During the Lunar New Year holiday, hawkers often pop up here and there, selling local street delicacies such as fish balls and stinky tofu.
The authorities have long been against hawkers, for fear they would disrupt traffic and create a hygiene problem, but people just love them.
The government’s attitude toward hawkers and bazaars seems to be changing, however.
Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah suggested in his budget speech introducing food trucks to the city, signaling Hong Kong’s street-food culture could be making a comeback soon.
Meanwhile, the Food and Health Bureau has sent a document containing “hawker management suggestions” to the Legislative Council, proposing that the government start granting licenses again to hawkers and dai pai dong (open-air food stall) operators.
The former urban council stopped issuing new hawker licenses under ordinary circumstances in the 1970s.
But in recent years, there have been calls from the community to retain and revitalize the hawking trade as a Hong Kong tradition.
The government appears to have decided that it is time to change its stance, as street hawking can create job opportunities while providing customers with a cheaper source of food and other goods.
Unless they conflict with other public policies, hawking should not be banned, the bureau’s document says.
Apart from granting new licenses to hawkers and food stalls, other suggestions include transforming wet markets with few tenants into “off-street cooked food centers” and setting up outdoor hawker markets and night bazaars in local communities.
The market on Main Street East in Shau Kei Wan is reportedly considered an ideal spot for such a cooked food center.
Besides food stall operator, traditional craftsmen, such as street cobblers and watch repairers, could also be granted new hawker licenses, the document suggests.
The government is clearly taking a leaf out of Singapore’s book.
The Singapore government banned street hawkers in 1971.
However, it later realized that there is a need for hawkers, as the industry provides a lot of jobs, which is important for a stable economy.
The government then built food bazaars, grouping hawkers into buildings with a ready water supply for dish washing.
Now, the food bazaars have become tourist attractions. You can’t say you have traveled to Singapore unless you have tried the Hainanese chicken rice or other local dishes in one of these hawker centers.
The authorities in Singapore even launched a Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Program to lift the industry to a new level by passing on traditional cooking skills to the next generation.
The Hong Kong government has been rather slow on the uptake in this respect, but we should be happy that instead of phasing out hawkers, it is now studying ways to regulate and manage them and reviving one of the attractions for which the city used to be famous.
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