Written by Dyami Millarson
Aberdeen is a town in the Southwest of Hong Kong Island. Located conveniently close to our home in Ap Lei Chau, Aberdeen is a place we frequent for its food and the special feeling of human contact that it gives us. The congee shop, the bakery, the fruit stalls, the dessert shop and other shops where locals buy their daily necessities shape our routine in this town. Gradually, we notice that people have started to take an interest in us as we are always seen together. Ken Ho told me once that a female worker in the fruit stall was curious as to why we always came to buy fruits at her stall. “Dyami likes eating fruits!” responded Ken Ho. In general, receiving smiles of recognition is not something uncommon we experience in Aberdeen. This is a small yet significant display of human warmth creating connection to a place.
Getting immersed in the local culture has been my goal since I arrived in Hong Kong 8th February this year. Already in the Netherlands I felt enthusiastic about my plan of cultural immersion in Hong Kong as I really wanted not just to experience but to adopt Hong Kong culture in 3 months. The more time I spend on communicating with the locals here, the more I realise that there lies much more beneath that has yet to be discovered by Westerners. Ken Ho told me how Westerners are seldom as interested as I am in interacting with locals. In fact, I am more than thankful for their effort and patience. They make me feel special and I treasure my memory in Aberdeen for the rest of my life.
Of particular interest to us is a dessert shop called Diantangji (殿糖級) in Aberdeen. Pink, red and white in colour, the interior was very eye-catching. Our first visit to the dessert shop was driven by the desire to eat something cold and sweet. One evening I had eaten something hot in the congee shop and I wanted to cool off. After a hot dinner, I often feel the desire to eat ice-cream. Therefore, the very first dish that we ordered and tried was the chocolate snow-flake ice (魔鬼冰(朱古力冰)). I would say that it is a love-at-first-bite experience, as we were immediately impressed by the strong chocolate flavour of the snow-flake ice. Chocolate chips and marshmallows were sprinkled all over the dish, giving extra dimension to its texture. Since then, Ken Ho and I visit the shop every few weeks for the chocolate snow-flake ice and also for other delicious desserts. We have recently also tried other desserts like Oreo Serradura (Oreo 木槺布甸), Durian with Coconut Jelly Roll (榴槤腸粉) and Steamed 3.6 Milk Custard in Coconut (原個椰皇燉3.6牛乳). It seems as if we have fallen in love with desserts in this shop in Aberdeen. Not only do we keep reliving our initial passion for the chocolate snow-flake ice, we also keep this passion burning by tasting new desserts.
It was another evening that we met the shop owner of Diantangji (殿糖級) in Aberdeen, Mr. Tony Poon. He recognised me immediately which gave me a special feeling of a warm welcome in his dessert shop. In the evening of 23rd March 2017, we ordered our favourite chocolate snow-flake ice (魔鬼冰(朱古力冰)) as usual. I was then curious about how it was made. It was a spontaneous conversation with him about desserts. I felt an instant connection with him. He started to share his interest in music and sports with us. He treated us like old friends. Considering how busy life in Hong Kong normally is, it was really a special gift that Tony gave us that evening: his precious time and full attention. With Tony’s likable demeanour and our engaging conversation, I simply felt at home in his shop that evening. In the end, we exchanged contact, looking forward to meeting up to talk more.
My impression of Tony as a very agreeable and humble-minded shop owner has only been strengthened through time. In the morning of 1st April 2017, we met one another in Starbucks just next to his dessert shop in Aberdeen Centre (香港仔中心). It warmed my heart to read his message that we could just text him whenever we arrived. I could feel that he was very flexible with time, and he did care a lot about us. When we finally arrived, he was already sitting at a table, waiving and greeting me with a welcoming smile on his face. Among the very first few things that we talked about was a drink that he wanted us to try. It was a cup of yellow tee which he got somewhere for free. Urging us to try the tea, he showed in a humble way he had thought about us. He was also very helpful and eager to offer help when needed. There was a time when Ken Ho had trouble getting Wi-Fi connection on his mobile phone. Within minutes Tony solved the problem by helping him connect his telephone to the free Wi-Fi of Starbucks. I could truly feel his hospitality from the way he speaks and he carries himself as he makes an authentic and relaxed impression.
We originally intended the conversation to last around half an hour. It came as a surprise when Tony invited us into his shop to learn to make the dish Mango with Coconut Jelly Roll (芒果腸粉) together with him. We were overjoyed to hear that. I could never imagine that Tony would treat us with a tour in his shop. His invitation was a gesture of great significance to our contact. I felt Tony valued our conversation and wanted to show all that he had in his shop. When Ken Ho mentioned that I had tried and fallen in love with the dessert Durian with Coconut Jelly Roll (榴槤腸粉), he made a very considerate remark which I felt to be a huge compliment. Through his words and deeds, I felt a connection with him. I deeply respect him as a human being. It is extremely valuable to have a friend who makes you feel special. Hong Kong is a different world for me and with Tony’s warm treatment, I can feel that my love for the culture of Hong Kong has deepened in my heart.
Explaining everything, Tony entertained us with an interesting tour through the kitchen. This was my first time ever in the kitchen of a dessert shop.
As soon as we were inside his shop Diantangji (殿糖級), he left only the light in the kitchen turned on. It was indeed a very special moment for us, that we stood there in the shop before it was open to customers. We were not merely treated as guests for tasting food, but actually getting trained in the process of making desserts! While Tony humbly admitted that he was still learning to make the Mango with Coconut Jelly Roll, he had certainly a feeling in making it. He showed us the utensils, the ingredients and machines in the kitchen. He made the dish showing us the steps. He also let me to have a try, and I was really glad with such an opportunity to make dessert. He shared also his experience with making desserts. He mentioned the importance of presenting the food well, and how food should look as delicious as it tastes. I noticed his very thoughtful personality. He also showed us the various desserts that his shop had to offer via the official website of Diantangji (殿糖級). Thoughful as he was, he suggested that we try to learn using the machine used for making snow-flake ice next time. It had made a deep impression on him how much we loved eating chocolate snow-flake ice (魔鬼冰(朱古力冰).
This is what I learned to make in Tony’s dessert shop!
I am very thankful for the spontaneous and fun tour in his shop and for his attention and care for us. We will never forget our wonderful experience of making the Mango with Coconut Jelly Roll (芒果腸粉) dessert with him. I have really enjoyed spending time with Tony, a person of a very humble mind and a kind heart. It is beyond words how impressed I am by his personality and the things that we have done together that day. It was really a fun day because of the entire experience with Tony that morning and it left me with a strong feeling of excitement which lasted the entire day. I cannot wait for our next meeting and I hope we can do more fun activities that are entertaining precisely because we do them together. Maybe we can make more desserts together or do something with music.