Hong Kong, though once controlled by the British, remains quintessentially Chinese, though its role as a port and trade center reflects a mix of cooking styles from a wide range of Chinese regional cuisines.
When in Hong Kong, visitors should do at least one thing that is quintessentially Cantonese—have morning or afternoon tea.
Hong Kong restaurants cater extensively to the territory's seemingly insatiable appetite for tea and snacks. A visit to one of the better-known dim sum restaurants will reveal why the Cantonese tradition of yum cha endures so well. Yum cha literally means "drinking tea." After 5,000 years of cultivating tea plants and brewing their leaves and those of other shrubs or herbs, the Chinese can truly be said to have a tea culture. Tea is more than a refreshment in China and Hong Kong. It is a medicine, a tonic, a social stimulant, a digestive aid—a way of life.
Whereas the Frenchman has his coffee and his cafe, and a Briton has his beer and his pub, a Chinese has tea—and teahouses. In Imperial times in Northern China, the teahouse was the meeting place for gentlemen of leisure. They brought their pet birds along, savored their favorite teas, and passed the time of day. Drinking tea was a very serious business for them. Music and dancing were not allowed in the ancient teahouses, nor was food. In the 3rd Century AD, Hua To, one of the most respected Imperial physicians of ancient times, advised that "Eating food and drinking tea at the same time only results in excessive weight gain."
Following their customary anti-authoritarian approach to life, the Cantonese of South China ignored the physician's advice. They developed their unique culinary art of dim sum, and turned sedate teahouses into boisterous eating places where the merits of particular dim sum chefs and their culinary prowess would be enthusiastically debated. The Cantonese, like the French, proudly proclaim that they live to eat, not eat to live. It is no coincidence that dim sum literally means "to touch the heart"!
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This page modified January 2007
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