As time-honoured eateries are being driven out of business and replaced by stores that serve Mainland Chinese, it becomes harder and harder to find local cuisine. Lunar New Year is the time when local cuisine reappear, because the government usually gave hawkers a leeway to do business during the period. Yet, this year, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) cracked down on hawkers, sparking standoffs between the department and the public.
Time-honoured eateries are vanishing
Roy Kwong, a young pan-democratic politician from Yuen Long, expressed his feeling over the vanishing of time-honoured eateries. He also suggests setting up night markets in the end of the article.
Our Hong Kong Night Market
When I was a child, I loved “sweeping” street food. Standing in front food carts, I looked at hawker uncles using coal fire to cook egg waffles on low and high flame, skewering fish balls from boiling curry and brushing satay sauce over grilling mutton. Even though food stalls didn’t provide comfortable seats, the feeling was good enough to allow you to enjoy food while standing.
After I grew up, the culture of street food is in decline. What replaces it is baked pork chop rice from restaurant chains. Under developer hegemony, Hong Kong shop rents surpass New York and become the highest in the world. Time-honoured shops have been shutting down one after one. Even Lee Yuen Congee Noodles (*which had been in business for 42 years) lost to the expensive rent and closed down. May I ask how many bowls of wonton noodles have to be sold in order to support the rent of $600,000 HKD?
(*Video of Lee Yuen Congee Noodles)
Astronomical shop rents and the ban of hawkers make the “taste” of the city vanish…
When I was writing this article, I learnt that on the first three days of every Lunar New Year, hawkers in Shamshuipo take advantage of the time when government staffs enforce the law leniently to open stalls. A night market belongs to Hong Kong appears on the street… However, on the first day of this Lunar New Year, they were cracked down on by government staffs. I certainly understand that one has to follow the law. However, behind it, there should be humanity. Facing unaffordable rents and the lack of night market’s facilities like Taiwan, will these tastes vanished into the history and become our collective memory?
If I could bring my grandchildren to walk every streets and alleys to savour tastes of egg waffles, satay beef skewers and curry fish balls at the age of 70, and tell them, “This was the taste I liked when I was a child”, it would be great.
If we organise our Hong Kong night market, will you support retaining the taste of the grass roots?
“A night market belongs to Hong Kong”
What Hong Kong needs is more night markets and small shops to satisfy the basic needs of residents. not more pharmacies and jewellery stores to satisfy the unlimited desires of Mainland Chinese tourists. What Hong Kong needs is affordable rents and small business to let Hong Kong people be self-sustaining, not astronomical rents and chains that kill people’s lebensraum.
Photos of Shamshuipo Lunar New Year night market
Standoff sparked off as the government cracked down on hawkers
Tonight around 10 pm, 4 or 5 staffs of FEHD interfered with Shamshuipo hawker stalls. However, many people surrounded the staffs and negotiated with them.
CCP dissolves as soon as possible! Hong Kong Communist government steps down! Leung Chun-ying, go to hell quick!
Instead of arresting smugglers, the Hong Kong Communist police arrested hawkers on the second day of Lunar New Year! What world is this? Shame on the Hong Kong Communist government!
The predecessors of FEHD were more democratic
The predecessors of FEHD are Urban Council and Regional Council, whose members were mostly elected. The two councils were dissolved on Dec 31 1999 and their abolishment is regarded as the regression of Hong Kong democracy. As FEHD doesn’t have elected members who need to cater to voters, tension between the department and the public becomes more intense.
Chin Wan, the cultural critic who worked for the government, stated that hawkers were managed by Regional Council (*and Urban Council) in the past. Elected members of the councils, according to conditions of districts, handled hawkers with flexibility. Besides balancing environmental hygiene, the flexibility also made communities have more humanity. After the dissolution of the two councils in 2000, the management of hawkers becomes the job of FEHD, leading to the decline of the hawker culture. Unless residents clamour at the scene, FEHD will expel hawkers with “no mercy”. “