Anita Wong samples the new flavor at an ice cream shop in Hong Kong. It strikes a familiar chord for her. Not too long ago, Wong experienced tear gas at a protest. She and others were demonstrating for democracy against China’s creeping infringement upon the rights the former British territory had enjoyed for decades under British rule.
“It tastes like tear gas,” Wong says of the harshly peppery, creamy confection. “It feels difficult to breathe at first, and it’s really pungent and irritating. It makes me want to drink a lot of water immediately.”
The shop created the flavor as a sign of support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Citizens in the semi-autonomous city spent months demonstrating for freedom last year. Several times, police sprayed the crowds with tear gas to deter them and to clear the streets.
The democracy movement is seeking to regain the momentum that it has lost during the coronavirus pandemic, the shop’s owner says. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears repercussions from the pro-China government.
The harsh, lingering flavor in the ice cream comes from black peppercorns. The anonymous owner tried different ingredients, including wasabi and mustard, in his efforts to replicate the taste of tear gas. Black pepper, he says, came closest with its throat-irritating effects. “It just feels like breathing in tear gas,” says the 31-year-old shopkeeper.
“We would like to make a flavor that reminds people that they still have to persist in the protest movement and don’t lose their passion,” he adds.
Wong agrees. She tried the ice cream not to satisfy physical hunger or to enjoy a treat. She tried it to remember something she considers more important—even if it comes with a painful cost.
“I think it’s a flashback that reminds me of how painful I felt in the movement,” she says, recalling the gas. “I shouldn’t forget.”
Hong Kong authorities say that more than 16,000 rounds of the crowd-controlling gas were fired during last year’s protests. Many of those incidents occurred in densely populated districts with narrow streets crowded with restaurants and apartments.
Demonstrations mostly died away as the city fights the coronavirus, but larger actions may emerge during the summer. Already, police have been out in force to deter large gatherings. The government is meanwhile pressing ahead with legislation that would make it a crime to mock the Chinese national anthem.
(A shop worker scoops a serving of the tear gas-flavored ice cream in Hong Kong. The shop created the unlikely flavor using pepper, in memory of all the tear gas fired by the Hong Kong police in recent months. AP Photo)