Restaurant serves traditional Hong Kong desserts to Instagram generation

Marpole's newest dessert restaurant serves traditional Cantonese sweet soups with a digitally-designed twist.

'We really think that the 60s and 70s Hong Kong spirit is a very great inspiration,' says owner

Aurelia Au and Wayne Poon are trying to inject a shot of nostalgia into their traditional Chinese dessert restaurant, Snackshot. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

A young Vancouver couple is trying to make traditional Cantonese desserts cool again.

And their bid to recreate a bygone era in Hong Kong's restaurant history at a new Marpole café has struck a chord with the Instagram generation.

Aurelia Au and Wayne Poon, owners of the recently opened Snackshot, say they are are repackaging traditional sweet soups, or tong sui, for a digital age.

Aurelia Au says she handpainted each of the tables at Snackshot so they would be Instagram-ready. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

They opened the restaurant at Granville Street at West 64th Avenue about a month ago and have gained a following, with line-ups out the door on most nights.

Au said the restaurant's bright, busy decor was designed to recreate the vibe of Hong Kong's vibrant restaurant scene of the 1960s and 70s when smaller restaurants and shops dominated the city's landscape.

"We really think that the 60s and 70s Hong Kong spirit is a very great inspiration for nowaday's generation because that spirit of never giving up and striving for the best, we want to share that with everyone," said Au, 25.

The food is steeped in tradition but served on meticulously designed dishes and tables to appeal to a younger generation of diners who love to photograph and post pictures of their food on social media.

"We understand nowaday's generation, they wouldn't be attracted by nostalgia," Au said.

"But if they see something really eye-catching on Instagram they will be like ... do you want to try?"

Once diners are lured in, Au aims to transport fellow millenials to an era in Hong Kong's history that she only knows about from stories from her parents.

The restaurant has been a hit on social media. Instagram photos shot by diners show rows of selfies next to intricate desserts.

Among them: Mung bean soups served in petite bowls and house-made tofu pudding inscribed with teddy bears. Latte-like art adorns black sesame pastes made from scratch.

The presentation of these dishes is different from the way most Cantonese desserts are served in Vancouver, which often feature a large vat of watery red or green bean soup ladled out at the end of dinner.

The idea for the cafe began as a business class project at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Au and Poon said they were fascinated by Hong Kong's restaurant scene of more than half a century ago and wanted to recreate that aesthetic.

Bygone Hong Kong era

They've plastered one wall with a mural depicting the wealth of restaurants in Hong Kong during the 1960s and 1970s. Many of those small eateries, food stands and stores have vanished.

"Most of them are already gone," said Au. "It's being washed out because it's really small stores and they're getting replaced by chain stores in Hong Kong."

This miniature replica of a noodle stall in Hong Kong is part of the throwback decor at Au and Poon's restaurant. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

On another wall, Au has installed miniature replicas of street food stands, which are disappearing because of hygiene concerns.

Au said her nostalgic view of Hong Kong is likely idealized. Although her father told her stories of the city's past, she wasn't alive back then and doesn't understand the struggles her parents endured.

Still, her father says he's proud of the sentiment behind her restaurant.

Maltose sugar sandwiched in soda crackers is a traditional snack Au says her parents ate as a substitute for pricey potato chips when they were growing up. She now serves them at her restaurant. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

About the Author

Lien Yeung

@LienY

Lien Yeung hosts CBC Vancouver News Weekends. As a multimedia reporter, she has covered stories locally and nationally from coast to coast on television, radio and social media. You can reach her on Twitter @LienY or via email at lien.yeung@cbc.ca.