This week’s That Girl is Nana Chan, the brains behind our favourite neighbourhood café Teakha (check out our write-up here). One of Nana’s home-baked ginger scones and freshly-brewed masala chai teas never fails to make our day!
We chat to Nana about the joys of Tai Ping Shan Street, her top places to visit in Taiwan, her fave cha chaan tengs in HK and how she gave up her law career to start Teakha!
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I was born in Taiwan but our family moved to Hong Kong when I was ten because my father’s side of the family is all based here. Although I then went on to boarding school and university in London, home has always pretty much been Hong Kong to me.
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
Since opening teakha I’ve more or less made the Tai Ping Shan area my home. To feel at home somewhere I believe you have to breathe the air and speak the language of your surroundings, so talking to the local elderly people about how they used to live in the area and spending time with my neighbours is the best way to feel at home somewhere. For example, the folks of Tai Ping Shan Street love BBQing on the streets at night, so I’ve also adopted this wonderful habit and hosted a BBQ party in a midsummer’s night, which was painfully hot, but so much fun!
How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I would say simple and comfortable with a touch of Bohemian chic. I like to accessorize staples like T-shirts with a bold ethnic necklace or a simple dress with a pair of Indian slippers. I think style is something that is constantly changing depending on your experience and being, so I’ve noticed how my style changed since I fell in love with India (for example), and then changed again since opening Teakha.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I am getting lazier with my shopping so I only buy staples from places like Zara and Club Monaco, while I try to source more unique pieces online (one of my favourites is Etsy) or make my own from fabrics sourced during my travels.
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
I don’t really spend that much time on my face, but the two things I cannot live without are my Smith’s Rosebud Salve for lips and Taiwanese brand Yuan’s shampoos. The latter uses organic Chinese herbs and are all handmade in Danshui in Taipei. The shampoos somehow make me feel super comfortable and all come in relaxing, soothing scents.
What are your favourite restaurants and cafes in Hong Kong?
If you were to count the number of visits per month, it would be the hotpot place in Wan Chai called Roast Pot. Cantonese style hotpots are one of my favourite things about this city, and Roast Pot offers the perfect soup bases and freshest ingredients. Anyone I introduce this place to just ends up becoming a VIP!
I’m very nostalgic when it comes to cafes so I love Hong Kong’s dai pai dongs and cha chaan tengs (I just love their nonchalance and brutality!). Yue Hing in Central offers this amazing sandwich with peanut butter, spiced pork, lettuce and scrambled eggs, while Star Café, nestled in an old housing compound in Tsim Sha Tsui, transports you back in time to the early 70s while whipping up a darn good tomato and egg noodle soup.
What inspired you to start Teakha? Why the focus on tea?
I started Teakha because personally, I am obsessed with tea and I find it really hard to find good tea places in Hong Kong (in fact, I think this problem is not Hong Kong specific – I find it hard to find good teas anywhere!). I am a firm believer in the philosophy that in order to do something well, you have to have a passion for it, and hence I just went ahead with what really matters to me.
Why did you pick Tai Ping Shan Street as a location? Did you always intend for Teakha to become such an ‘it-spot’?
Haha… not at all! I thought it was going to be a neighbourhood joint and I was pretty much the only staff here at the beginning, thinking it was going to be slow and quiet for the first few months!
I picked Tai Ping Shan Street for its laid-back, relaxed and neighbourhood vibe. It’s funny because it feels so un-Hong Kong and yet uniquely Hong Kong at the same time. You can be mistaken for thinking that you’re in a small neighbourhood in Taipei or a nook in Notting Hill in London, yet look past the corner and you will see the old antique dealer showing off his wares or the iron welder making a tea canister – a juxtaposition of the old and the new you will only be able to find in Hong Kong.
Prior to Teakha, you were a lawyer. What prompted the career change? Do you miss anything about it?
Absolutely not! And I urge any prospective lawyers out there to think twice before you commit.
The change started happening in 2005 while I was doing volunteer work in Shangri-la in Yunnan, China. It was a land of stunning beauty, yet what really struck me was the poverty and simplicity, and how happy the people were. I started thinking about the purpose behind my work, and from then onwards my life changed. I started going back to what really matters to me, and tea and food were some of those few things.
Have you ever had that ‘Ratatouille’ moment where a certain taste takes you back to a specific time or place (like in the Pixar film where the food critic is taken back to their childhood when they eat the ratatouille!)?
Yes. I am constantly on the lookout for a cake that resembles the iconic Sarah Lee pound cake, which takes me back to my year in Evanston, Illinois when I was six. It was a very memorable year, the first time I saw snow, and I remember my parents coming over to school to celebrate my birthday with me with trayfuls of Sarah Lee cakes for everyone.
What are your must-visit destinations and must-eat foods in Taiwan?
Wow that’s a tough one! I’d say visit my nanamoose website for a comprehensive list, but my favourite place in Taiwan would be Taitung, Taiwan’s inconspicuous East Coast and home to pristine beaches, clear blue skies, year-round sunshine and a fascinating aboriginal culture. Try renting a car from Taipei and drive down the Eastern Coastal strip while staying at some of the guesthouses dotted along the coast – it will be a trip to remember!
Food-wise I can go on forever, but what I miss the most is their shaobing, fried dough and soymilk combo for breakfast. The best one is called Fu Hang, but get up early for this, and be prepared to queue. Otherwise, Taiwan is littered with interesting and characteristic cafes. One of my favourites is Café Trouve in Taipei, a café cum lifestyle shop housed in a refurbished Japanese house. [You can find details about both these places on Nana’s blog!]
What kitchen essentials should we always have stocked in our pantries?
I would say a wok, a good pair of knives (if you’re ever in Kyoto, buy one from Aritsugu – it will be one of the best investments in your life!), chopsticks (they can be used for most anything!), and Maldon sea salt (it makes everything taste ten times better!).
What’s next for Teakha (and Nana!)?
We are planning on opening a lifestyle concept store by the end of the year to compliment our focus on all things Asian and artisanal. It will also be used as an event space for classes, talks and movie screenings, so basically an extension of Teakha’s philosophy.
Do you have any advice for girls wanting to start their own business here?
Go for it!
This quote from the movie Three Idiots really stuck with me, “Pursue excellence, and success will follow.”
What is the key to being happy in HK?
It is not the easiest place to practice happiness I must say, but following my passion has brought me closer and closer over the past few years. So this is what I would do. Get rid of all baggage about what other people think you should do, and start following your heart.
All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the rest of our That Girls here!