Tell Camellia’s Sandeep Hathiramani On Why Tea Is A Quintessential Hong Kong Ingredient
As part of our series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Sandeep Hathiramani – co-founder of tea-inspired bar Tell Camellia and creator of the city’s very own Gin Festival – tells us about his favourite local childhood snack and why he thinks tea is one of Hong Kong’s stand-out ingredients.
Tell us about your favourite Hong Kong food memories.
My favourite childhood snack was cheung fun (steamed rice noodle rolls). Growing up in Hong Kong on Choi Wan Estate, it was a weekend treat to visit our local tuck shop and enjoy this warm steamed snack mixed with sweet, spicy and sesame sauces.
Nowadays I get my monthly fix whenever I go visit my family, from a local tuck shop near their place in Tung Chung—or if I’m in Kowloon, I might head to Hop Yik Tai in Sham Shui Po. They’ve always been well-known locally but since they were recommended in the Michelin Guide a few years ago, they’re now more popular than ever. No matter where I travel overseas, eating cheung fun always reminds me of home and Hong Kong.
What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?
While Hong Kong cuisine has lots of unique flavours and ingredients, one that has always stood out for me is tea – even when I was young, I remember having dong ling cha (iced lemon tea) as a replacement for soda drinks at restaurants. Of course, tea has a big history in Hong Kong, whether it’s British or local Chinese [influences], and running a tea-inspired bar has meant that we can incorporate those flavours into our cocktails.
One of our signature “T & Tonic” drinks is a take on a lesser-known black tea, lapsang souchong. The tea leaves are smoke-dried over pinewood fire, creating a beautiful woody and smoky flavour. We blend this with gin and redistill it to make a clear distillate, which is then topped up with tonic water and garnished with upcycled leaves.
We source our tea from many different locations and suppliers; locally, we’ve worked with Basao Tea. My pro tip is to always buy loose leaf tea and avoid teabags, as they’re generally of a lower-grade and quality.
If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be – and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?
I’m a big fan of traditional dim sum restaurants. I’m talking the kind with aunties pushing around old-school trollies, where you have to be quick to snap up the most popular dishes or they’ll run out before they even come down your aisle—places where the recipes remain the same and are passed down for generations.
My go-to is Lin Heung Kui in Sheung Wan; you know it must be good when the majority of patrons are elderly locals reading their morning paper, sipping tea and enjoying their dim sum. My favourite dishes there are their barbecue pork with rice, har gow (shrimp dumplings) and steamed sesame paste buns.
- Hop Yik Tai, G/F, 121 Kweilin Street, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong, +2720 0239
- Basao Tea, 17 Moon Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, +852 2338 8172; 16 Pak Sha Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2952 3313
- Lin Heung Kui, 2-3/F, 46-50 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan, +2156 9328