Sunday, January 21, 2018

1MB Travels: Hong Kong: Lan Fong Yuen

Whenever I’m back in Hong Kong, one of my must stops is Lan Fong Yuen, a now more than 50-year-old street food stall that persists against the odds, in the shadow of glossy skyscrapers and encroaching concept restaurants and bars and modernization.

They are said to be the inventors of the Hong Kong silk stocking milk tea, a local adaptation of colonial British high tea made more affordable with lower grade leaves, and with a higher level of caffeine to fuel the hard laboring masses through their work day - and use of evaporated milk both due to lower cost than fresh milk, and using its sweeter and creamier properties to balance out the intense tannins from the tea.

The precise blend of tea leaves is a closely-guarded secret, but Hong Kong milk tea in general is said to be a mix of black teas possibly including orange Pekoe, broken orange Pekoe, Ceylon, Assam, and dust.

The tea is 'pulled' though fine nets that resemble silk stockings, multiple times from a height, the better to 'press' the leaves for intensity of flavor while aerating, then poured into a mug pre-filled with evaporated milk and sugar for an incredibly fragrant, smooth drink that perfectly balances intensity with velvety sweetness (catch in action in video below).

There are many cafes that serve Hong Kong milk tea now, and many variables can impact the final body and taste, including ratio of tea to water, length of steep, amount added to evaporated milk (and brand of milk - many use the classic Black and White brand) - and Lan Fong Yuen may no longer be the absolute best, but it is the original, and a classic cup of nostalgia.

The original's success spread to several key locations in Hong Kong, and I would say which you choose to visit depends on your personal preference.

The Sheung Wan location is designed to evoke nostalgia, renovated to look like an old school dai pai dong but housed within a very modern shopping center at the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal. This is a better location if you want to sit down in a clean, modern environment intentionally infused with old school charm via decor and ambience.  The food selections seem to be higher quality here as well.

The Central location is authentically old school, no frills in the most fantastic way.

However, you have to be ready for not the most hygienic environment, communal seating, and a HKD$25 minimum food purchase requirement to sit down inside (due to the cramped space and expense of real estate in that neighborhood), and while many rave about their pork bun and noodles, I find them forgettable.  You can get the milk tea to go from the window out front, and while waiting for tea preparation you can duck back to observe the process.

To me Lan Fong Yuen stands not as a symbol of defiance against progress, but a reminder of  a community's roots, how far we’ve come, and the importance of cherishing history (and the 'whys' of, and heart behind creations that endure) and ways it informs, fuels and supports our present and future, a message that is as relevant as ever.


Hong Kong

Lan Fong Yuen 蘭方園

Central location:
2 Gage St., Central, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2544 3895

Tsim Sha Tsui location:
WK Square, Shop 26 (basement), Chungking Mansions, 36-44 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Sheung Wan location:
Shun Tak Centre, Shop 304D, 168-200 Connaught Rd., Sheung Wan, Hong Kong



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