The Queen and Hong Kong’s custom of milk tea and toast

The Queen and Hong Kong’s custom of milk tea and toast

Like clockwork, round 3 p.m. every day, my mother makes herself a cup of milk tea with toast (crusts off, like a tea sandwich.) The ritual of afternoon tea has been ingrained in my now-retired dad and mom from again after they labored in places of work in Hong Kong. It’s why cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong diners) and bakeries don’t actually have a downtime between lunch and dinner because the afternoon tea crowds file in to get their milk tea, pineapple buns, egg tarts and little snacks like fried rooster wings and fries. (I really like that wings and fries are thought of a snack.)

This every day ritual is the results of Hong Kong having been a British colony for greater than a century, up till 1997 when the territory was handed over to China. Hong Kong meals is a mishmash of worldwide cuisines as a consequence of Hong Kong’s historical past beneath British rule and as a global port (it was fusion earlier than fusion was a factor.) It’s a wonderful delicacies in contrast to anything on the earth, and I’ve been having fun with extra of it over the previous two years when everybody was turning to their very own variations of consolation meals amid the pandemic.

However within the final week I’ve been pondering extra concerning the meals I grew up with after the announcement of Queen Elizabeth II’s dying. Although it’s been 25 years for the reason that handover, the British affect (and the late Queen herself) has at all times been within the background for me and others who keep in mind Hong Kong earlier than the mid-Nineteen Nineties. I look again fondly on that period when Hong Kong tradition had a world affect akin to that of South Korea at present. However with the Queen’s passing, there are renewed discussions on the British monarchy’s historical past of oppression and compelled labour all over the world, and I’m reminded of how a lot the meals I grew up on is tied to the legacy of colonialism.

On the typical cha chaan teng, you’ll see Chinese language interpretations of British dishes. It’s because these eating places began out as an inexpensive method for normal Hong Kongers to get a style of the aspirational life-style of Europeans on the time. Milk tea was tweaked from the British model by substituting contemporary milk with easier-to-find evaporated milk. Macaroni soup with luncheon meat approximated a pasta dish with fancy ham. Toast and scrambled eggs turned a breakfast staple. Lyle’s Golden Syrup, a British cane sugar syrup, is used on French toast reasonably than maple. Western-style bakeries popped up serving pastries, desserts and gadgets similar to egg tarts as a riff on English custard tarts. (Close by, Macau has egg tarts too, however they’re nearer to the pastel de nata, given Macau’s historical past as a former Portuguese colony).

Extra not too long ago, a cohort of millennial restaurateurs opened cha chaan tengs, nostalgic for his or her childhoods spent in ‘80s and ‘90s Hong Kong. That was the period when many households (together with mine) left Hong Kong and got here to Canada, not sure what the territory can be like after the handover. From there, dozens of Cantonese and Hong Kong-style eating places opened within the GTA, particularly in Scarborough’s Agincourt neighbourhood, which was unofficially dubbed “Asiancourt” because of the inflow of Chinese language residents and companies.

I’m penning this as a result of cuisines by no means exist in a vacuum and are formed by elements similar to migration, local weather and, yep, colonialism. Hong Kong got here beneath British rule on the finish of the primary Opium Struggle in 1842, which stemmed from China trying to cease merchants, a lot of whom had been British, from illegally exporting opium to China, which brought about widespread dependancy. After years of warfare, Chinese language forces had been outmatched by the British, and as a part of peace negotiations, Hong Kong was ceded to British rule.

With human historical past, nevertheless messy and fraught, comes meals historical past. However I’m not penning this to make anybody really feel responsible about their milk tea or afternoon pineapple bun (I repeat, I’m not making an attempt to cancel the pineapple bun!) Moderately my purpose is to emphasise that dishes don’t seem out of skinny air. Cuisines change and are formed by the individuals who make the meals over centuries throughout good occasions and unhealthy, and with every technology the symbolism behind the dishes adjustments. It’s the same story for a lot of different cuisines and cherished dishes all over the world.

The Queen and Hong Kong’s custom of milk tea and toast

The beloved Hong Kong milk tea began off as common English tea served at high-end inns and eating places inaccessible to most Hong Kongers earlier than it trickled all the way down to the lots and was tweaked for native tastes. It’s now a logo of pleasure that’s even acknowledged by the federal government’s heritage workplace. Youthful generations have additionally turned milk tea into ice cream flavours and towering shaved ice desserts good for TikTok.

There will be a number of truths in {that a} dish will be scrumptious and integral to your tradition and upbringing, however it may well even have an unsavoury previous. It could conjure up heat, fuzzy emotions, grief or a mix of each, and everybody could have completely different emotions in the direction of it, all of that are legitimate. I acknowledge the dishes I ate all through my childhood and proceed to make are closely influenced by an empire that’s been rife with scandal and controversy lengthy earlier than Queen Elizabeth II took the throne.

To understand meals is to know all of its components — the candy and the bitter. And similar to a cup of milky Hong Kong tea, the sentiments round them aren’t at all times clear.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are topic to the Code of Conduct. The Star doesn’t endorse these opinions.