‘Legacy of the past’

Hong Kong dim sum fa­vorite faces un­cer­tain fu­ture

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - AFP

Im­pa­tient din­ers crowd around carts of steam­ing dim sum steered by fierce “trol­ley aun­ties” at Hong Kong’s Lin He­ung Tea House, one of the city’s most fa­mous restau­rants, now fear­ing for its fu­ture.

Lin He­ung’s tra­di­tional home­made dishes, in­clud­ing cha siu bao (bar­be­cue pork buns), har gow (shrimp dumplings) and ma lai go (Can­tonese sponge cake), have earned a loyal fol­low­ing from lo­cals with a taste for nos­tal­gia, as well as in­quis­i­tive tourists.

The two-storey restau­rant in the bustling Cen­tral dis­trict has mul­ti­ple top list­ings in global travel guides and serves cus­tomers from 6:00 am un­til 10:00 pm, seven days a week.

Din­ers sit el­bow-to-el­bow at shared round ta­bles, me­tal spit­toons still tucked be­side them, the walls hung with dec­o­ra­tive bird cages and tra­di­tional Chi­nese nu­mer­als used for menu prices.

But the restau­rant says the build­ing’s new owner has not yet con­tacted them about re­new­ing their lease, de­spite it ex­pir­ing early next year, and they feel in the dark about the land­lord’s in­ten­tions.

That has sparked fears that Lin He­ung will be the lat­est Hong Kong culi­nary trea­sure to fall foul of the city’s thirst for re­de­vel­op­ment.

The build­ing’s land­lord, CSI Prop­er­ties, told AFP it could not com­ment on the case.

Lin He­ung’s pos­si­ble demise has been widely re­ported by lo­cal me­dia and wor­ried reg­u­lars say they are vis­it­ing as much as they can in case it closes.

Re­tiree Mr Yip, 80, says he is com­ing more of­ten to en­joy his fa­vorite dish of pork liver siu mai – a kind of dumpling – and freshly made tea.

Dim sum is of­ten paired with a cup of Chi­nese tea in a tra­di­tion known as “yum cha,” lit­er­ally “drink tea.”

“It’s my habit to sip a cup of Chi­nese tea and greet every­one here ev­ery week. The tea is spe­cial and the peo­ple too,” Yip told AFP.

“I feel com­forted when I see the staff. It feels like home.”

‘Sense of be­long­ing’

The city’s hous­ing mar­ket was crowned the most ex­pen­sive in the world in 2017 – the most re­cent fig­ures avail­able – ac­cord­ing to US-based De­mographia and de­vel­op­ers clamor for prime real es­tate. The sell­ing off of older build­ings, as well as spi­ralling rent, has spelled the end for a num­ber of fam­ily-run neigh­bor­hood fa­vorites across Hong Kong. Lin He­ung is one of the city’s old­est Can­tonese restau­rant busi­nesses and is run by the Ngan fam­ily, who ar­rived from the South China prov­ince of Guang­dong and set it up in 1926. It now has three out­lets in Hong Kong and has moved its restau­rants around over the decades. The Cen­tral venue on Welling­ton Street is its main restau­rant and has been in the same spot for 22 years. Restau­rant spokesman Ter­ence Lam said the cur­rent lease would end in March 2019 and he hoped the restau­rant would not have to close. “It’s not only a busi­ness. It em­bod­ies the legacy of the past,” Lam told AFP. “It rep­re­sents the hard­ship of our ances­tors.” Lo­cal food writer Wil­son Fok said the evo­lu­tion of “yum cha” cul­ture was in­ter­twined with Hong Kong’s his­tory as nu­mer­ous main­land dim sum chefs fled to the then Bri­tish colony in the 1950s af­ter civil war rav­aged China. He de­scribes the at­mos­phere in­side restau­rants like Lin He­ung as a “piece of his­tory.” “Go­ing to ‘yum cha’ is not just a cul­tural habit where peo­ple con­sume food, but also a way of life that shapes our iden­tity,” said Fok. “Some of these old tra­di­tions are of­ten lost in our fast­paced so­ci­ety,” he added. Tourists vis­it­ing the tea house said they ap­pre­ci­ated the restau­rant’s tra­di­tional ap­proach – a rar­ity now in Hong Kong. Brazil­ian tourist Marcelo Gar­cia, 47, who said he had never be­fore eaten dim sum, de­scribed Lin He­ung as “an en­vi­ron­ment with a huge amount of en­ergy.” “Peo­ple prob­a­bly come here again be­cause they feel a sense of be­long­ing,” he said.

Photo: VCG

Peo­ple eat at the Lin He­ung Tea House in Hong Kong.

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