The pro-democracy demonstrations that filled the streets of Hong Kong last year have decreased in both number and intensity, because even the "shared anger" of the protests was temporarily quelled by stay-at-home orders and the spread of coronavirus. Last week, though, demonstrators again filled a luxury shopping mall after 15 high-profile activists were arrested and accused of coordinating three massive protests last fall.
Although the city isn't echoing with the sound of defiance right now, the owner of one ice cream shop is doing his part to ensure that Hong Kongers don't forget what they spent months fighting for. The 31-year-old shop owner—who has chosen not to be identified because he fears he could face consequences from the pro-Beijing government—is currently selling scoops of ice cream that taste like tear gas.
"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 told the Associated Press. The secret to a dessert that doubles as an irritant is whole black peppercorns that are roasted and then made into a creamy gelato. The owner said that he experimented with wasabi and mustard, but black pepper came the closest to recreating the experience of being sprayed in the face with a chemical weapon.
"It tastes like tear gas. 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,” Anita Wong, who both took part in the protests and was tear gassed by the cops, said. “I think it’s a flashback that reminds me of how painful I felt in the movement, and that I shouldn’t forget.”
That's exactly the takeaway that the shop is trying to sell with each scoop, which costs the equivalent of $5. Before the pandemic and social distancing requirements started to affect his sales, the owner said that he sold between 20 and 30 scoops every day.
In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, the owner said that he added the tear gas gelato to the menu when he started making his limited-edition holiday flavors. (The other ice creams were more traditional: chocolate and rum, gingersnap, and Christmas pudding). At the time, he vowed to continue serving "tear gas" by the scoop for as long as the police kept firing tear gas at protesters.
Although the shop itself is innocuously tucked in a New Territories shopping mall, it has provided support and safety to demonstrators—as well as free ice cream. The walls are covered with pastel Post-It notes that bear handwritten pro-democracy messages, and a giant stuffed Winnie the Pooh is prominently displayed as a shorthand way of mocking Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The owner has even previously considered giving away gas masks with his ice cream cones. "I have a license to sell and I can attach free gifts if I want," he said. "I'm not breaking any laws." For now, though, he seems content with reminding pro-democracy activists not to give up, one painful, peppery scoop at a time.