The farm-to-table movement, though growing rapidly in the United States, is largely unheard of in Hong Kong.
It’s an odd concept for Cantonese cuisine eateries.
That’s why Sun Hon Kee (新漢記) from Fanling is such a rare gem that deserves our respect.
So Wai-hon, the owner and head chef, is an indigenous Hakkanese from Sha Tou Kok.
He understands it is best to offer fresh supplies from local farms.
The high-quality offerings include premium Bath Pig pork from Wah Kee Farm in Pat Heung as well as fish, shellfish and free-range chickens from Sha Tou Kok.
I would say So is one of the few chefs in Hong Kong who have ample knowledge of ingredients and enforce high standards in cooking.
Last week, a greengrocer tried to convince me to buy pea shoots which I knew are not in season, at least not locally.
My guess was right as I was told the vegetables came from Ningxia in north-central China.
Modern society demands stability and convenience, and that is why supposedly seasonal produce is now available all year round because of technology.
So it is not at all surprising that most eateries in Hong Kong would rather not use local agricultural products, which are pricey and whose supply is less stable, compared to those from mainland China.
According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, there are 547 organic farms in the city.
Most of these are small intensive farms that are capable of handling only four or five items of produce.
A farm-to-table restaurant is hardly considered a feasible concept because it would need a few farms as suppliers.
The local agriculture industry has been ignored by the government for over three decades.
Only a few institutions, primarily the Kadoorie Farm and the Botanic Garden, have been untiring in their efforts at sustainable farming and researches on the latest advances in agricultural technology.
With limited support from the government, the cost of local produce remains high.
Take hairy gourd as an example. It takes four months to be fully grown, with an average cost of HK$15 per catty.
In the market, it will end up being priced at HK$20 or more a catty, while those from China would only cost less than half that much, or something like HK$8.
Because of the huge price difference, local eateries and customers seldom opt for local ingredients.
Changes are expected only when the general public becomes more concerned over food safety and origins, which would then apply pressure to restaurant owners to look for quality ingredients.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 6.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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