This web based tour is aimed at people who both wish to see and experience the great diversity of food and dining options available in Hong Kong, but who also wish to gain an appreciation on how this plethora of culinary delights is supported – and inherent issues for Hong Kong’s food security going forward.
The following tour will guide you around a range of food related sites in Hong Kong. You will have the opportunity to pick up and put down the tour at your leisure to sample some of the food delights at the various sites we will visit. Whether it’s fresh eel from the wet markets, or the finest in fine dining at one of Gordon Ramsey’s signature restaurants, this tour aims to intrigue both your taste buds, and your curiosity.
Along with the variety of diverse sites this tour will help you discover, an
additional idea is to help you realise, and start to consider for yourself, some of the issues of Hong Kong’s food network. You are encouraged when you visit each of these sites to inquire – by looking around or asking someone if you’re feeling brave – what food items are from Hong Kong. Be mindful though; is a traditional bowl of delicious Hong Kong Shrimp and Chicken Balls truly local if it’s made of Thai Chicken and Indonesian Shrimp?
The concept that this tour wishes to deliver is that of a two-fold view of food insecurity in Hong Kong. First, on the individual level. Considering whether Hong Kong’s food choices (and prices) leave enough nutritional options for those surviving on a minimum wage of $32.50 (£3.25), where the median property price is 19 times the median income. Then collectively, as this tour will elaborate, how Hong Kong is highly food insecure, with high dependency on food imports. To quote a member of the British Consul “Hong Kong’s main power supply is from one nuclear reactor, if that goes down … all food storage capacity would be lost, and we’re so reliant on imports. It’d be a disaster”.
Ultimately this tour’s aim is to leave you with a great appreciation for the wonderful food on offer in Hong Kong, and a greater appreciation for where that food has come from and how Hong Kong sustains itself. The concepts we will consider will be gradually introduced at each site not to overwhelm the reader, giving you ample opportunity to digest each notion… along with a few wontons for good measure.
From Central Station, take the Eastbound line to Mong Kok Station, change to Kun Tong Line and ride as far as Kowloon Tong station. Then change once more Tai Po Market.
Note: The first two stops are a little out of the way, so feel free to substitute them for a wet market closer to home if suits and pick the tour up again from Site 3.
We are going to start our tour at the closest point that most ‘Hong Konger’s’ get to the source of their food. A traditional wet market. This one is the Tai Po market. This market offers the staples for your traditional Hong Kong dinner, servicing the local community who will generally visit several times a week to buy fresh meat, vegetables, and a smaller selection of dried goods. Have a wander around the first two floors, considering the types of food you are engaging with and their source, before making your way up to the dining area on the third to start sampling the local cuisine. While you’re here try to find goods which are produced in Hong Kong. If you’ve been brushing up on your Cantonese, you could always ask a trader where his/her goods are from.
From the Tai Po Market, you can take the opportunity to visit Sham Chung, where you can find over 70 abandoned villages – remnants of Hong Kong’s less industrial past.
Due to these villages ‘abandoned’ nature, public transport access is highly limited. It is therefore recommended if you wish to visit these sites to take a taxi (1 hour return trip) to Sham Chung.
Take the time to explore some of these villages, including the heritage centre explaining how the urbanisation of Hong Kong has slowly eroded its agricultural self-sufficiency. While here consider what the cost may be to Hong Kong in abandoning this industry in favour of import dependency.
From central take the Tsuen Wan Line to Sham Tsuen Po. Lai Kok estate is located 5 minutes’ walk, use offline maps or ask directions from here.
Once you’re done, head across to the Lai Kok Estate, which is located near Sham Shui Po. As you walk through the estate, you may notice that the ground floor of most of the buildings does not contain flats. These are instead essentially community centres, where residents can gather for community events – including food donation programmes which help supplement the diet of people living in these flats, who often don’t have the economic resources to feed themselves sufficiently. At this point it is worth noting that Hong Kong has had a rising income inequality for years. This, compounded with inadequate social security has left many people in a desperate situation. On your way down to the next location, look out for older men and women, who collect cardboard to supplement their income for around $10 HK a day. (Anonymous, Feeding HK, 03/03/17)
Pei Ho Street is located 10 mintues walk from the estate, simply walk down Lai Chi Kok road then left of Pei Hoi.
From here you’re only a short walk from an establishment aiming to tackle such food insecurity in Hong Kong on a local level. This is Pei Ho Barbecue Restaurant (54 Pei Ho Street). This aims to service the local community through allowing people to buy ‘food vouchers’, which can be distributed to members of the community who may be in need of a meal. Here, most of the food choice is highly local in origin: Sweet and Sour Pork, Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), Pork Neck and various fish dishes. This presents an opportunity to consider which ingredients actually originate from Hong Kong. Language skills aside, there are visual indicators – look for the large sacks of rice stored behind the counter in the restaurant.
Here we can see private altruism stepping in for where the government has not provided the security to help people eat a sufficient, nutritious diet.
Take the closest MTR, taking Tsuen Wan line to Central. From here, it’s a 4 minute walk. Head up Theatre lane, off Des Vouex Rd, and take the second right onto Stanley Street.
Now it’s time to return to downtown central. Just off the central MTR station you will find the traditional eatery of Hong Kong – the Dai Pai Dong (‘Big License Plate’ in English, see here as to why). These street side restaurants – complete with plastic furniture – are a dying breed, only 25 official sites remain according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Consider the menu options (and the price bracket) once more, take advantage of locals eating there who may be able to translate questions on a foods origin between English and Cantonese for the owners (though its best to do this when the restaurant’s fairly quiet).
Keeping the price in mind, and observing the community that eat there, it’s time to take a short stroll up the hill to what may seem like ‘how the other half live’…
A 3 minute walk. Onto D’Aguilar St, head uphill until the road turns, then it’s on your right
Here, peruse – and partake if your pockets are deep enough – in the high end dining at Bread Street Kitchen & Bar (Menu here). Right next to the still premium-priced eatery of Hard Rock Café. These sites cater for the higher end of consumers, staff here speak excellent English so take the opportunity to inquire about their food sources. Take note not to be side-tracked by responses of ‘highest quality and freshness’ to get down to the bare bones of what products they sell can be traced back to Hong Kong.
After visiting these sites, you may be wondering
– where do these high end customers do their food shopping? The wet markets? To answer this, we hop across central and take the mid-level escalator. Half way up you will a Marks & Spencer store on your right
The mid level escalator can be found on Jubilee St, head back down D’Aguliar St, left of Wellington St, and then right onto Gutzlaff St.
This site will be particularly relevant to those taking the tour acquainted with the retailer, but as a point of reference to others this is British supermarket which traditionally services the middle-class consumer with food aspiring to be a more ‘premium’ product than those found at stores such as Tesco, Carrefour, Wal-Mart or the equivalent. Walking through the store, note the ambiance and clientele for the market it is serving, and how distinct it is from that of the wet markets.
Here is the perfect opportunity for you to source your products. Your task is locating one product, from any department, which is produced in Hong Kong. When considering your choices, think about what you may perceive as the most likely ‘Hong Kong’ products. While you are looking, also consider where products actually have come from – and how far they’ve traveled to get there.
Head back to central MTR, then take the island line for a quick hop onto second street. You’ll be doing the reverse journey for our final stop on Graham St
A contrast of the old and the new is perfectly displayed on Second Street. Walk towards ‘The Marketplace’ supermarket, taking time to stop and investigate the various independent butchers and greengrocers either side of the retailer. Walk into The Marketplace and again, see the contrast in aesthetics, customer-base, and price between that and the true marketplaces outside.
Graham St is best accessed just off the mid-level escalator, one road up from Wellington St.
The final site of our tour brings together the local consumer and the tourist into one environment. Graham St. Take time to consider the consumer base once again, generally a mix of locals getting their daily goods; and camera happy tourists snapping up the quaint steep streets burgeoning with street vendors. Taking a seat at a suitable spot it is now time for the final reflections of this tour.
Consider what products you have found which have some, if any, connection to Hong Kong. Then compare that with all the goods you’ve located from elsewhere – and just how far they’ve come to be there. This is both important for the carbon footprint each one of those Brazilian bananas or bags of Thai rice produces, and also people’s lack of connection to their food – and the consequences of high food dependency and resulting insecurity nationally.
Further to this, consider the price bracket of all the food you have investigated, how much of it would you consider good value? Then consider that price once again with a minimum wage of little over £3/hour, combined with staggeringly high rental costs. How can an individual living on this wage structure feed him or herself nutritious balanced meals every single day.
The aim of this tour is not to propose any answers to these points, but to promote self-enquiry and investigation upon the part of reader. Now that you have experienced first-hand some of the environments, and issues, of Hong Kong’s food insecurity – on both a personal and national level – this can be the starting point for your own questions.
For further information on issues of food insecurity in Hong Kong, and to see some of the worthwhile organisations aiming to be part of the solution:
Feeding Hong Kong – http://www.feedinghk.org/ , firstname.lastname@example.org