The Magic Behind Holy Cannoli, Hong Kong's Hottest Italian Dessert Delivery
June 23, 2022
Holy Cannoli, Hong Kong’s sweet Italian pastry dessert service, launched in late 2020 to much fanfare and cultish love, embracing a beloved part of Italian cuisine previously unknown to the mouths of Hong Kongers.
Created by chef Marco A Livoti and his business partner and marketing guru Anna Zhou, Holy Cannoli is a local delivery service, sharing love and home-made recipes for the Sicily-born Italian dessert, made from fired pastry dough and with a sweet and tangy ricotta filling.
Italian Marco and Hong Konger Anna met in the city, getting “stuck during the infamous pandemic.” As the world slowed down and Hong Kongers were forced to become creative within a shuttered border city, the pair brainstormed and “hatched an idea for a fun little project”: selling Italy’s favourite dessert to hungry Hong Kongers, eager for the next innovative snack and easy delivery service.
Marco, hailing from a small city, Vicenza, in the north of Italy, travelled to Hong Kong in 2019 for a position as an executive chef of Japanese sake bar and diner, Sake Central, before launching the Holy Cannoli delivery service in late 2020. He joined Anna as a business partner to launch their sweet initiative.
The cannoli is a Sicilian pastry consisting of a tube-shaped fried pastry shell, traditionally filled with a sweet, ricotta-packed creamy filling and pistachio or candied orange. Much to Marco’s ancestry hailing from mainland Italy, he admitted he “never liked cannoli growing up.”
“I always found it too sweet, and at every family gathering or holiday in Sicily, I was forced to eat it. I only [began] making it because Anna put the idea that I am Italian and a chef together and asked me to make cannoli for her,” Marco stated.
Anna’s liking for the sweet Italian treat was a love affair from day one. “Why I personally love it though is how simple yet delicious it is. It's crunchy, creamy, and [with] the perfect tang or nuttiness from the garnish.”
In a shameless plug, Anna, a former marketer, firmly stated, "our version is way better than the authentic traditional one!”
As recipes go for the curation of Holy Cannoli’s seven (and growing) flavours, Marco likes to conform to the original theories of the creation of a cannoli, taking inspiration from other cuisines too, “pairing the unconventional with classic.”
“We try to keep things as creative and novel as we can because we are simply tired of boring. This concept feeds directly into our inspiration by trying to differentiate ourselves as ‘just another dessert.’ To us, it is more than a dessert – it is a creative outlet to play and experiment,” Marco said.
“Go anywhere in the world (outside Hong Kong) and look especially in Italy, what types of cannoli do you see? Ricotta plus chocolate, orange or pistachio. Nothing else, nothing more. We were actually inspired by the openness and creativity in flavours directly from Hong Kong's culture of eating. Go buy an egg waffle and what do you see? Banana, salted egg, seaweed, chestnut flavours. Then look at the French, one type of macaron with endless options.”
Anna is appreciative of Italy and it’s “steadfast tradition,” but admitted that innovation is key with their product. “You'll never find a pandan coconut, basil limoncello or raspberry rose cannoli as we make it anywhere else in the world.”
Through their online delivery menu, Hong Kongers can order a selection of flavours with a minimum order of six pieces straight to their door, including the customer-favourite Salted Caramel, Rose & Raspberry, Nonna’s Originale, Pistachio Bacio, White Chocolate, Dark Yuzu, and Pandan Coconut.
Marco and Anna have cured a sensation surrounding Holy Cannoli for their addictively sweet multiple offerings, innovating on the age-old recipe, their funky marketing and penetration into Hong Kong’s hip restaurants, and their series of “first cannoli” stories on Instagram, capturing on video the first crunch and emotions friends and customers have with their bite of cannoli.
“The ‘first cannoli’ was an idea our friend Ollie gave us when we first started,” Anna said. “We wanted to address the issue that not a lot of locals in Hong Kong are familiar with the pastry and how to eat it, so we introduced the series of stories on our Instagram to show people eating and loving it.”
“Our best reactions have been the silent surprise about just how good it is because like I said, it's so simple yet so delicious. You don't expect how [that] even is possible and that's what we want people to taste.”
Being the curators of the world’s most creative cannoli, Anna and Marco are resolute in the proper technique in how to eat the treat. “Pick it up with your hands and take a bite,” Anna said. “No knives or forks, please,” demands Marco.
For the future of their delivery service, the pair joked that they would like to go on “a HOLY pilgrimage and take our Hong Kong cannoli back to Italy and show the people what we've done to it!”
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