194 0202) is definitely worth the wait. The button-hole deal with presents fashionable quick meals takes on Cantonese flavors.