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Behind the Name: Cha Kwo Ling

By Celia Lee 14 December 2023

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you already know all about Hong Kong’s major landmarks, you will be interested to learn that the vibrant history of the city is often hidden in plain sight, surrounded by high-rises interspersed with traffic-packed streets.

With the best-kept historical secrets woven into the fabric of everyday life, location names are a big part of our rich cultural landscape, revealing some of the most interesting aspects of the past. From local pirates to a royal visit, our “Behind the Name” series explores a whole host of places in Hong Kong with fascinating stories behind their names.

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Cha Kwo Ling Village in 1962. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cha Kwo Ling is the quirky name of a hill located in eastern Kowloon, between Kwun Tong and Nam Tin, near the entrance to the Eastern Harbour Crossing. Its phonetic translation from “茶果嶺” means “Tea Cake Ridge.” However, this is no sweet treat, but rather a traditional Hakka speciality.

View of Cha Kwo Ling and Lam Tin in September 2009. Photo: WiNG (via Wikimedia Commons)

A little historical background is due. Although the name “Cha Kwo Ling” existed long before British occupation, the area became a major settlement for the indigenous Hakka after the establishment of Victoria City on Hong Kong Island in 1841. Villagers kickstarted the stone-mining industry on the site abundant with natural resources, making Cha Kwo Ling one of the four recorded quarry hills to ever exist in Hong Kong. Mining was not the only skill the villagers possessed, and a little foraging in the hills revealed traces of many ingredients fit for traditional recipes.

Cha kwo is a gelatinous cake usually made with glutinous rice flour dough mixed with ground tea leaves, Chinese mugwort, ramie, or Chinese fever vine, while pumpkin and beetroot are sometimes used to shake up flavour profiles. Fillings range from sweet to savoury, including bean paste, peanuts, sesame, green beans, stir-fried pork, or salted duck egg. Once the dough is formed and each cake is rolled out, they are individually placed on a large leaf to be steamed. The most commonly used leaves are parasol leaf trees, dubbed “cha kwo trees”—“茶果樹.” Fun fact: these parasol leaf trees are most abundant on Cha Kwo Ling, hence the name locals attributed to the hill.

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Celia Lee

Staff writer

Born and raised in Hong Kong and educated in the UK, Celia is passionate about culture, food, and different happenings in the city. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her scouting for new and trendy restaurants, getting lost in a bookstore, or baking up a storm at home.

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