Hong Kong gourmands have been waiting for almost two years since the government first broached the idea of food trucks in its 2015 budget.
Before that, Hong Kong was among a few metropolises yet to embrace the concept of mobile catering. All year round, the government gets lenient only during the Lunar New Year break and won’t issue tickets to vendors of street food that typically congregate in places like Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po.
Now the first batch of such licensed roving food vans, 11 in total, will hit the streets starting this Friday after an official ceremony.
Good news for bon vivants from overseas, and locals as well, who fear that fine dining in many of Hong Kong’s Michelin-star restaurants may burn a big hole in their pockets but have long been tired of the greasy spoons.
For sure, these trucks are not meant to sell ordinary items like fish balls or egg puffs.
Appetite not spoiled
One of the designated locations for the food trucks is the somehow remote Kwun Tong Promenade in eastern Kowloon, avoided by some applicants for rather poor pedestrian flows.
Several food trucks are going through final on-site configuration there in the waterfront park overlooking the Kai Tak cruise terminal, and one of the owners told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that his truck won’t be able to sell food until mid-February due to some unfinished paperwork mainly about insurance matters.
He has spent about HK$1 million (US$128,871) for his own food truck bought from overseas and hired a team of three including a driver.
The main dish is à la carte BBQ pork burger that sells for HK$68 apiece, and to recoup the initial investment, daily turnover has to be at least HK$10,000, which translates into roughly 150 such burgers per day.
Making any profit is hardly realistic in the near term when the government allows only a two-year trial.
Atlantic Sunrise, a culinary start-up, has splurged HK$2.5 million, the highest among all the entrants. Its food truck will first park in the Golden Bauhinia Square in front of the Convention and Exhibition Center in Wan Chai, a must-go tourist spot particularly for mainlanders.
Its signature dish is various meat steamed breads, HK$38 each, featuring smoked duck breast, peppered beef, pork and chicken fillet pre-cooked in a brand new central kitchen in Kwun Tong.
Factoring in all operating expenses, daily turnover must be no less than HK$15,000 to break even in the first year.
All these explain the lukewarm response from the catering sector after the government unveiled the scheme, which became controversial for red tape and excessive overseas trips by officials purportedly to draw from experience.
Caterers also cry foul at the overly rigid qualification mechanism that all vans must be retrofitted for a whole lot of certificates ranging from ventilation, temperature control to fire safety.
For instance, no naked flame is allowed on moving vehicles under Fire Services Department rules and liquefied petroleum gas is banned by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The authorities were moving at a snail’s pace in setting the guidelines.
Still, the food truck operators won’t have to grapple with the number one headache of most business owners — Hong Kong’s prohibitive rent.
A panel comprising officials, food critics, district councilors and tourism sector representatives was set up in July last year to choose from about 50 contestants who were required to cook their signature dish within a specified time for the panel to taste and review on the spot. Eleven finalists were shortlisted in the cook-off.
Not too many, still, as they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. But observers argue that pleasing a committee of bureaucrats and alleged food experts and pleasing customers are two quite different things.
Among the winners was the five-color dumpling dish, which represents the five generations of the Liu family working behind the project from a small dumpling shop in Yuen Long, HKEJ reports.
According to owner Liu Chun-ho, each dumpling is the fruit of the family’s hard work, with his mother responsible for the fillings, his grandmother and aunts taking care of the wrapping, and Liu himself on the secret-recipe dipping sauce.
Lam Kai-chung, owner of a local teahouse in Kowloon Bay, garnered a slot with his signature pineapple bun that uses chunks of the real fruit plus cream and premium flour from Japan.
Angela, a master’s degree holder from Stanford University, said she quit her job as an executive in the United States to pursue her dreams in Hong Kong.
She was rightly rewarded with her dragon eye fruit bowl dessert, made of multiple fruits with smoothies-like texture, making the cut.
Now food connoisseurs will finally have their own verdict of the best flavor from the eight Chinese, four Western and four international dishes offered at street prices.
The government will also launch a smartphone app to promote the street offerings.
We have selected a few mouth-watering picks for our readers:
Soup with fish maw and dried scallops, location: Central promenade, CentralMaureen lo mein (stirred noodles), location: main entrance, Disneyland Resort, Lantau IslandFive-color dumplings, location: Wong Tai Sin Square, KowloonDragon eye (signature dragon fruit bowl), location: Art Square, Tsim Sha TsuiFresh cream pineapple bun, location: Salisbury Garden, Tsim Sha TsuiBBQ pork burger, location: Kwun Tong Promenade, KowloonRice with turnip and pork softbone, location: main entrance, Ocean Park, Aberdeen
(All food trucks will start roving among the above designated locations from mid-February)
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