Cha Chaan Teng: A Tale of Food and Its City
Where will it go?
Born to the city in the 1950s, Cha Chaan Teng witnesses the industrialization and urbanization of Hong Kong after World War Two. As people began to work in factories away from home, they needed to find an afforable place to have lunch every day. Cha Chaan Teng exists to meet the need of the local people and becomes part of their life in the fast-moving, impermanent city. As someone calls it, Cha Chaan Teng is the "anthropological record of Hong Kong post-war manufacturing boom".
Today's Hong Kong is in its post-industrialization stage,so how will Cha Chaan Teng continue its role in the life Hong Kong people?
On one hand, Cha Chaan Teng is the living memory. It is the nostalgia of the past,of the laborious Hong Kong life,of the colonial time. With the menu written all over the wall and unprofessional looking waiters or waitresses, the noisy, crowded little food place is the easy-going cafeteria where the boss and the customers know each other and care less about the manners of serving and eating. It is a place outside home, but could be like home.
On the other hand, Cha Chaan Teng is under transformation. It roots in the narrow Hong Kong streets, but it also goes to the public and the world with the popular culture. Scenes shot at Cha Chaan Teng can be seen in the Hong Kong soap operas，and the story of the cartoon pig McDull would not be as appealing and loving as it is without the elements of Cha Chaan Teng.
Cha Chaan Teng also have its modern versions in Hong Kong like Coral Cafe,in mainland and overseas.However, with the cleaner,more deliberately decorated interior and standardized service, will Hong Kong Cha Chaan Teng no longer be authentic?
To me, authenticity is a contested concept.It is time and location specific.Cha Chaan Teng with its hybrid western food might be viewed as unauthentic compared to a real western restaurant, but it is the authentic to Hong Kong natives.The authenticity of food only lives in the place; for Cha Chaan Teng, it is Hong Kong: The milk tea served with fishball noodle only makes sense in a city of hybridity; the yelling waiters are only appropriate for the fast-moving working class customers. While mainland "Hong Kong style Cha Chaan Teng" might replicate the taste of the food, the feelings associated with Cha Chaan Teng will never be the same. The "invisible Hong Kongness" is gone without the underlying social context.Let alone the food might change to cater to the new local flavor.But that is not to say that Cha Chaan Teng in mainland or Chinatowns abroad will never be authentic. What is authentic, sometimes can be seen as what is local. When the Cha Chaan Teng outside Hong Kong blend into the local identity, its authenticity is constructed.
Authenticity also develops with time. While authenticity is usually associated with originality, it is hard to tell when exactly everything starts. The predecessor of Cha Chann Teng is Bing Suut, so what's before Bing Sutt? If everything must be traced down to justify its authenticity, there will be no final conclusion for the question.Coral Cafe and its contemporary counterparts is the trend of the future development. If Coral Cafe serves the need of the local, then it shall redefine Cha Chaan Teng. Just as every other representation of local culture is not static, Cha Chaan Teng is open for change.
Yet we will always be reminiscent of the past, of the old Cha Chaan Teng,of the Hong Kong we used to live in.The tale of Cha Chaan Teng will continue, and every one who loves the food and the city, will see and experience the new chapters coming.
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