I’ve become a little obsessed with Tkachenko’s Restaurant and Confectionery, formerly of Hong Kong.
It’s popped up in literature: Martin Booth’s Golden Boy (Picador, 2006) and Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher (Viking, 2009) mention it in a 1950s setting. So I thought I would investigate this Russian restaurant that seemed so popular in Hong Kong back then.
A 1962 restaurant and nightlife guide (right) lists Tkachenko’s so I know it existed a decade after Booth’s and Lee’s stories took place.
So I turned to my friends at Gwulo.com to learn more. Tkachenko, a Ukrainian name, had a restaurant and bakery in Shanghai’s French Concession as late as 1938. The next mention of it was in Hong Kong in 1945, so presumably the owners moved south several years before Liberation on the mainland.
After reading the string on Gwulo about Tkachenko’s, I realized that Russian cuisine has had a lasting influence in Hong Kong.
I often took advantage of the many cake shops scattered throughout the territory and, from the Gwulo discussion, learned these cake shops were most likely influenced by the Russian confectioneries in Kowloon in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. (The White Russian enclave there petered out maybe 40-50 years ago when many settled in Australia.)
Also, I was always amazed to find cans of Campbell’s borscht in Hong Kong grocery stores, the labels in both Chinese and English. Thinking back with horror to my mom’s beet borscht (a family recipe handed down from our Russian Jewish predecessors), the white dollops of sour cream curdling into pink dots when mixed with the purple soup, I wondered why the cans in Hong Kong instead contained a thin minestrone-type soup. Perhaps the popularity of vegetable borscht stems from places like Tkachenko’s.
Might be time to light up the samovar.