Eating Metropolis: An Analysis of the Cultural Hybridity and Local Identity Behind the Hong Kong-Style Tea café, “Cha Chaan Ting /茶餐廳”

By Patrick Lo.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The cuisine in Hong Kong can best be described as a fusion of Eastern and Western style cuisine. The Hong Kong-style tea café, “Cha Chaan Ting” is a type of Chinese restaurant commonly found in Hong Kong. They are known for their electric and affordable menus, which include many unique dishes from local Hong Kong cuisine and localized Hong Kong-style Western cuisine, e.g., Hong Kong-style milk tea, HK-style deep fried French toast (topped and soaked with butter and syrup), baked custard tarts, pineapple buns with butter, instant noodle with sausages, red bean ice, or coff-tea (“Yuan Yang”), etc. In fact, this type of restaurants are equally popular in Macau.
From the time the British discovered tea, they have had a somewhat unnatural affiliation with the drink. They started wars over it, pause during battles to enjoy it... On the other hand, tea from China, along with her silk and porcelain, began to be known the world over more than a thousand years ago. The art of drinking and serving tea plays a major cultural role in China. It inspires poetry and songs. Mutual love of tea cements lifelong friendships. Ironically, the culture of “Cha Chaan Ting” is deeply intertwined in the City’s colonial history and culinary culture. The origin of Hong Kong-style tea cafés dates back to the end of the Chinese Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when the island was still a British colony. After Hong Kong becoming a British colony since 1842, for 155 years, an increasing amount of Western cuisines were brought to Hong Kong. Local people in Hong Kong, influenced by the British lifestyle, gradually started drinking English black tea and coffee with milk. The 2 styles of restaurants, the Chinese and the Western, co-existed at the time. But as restaurants catering the taste of Westerners tended to be expensive, a kind of restaurant combining the styles of Chinese and Western food appeared. At first, these restaurants were called coffee houses or ice rooms “Bing Sien.” Later, they became known as “Cha Chaan Ting.” The prototype of Cha Chaan Ting first appeared in the 1930s, they were designed to serve as a cheaper option to Western-style food for the ordinary working class people in Hong Kong with low consuming power.
Within the last 2 decades, a number of studies on Asian culture have used food to understand various changes in the local dynamics of productions, consumption and social identity. In this light, many scholars have interpreted the localization of foreign good from a socio-political perspective. Other studies have focused on how foodways have been altered, and how national cuisine has, in fact, been invented within the colonial contexts. The Hong Kong-style café, “Cha Chaan Ting” is considered one of the best examples under this context. In fact, the culture of “Cha Chaan Ting” is its own religion in Hong Kong, and is very much linked to Hong Kong’s daily life practices as a cross-cultural identity, as it epitomizes the diversity, inclusiveness and adaptability that Hong Kong people think and live, as well as their social ethos. This paper attempts to describe and examine the metropolitaneity and culturalization of the unique cultural identity of Hong Kong and its people through the business and consumption of “Cha Chaan Ting.”
This paper also includes an interview with a former Cha Chaan Ting owner, Mr. LUI, who used to run a fist-generation Cha Chaan Ting “Bing Ting” (冰廳 literally means “ice chamber”) in Hong Kong with an unparallel 50-year history.

Keywords: Hong Kong-Style Tea Café, Cha Chaan Ting, Restaurants, Hong Kong, Food, Cultural Identity

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.55-80. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 4.758MB).

Dr. Patrick Lo

Music Cataloguing Librarian, Cataloguing Dept, University Library System, University of Bristol, UK

Mr. Lo is currently the Music Cataloguing Librarian at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also a candidate of Doctor of Education (EdD), at Bristol University (UK). He has a Master of Arts in Design Management (MA) from Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2004), a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from McGill University (Canada; 1994), and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Mount Allison University, (Canada; 1992). Mr. Lo also took part in a one-year academic exchange programme at Tuebingen University (Germany) from 1990-91. Mr. Lo is efficient in: Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese (Putunghua), English and German. 1996-2007, Mr. Lo was serving as Cataloguing Librarian at Lingnan University Library (Hong Kong). 2003-06, Mr. Lo was also serving as the Coordinator of the Library as Cultural Centre activities at Lingnan University Library. Mr. Lo’s professional affiliations include the following: (1) 1999-2006 - Secretary of JULAC-HKCAN (Hong Kong Chinese Name Authority) Workgroup. (2) 2003-2006 - Representative of Lingnan University Library (Hong Kong) for the Hong Kong JULAC-BSC (Bibliographic Services Committee). (3) 2004 - present - Member of CALIS (China Academic Library and Information System) Unicat Expert Group. Mr. Lo has presented close to 40 research papers and project reports focusing on humanities, education, and library science at different local and international workgroup meetings, seminars, conferences, including: Mainland China, Hong Kong, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Japan, United States, Korea, and Sweden; including presenting at: (1) The Library of Congress (U.S.), (2) Austrian National Library (Vienna), (3) University of Vienna, (4) National Library of France (Paris), (5) National Institute of Informatics (Japan), etc. Mr. Lo’s recent professional activity includes presenting “Using Outsource Data of Digital Resources in Creating Our Own Bibliographic Records: Lingnan University Library’s Experience in Converting Naxos Music Library and Spoken Word Library Online Titles to MARC Records” at the 72nd IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) Conference in Seoul, Korea, in August 2006: Mr. Lo’s research interests include: latest developments of Metadata, Chinese authority works, and cataloguing among Chinese libraries in Asia and North America; exploring potentials for resources sharing among Chinese libraries in Asia; future development and enhancement of bibliographic records; users’ interaction with the online catalogue; Western classical music, especially Italian operas, vocal music of German Post-Romantic period, Lieder (German art songs), etc. Award(s): Most Active Presenter Award of HKIUG (Hong Kong Innovative Users Group) Annual Meeting in December 2006. Recent Activity: serving as Reporter of Recent Serials Publications in China of Fontes Artis Musicae Journal.


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