A Taste Of Home: Artist Adelaide Lala Tam On The Hong Kong Dishes She Misses
The way we eat and the realities of the food production system are topics that have concerned artist Adelaide Lala Tam and her hard-hitting artworks since she moved to the Netherlands to enrol at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2015.
“When I started my studies in the Netherlands, I was shocked that my previous life in Hong Kong had such a huge disconnection from food production,” says Tam, whose homeland of Hong Kong claims some of the world’s highest rates of imported food. “In Hong Kong we have a great variety of food coming from all over the world, but how many of us know how those foods are produced?” asks the artist. “Bringing the food production process closer to the urban citizen became the vision for my work."
An early project while studying began because Tam missed beef offal with rice noodles (牛雜湯河). Unable to find it in any of the city’s Chinese restaurants, she decided to make it herself, but even the butchers didn’t carry what she needed. “What the butchers presented to customers was clean-cut meat in perfect sizes and shapes. I was curious––if Dutch people didn't eat organs, then were did they go? It’s such a waste if you slaughter an animal and only eat the meat but not any of the offal.”
A trip to the slaughterhouse followed and Tam discovered where the offal actually went, as well as learning how animals were killed. “I was shocked by the process of slaughtering, but more than that I was ashamed that I didn’t know anything about how an animal transformed into a piece of meat, or how food actually comes to our table.” It was the genesis of what has become her work––an active exploration of food production that has taken her on research trips to Indonesia and Australia as well as across the Netherlands.
One recent project saw her follow the journey of a cow called Romie 18, as Tam shared the story behind the meat and dairy industry as well as Romie 18's own tale––revealing details of the cow's family and her food and medicine intake to her milk production. The work was presented in a variety of ways––through an exhibition, dining event and even cheese production carried out using Romie 18's milk. Tam also documented the project on Instagram.
Tam’s oeuvre contains other food-production related projects and she has won a number of awards for her work. Still currently based in the Netherlands, Tatler Dining caught up with the artist to find out more about another side of food for her––what the cuisine of her homeland means and what she misses most.
What do you miss most on the food and drink front when you are away from Hong Kong or haven’t been back for a while?
Dim sum. I never thought I was a dim sum lover when I was living in Hong Kong, but I missed it so much in the first year I was away. I had serious food cravings, so much so that I cried in front of my laptop looking at dim sum pictures on it!
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
Tim Ho Wan to get my dim sum fix. Even if I have jet lag or am tired from the long flight, I go straight there after dropping my suitcase at home. The pig liver rice roll and baked BBQ pork buns are must-haves.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in Hong Kong?
I can’t name a specific restaurant, but I love exploring different restaurants in Kowloon City. It’s an area where I went out for lunch a lot while I was at high school and it has a great variety of restaurants. In particular, you can find a lot of great Thai restaurants.
Related: 13 Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Hong Kong
If you have visitors or guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of Hong Kong?
I go to the different cooked food markets. Increasingly, my friends are vegetarian, which has been challenging for me as when I left Hong Kong I didn’t know many vegetarian restaurants, but I think there has been a trend for them in the last few years. I’d love to find some next time I’m back with authentic Hong Kong flavours so I can proudly show my friends the real vegetarian taste of Hong Kong.
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food and drinks?
I like to go to different food courts so that none of us need to compromise on our food preferences. Last time I was back, I loved going to Eaton Food Hall; its location is also great for drinks in Tsim Sha Tsui afterwards.
Related: The Best Vegetarian and Vegan Tasting Menus in Hong Kong and Macau
Do you have a favourite bar in Hong Kong?
J.Boroski. I was really impressed by its cosy feeling and its customised drinks––I had the best cocktail I’ve had to date when I last visited.
Is there anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
I love going to Hong Kong’s wet markets to buy food to cook for myself or my family. I enjoy cooking and my cooking technique has improved a lot. The Netherlands is a place where people place less emphasis on food, and the town where I live has very little food culture, which is why my cooking has improved.
Related: 8 Of The Healthiest Cocktails In Hong Kong
What do you always take back home with you when you leave Hong Kong?
In the beginning, I loved to collect different seasonings and sauces to bring back to the Netherlands. But after a while my cooking style has adapted to the ingredients I can find in the Asian supermarkets here. But I still bring a lot of dry ingredients for making Chinese medicine soup––they usually fill up half of my suitcase.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of the home where you currently live in the Netherlands?
I currently live in Rotterdam, but before I moved here I spent seven years living in Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands. There’s a restaurant there called Traditioneel Chinees Restaurant, which is family-owned. The boss gained experience working in different hotels and Chinese restaurants before he moved to the Netherlands around 20 years ago, and he still maintains and delivers the authentic techniques of making Cantonese food.
See more from our A Taste of Home series: Emmy the Great | ArChan Chan | Peter Cuong Franklin | Aven Lau | Ng Tzer Tzun | Ho Wai-Kong | Mina Park