Food trucks are celebrated in urban centres across the world as a grassroots outlets that allow owner-chefs to cut costs, get closer to customers and try out new dishes. The much-anticipated first 16 food trucks hit Hong Kong’s streets in late-January. But how do they compare to Hong Kong’s already much-loved street food outlets?
We visited Book Brothers Bao Buns in Wan Chai, Hong Fook Tong’s Rood Truck in Central, and compared with local street food in Wan Chai and Kennedy Town.
Food Trucks are placed in strategic “tourist-friendly” locations, such as this one in Central Waterfront
Street food works best in locations, which get foot traffic from hungry busy pedestrians who do not have time for restaurant dining. Hence, Hong Kong’s traditional street food outlets capitalise on this fact, usually located outside busy MTR stations and on main streets.
Food Carts are different; the government has chosen specific sites, which are full of tourists, yet not easily approachable to an average Hong Konger. Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, for instance “Art Square” in Tsim Sha Tsui and Harbourfront in Central. These sites are not easy to get to! They are obviously aimed at tourists who are already going to those spots. Traditional Street Food definitely wins on the location category!
Eat Express in Wan Chai is convenient, fast, cheap and tasty!
Fish balls with chilli from Eat Express in Wan Chai
Ten Fish Balls for $10, A filling Egg Puff for $15, or a minute duck breast bun for HK$38, with a HK$25 pot of tiny ice cream? Again, the traditional food wins on price. Due to the extremely high investment costs for the new-trucks-on-the-block (reported to be between HK$600,000-HK$1,000,000 per truck), the menu offerings from food-carts are on the higher end of the price spectrum considering their portion sizes. Perhaps the quality of ingredients is better, but the price tags leave room for us to question whether we were being ripped off. In addition, with all the tourists around, you can see who the owners are hoping to capitalise on.
Traditional street food was quick, and business-like (for me as a non-Cantonese speaker, it was point, smile, pay and eat). You get your food but that is just it. At the food carts, the staff smiled and called out to passers-by to try their food; they were friendly and fun, willing to make recommendations based on my questions. Perhaps this could be because there were no queues, but I think that food cart staff are often stakeholders, thus caring more about reputation and enjoyment of their products. Food carts win here!
Roast Duck Bun from Book Brothers has the perfect texture and backdrop… but might seem overpriced.
Sesame Ice Cream from Hong Fook Tong’s in Central Waterfront
This is definitely debatable and depends what you are looking for. There is no doubt that the Roasted Duck Bun was beautifully crafted: tender meat, sauce with the perfect sweet-salty zing and a light, floating bun to wrap it all up. However, those fish balls really do hit the spot when you’re craving something savoury. The egg puff will always be a winner. Unfortunately the Sesame ice cream from Hong Fook Tong’s tasted a little unfamiliar. It had a strange, gritty texture… but I will put that down to wrong menu choice…
Now, this is where the food trucks definitely excel. Compared to standing hunched over my fishball noodles surrounded by concrete and bins in Wan Chai, the food cart locations were just worlds apart. Looking out across the harbour, sitting in the sun and enjoying a leisurely bite with the wind in my hair just enhanced the food taste. The locations, while inconvenient, lend themselves to the un-rushed, lazy afternoon diner The entire experience is made better by the beauty of the locations. Food trucks win!
Overall, I have a feeling that the food truck initiative in Hong Kong is difficult to be a massive success. The government express its support to the food truck; it even has created an app called “Hong Kong Food Trucks”, which tells you where and when food trucks are in operation. Still, with the obscure locations, strict regulations, high start up costs and obvious tourist-focus, food trucks that are supposed to be grassroots, organically thriving sub-cultures, have become a lukewarm Hong Kong gimmick, missing the mark.
Writer: Louise Joachimowski
Editor: Vivian Lee
Copy Editor: Yoan Jin Soul Lee
Multimedia Team: Lucie Jung
Online Team: Lauren Hee Soo Yoon