I Ate The Rainbow Grilled Cheese — So You Don’t Have To

I live in Hong Kong, a place where gimmicky foods are practically inescapable. This is the city that brought you Hello Kitty dim sum, egg waffle ice cream, and the infamous rainbow grilled cheese — the viral social media sensation that made its way to every international news outlet imaginable a few weeks ago. Haunted by visuals of the multi-colored sandwich on my Facebook feed, I decided to embark on a food pilgrimage to Kala Toast, the pit-stop responsible for the viral phenomenon. Read on for a tale of surprise and disappointment as I get my first-ever taste of the rainbow.
Photographed by Venus Wong.
The exterior of Kala Toast.
The Actual Storefront
The first thing you should know about Hong Kong is that people here will line up for anything new. It's not abnormal to see people waiting for hours on end, just to get their hands on the latest novelty treat. So I was a bit surprised to see that Kala Toast was not at all busy on a weeknight. Redfoo's Booty Man a rap song about jiggly butts — was inexplicably blasting on the speakers, but I was even more confused by the items listed on a blown-up menu, which bore names like "Mexican President" (a corn, chipotle, and beef concoction) and "Korean Gangnam Style" (with kimchi and pork belly). The shop is smaller than your average takeout place: There's no space for you to enjoy your meal on the spot, which made me wonder how these Instagram bloggers even managed to photograph a piping-hot sandwich with practically no elbow room. Those Likes really don’t come easy!
Photographed by Venus Wong.
Chinese press clippings obscured most of the windows.
The Million-Dollar Concept
As intriguing as the Mexican President sounds, I was here for the “Kalaful Choice” — a technicolor dream of red, green, and blue cheese, with tomatoes, basil, and lavender accounting for the respective hues. The whole cheesy medley consisted of mozzarella, cheddar, Emmental, and gruyere. Over a phone call the night before my visit, Mr. Tam, the owner, assured me that nothing in the sandwich was artificially colored: Each tint of the rainbow came from a hard-to-find cheese product sourced from France. The whole operation was a bit hush-hush, as most of the windows were obscured by printouts of the store’s press coverage. But, from what I managed to gather by craning my neck, the cheese strips are stacked together — according to color — on pieces of toast before being pressed on a grill. Nothing too wildly different from the way you'd make it in your apartment. Tasting the Rainbow
After a 15-minute wait, I was finally able to rip into one of these beauties. One of the girls at the stall was generous enough to offer me this pro tip: For maximum visual impact, you should tear apart your grilled cheese while holding it flat. My fingers were practically dancing with excitement.
....And, nothing. I couldn't even believe my eyes: The grilled cheese was like any ordinary grilled cheese — save for some very faint streaks of blue color. It was lightyears apart from those wildly vivid and gooey rainbows that popped up ad nauseam on my Instagram. There were more prominent red and green patches along the crust, but the damage to my psyche was done: The Manic Pixie Dream Sandwich I was hoping for turned out to be a dud. This is arguably a bigger letdown than being catfished on a date.
The Restitution
Appalled and somewhat indignant over the loss of a golden Instagram moment, I called up Mr. Tam for an explanation. "Oh, we always tell people to lower their expectations since we can't really guarantee how the colors turn out," he said nonchalantly. He suggested a second try and offered to remind his staff to amp up the colors with extra cheese.
Photographed by Venus Wong.
Second time's a charm.
In the end, I did get what I want: The second grilled cheese turned out to be perfect. But, I couldn't quite shake an uneasiness that came with the experience. Had I not gone incognito in the first place, I'm sure I would have ended up with the perfectly photogenic grilled cheese — because I was photographing it for an international lifestyle website. But what about those regular paying customers expecting to get the edible rainbow that they saw online?
We're constantly reminded of the fact that Instagram is not real life, but the jarring difference between how food is presented on social media — by influencers who are no doubt profiting from it — and what customers get IRL is rarely a part of the discussion. We're savvy enough to cry false advertising over fast food ads, but who accounts for the discrepancy between that screen shot you saved and what you will actually be served? As for the taste of the grilled cheese? It was perfectly fine — like its monochromatic brethren, just a tad saltier. But next time I get a craving for multi-colored comfort food, I'll settle for a DIY version — where the rainbow is guaranteed.

More from Food & Drinks

R29 Original Series