Tong Sui Shop

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Tong Sui Shops (literally translated as Sugar Water Shop) are Cantonese dessert shops which provide traditional Cantonese sweeties. Tong Sui literally means ‘sugar water’, a Cantonese term for traditional sweet soup. Common ingredients of traditional Tong Sui are black sesame, red beans, green beans and coconut milk. Nowadays, Tong Sui shops in Hong Kong do not simply provide Cantonese sweet soups but also western desserts like ice cream and chocolate souffle.

Egg Tong Sui


Assorted Bean Tong Sui

Tong Sui Shops in Hong Kong were mainly originated from the post-war period. Chinese Migrants brought their hometown’s sweet soups to Hong Kong, such as Red Bean Soup from Guangzhou and Tang Yuan from Shanghai. Newcomers mostly opened street side food stalls to sell the sweet soap for livelihood. Sweet soup was also provided in Chinese tea house, like Tofu pudding during the 1950s to 1960s. Traditional Chinese-style sweet soup became more popular and welcomed by the citizens.

During the 1980s to 1990s, Hong Kong’s economy was developing rapidly and people’s living standard raises. The western culture was influential. Western desserts and sweet soups were imported to Hong Kong by Western hotels or cooks who study cooking in the west. Mango pomelo sago was invented by a Singaporean chief. Under the strong influence, people started using fresh fruits to create new-style Tong Sui such as Tapioca pudding. The traditional Chinese Tong Sui also face a change. Many Chinese herb tea shops transformed into Tong Sui Shop for survival, like Hui Lau Shan which transformed into chain new-style Tong Sui shop.[1] For the traditional Chinese Tong Sui market, most itinerant hawkers had shifted to shop due to the restriction of hawkers’ licences. Tong Sui shops started to play a more important role in Hong Kong food culture.

Unfold the history of the 21st century, different style of Tong Sui Shops could be found in Hong Kong. Chain Tong Sui Shops has become tourist attractions recommended by The Hong Kong Tourism Board. They open branches in major shopping malls and districts like Mong Kok or Causeway Bay. Some of them even set up branches overseas to promote Hong Kong Tong Sui culture. They mostly sold Tong Sui with both Chinese and Western style, and new form of sweet soups and desserts were invented to attract more customers. Hong Kong has become a “sweet soup paradise” and highly recommended by tourists.

Traditional vs. new-style[edit]

Difference in menu[edit]

One of the chain Tong Sui shops in Hong Kong

With the long history of development, some of the Tong Sui Shops still persist in selling traditional sweet soups while other shops start to add in new elements in their menus to attract more customers. Initially, the basic ingredients of traditional sweet soups are simply beans, milk or fruits. The relevant example of the traditional sweet soups are 'Black Sesame Soup’ and ‘Sweet Potato Sweet Soup’.[2] The desserts and sweet soups provided in the menus of the traditional Tong Sui Shops are mainly the Chinese-style sweet soups. ‘Red Bean Soup’ and ‘Lotus Seeds Almond Soup’ are the common types of sweet soups sold in the ordinary Tong Sui Shops. As the traditional shops primarily focus on the taste of sweet soups, the layout of menu is usually simple without beautiful designs.[3]

The sweet soups sold in the new-style Tong Sui Shops are mostly combined with foreign desserts and Chinese-style sweet soups. Apart from traditional sweet soups, some of the new desserts, such as ‘ice shavings’ and ‘sago’, are generally included in the menu of the new-style Tong Sui shops. Some shops even have western desserts like ‘pancakes’ and 'Chocolate Souffle’ to cater the taste of younger generation. The design of menu is usually more attractive than that of traditional shops. Photos of various sweet soups are often attached in the menu.

Difference in interior decoration[edit]

The design of traditional Tong Sui shops is usually simple and monotonic. For instance, the walls are composed of white bricks and consist of a few displays only. Also, white signboard with bright red or silver shop name is often used.

The settings of new-style Tong Sui shops are completely different from the traditional ones. In order to attract teen customers, new-style Tong Sui shop adopts a splendid design which consists of colorful walls and delicate decorations. They make use of soft light to create a comfortable atmosphere which helps relieve people’s tension and pressure.

See also[edit]