A cup of tea with my pantyhose heroes

September 22nd, 2011 | Posted by greg in Daily life...

We all need people we look up to. We all need heroes in our lives. I have several heroes myself and some of the most uncommon are the uncles placing Hong Kong on the world scene of tea with their pantyhose milk tea, otherwise known as lai cha.

Real national secret for the precursors of the trade, you will never dig out the secret tea mixture used to make the perfect milk tea. Just like families in France safekeeping their foie gras terrine recipe as it was classified secret-defense or in Switzerland where we (my Dad does it too!) hide our recipe for air dried beef in a highly secured location (sorry, I can’t tell you either!) – These uncles are passionate beyond what our simple tea drinker’s mind can normally conceive. They pinpoint their procedure, ingredients, thread size of their traditional pantyhose filter, or silk stocking as they call it, and they would add ingredients in a certain order to obtain the smoothest possible tea. Of course, the pantyhose and stocking does not refer to an actual undergarment being used for tea making, but because of the similarity in material and with its long shape, the filters are named as such. The obsession for the traditional lai cha goes as far as the annual milk tea contest held during the Hong Kong tea fair.

Uncles (and Aunties of course) you have my full respect on your dedication and passion!

A few days ago, we had to create a dessert that represented Hong Kong for a fairly high caliber banquet. Tough call indeed as I didn’t want the exercise to turn into a molecular take on classics nor to disguise an egg tart into an elegant dessert (although that sounds like a good challenge to take on!) but no. This is where lai cha comes into the story. We decided to turn Hong Kong’s famous beverage into an ice cream. Of course, it was not just a matter of going to Tai Fat’s tea house in Yuen Long, get some milk tea and churn it into an ice cream. We had to balance the flavors of the tea versus the dairy fat and the sub-zero temperature, as we all know coldness makes your taste buds numb. We opted for some oolong tea mixed with standard black tea and for the milk, we chose the filled milk traditionally used in lai cha blended with regular milk, a little sugar and off we were.

After a few tests and adjustments, the ice cream was settled and we had to come up with the rest of the dessert. We thought about what would be popular in our every day cha chaang teng menu together with milk tea and we unanimously elected sai do si as the dish we would work on; the popular Hong Kong version of the French toast served with golden syrup and a thick slab of butter. Again, we twisted it slightly to have the dessert working like we wanted. The usual golden syrup was replaced by a nice quality maple syrup and the French toast was done in small cubes, pan fried and not deep-fried as they would usually be done. We also left out the butter slab obviously.

We built all of this in a glass where the elements could interact with each other in a way that made sense to the guest. It all worked very well for us and apparently for the diners too as they loved the dessert.

But on that night, all due credits had to go to my pantyhose heroes: The milk tea Uncles and Aunties of Hong Kong – Thank you!


PS: This post was published on my regular column for the popular WOM guide. :)

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