On a recent trip to the Central waterfront in Hong Kong, I noticed two food trucks parked near the now-halted Ferris wheel.
The visit took place one day after the giant observation wheel went out of service, causing a steep drop in footfalls in the area.
Looking around, I saw one of the licensed food trucks was serving just two customers, while the other one didn’t have even a single person lined up before it.
You could tell that the food-truck operators were certainly not amused.
To tell the truth, the prospects of Hong Kong’s food trucks, which rolled on to the roads in February this year, never appeared good even before, regardless of the neighboring infrastructure.
All I can say is that a host of factors have prevented the food trucks here from taking off in a meaningful way.
Amid this situation, I can’t but help recall some memorable experiences I had in Japan with regard to food trucks.
In Tokyo, the city is filled with interesting food vehicles, beckoning hundreds of hungry diners. Truck owners are happy and neighborhoods flourish.
You might ask if only densely-populated urban areas will be able to support the food truck business. In my opinion, that need not be the case and business can be good even in other settings.
Recently in Fukuoka, when we were heading to Itoshima, we drove past a quiet bay. Under the blue sky was an eye-catchingly bright red double-decker bus parked on the shore in front of the crystal clear seawater.
The vintage London bus surprisingly blended well into the background of Mother Nature.
Unlike most food trucks in Hong Kong or in Tokyo city, the bus does not go anywhere; instead it is stationed in the area and functions as a restaurant.
Since it was not mentioned in mainstream travel guides, many visitors like me bumped into it by chance, stopping by and snapping pictures of it.
After I began checking out the place out of curiosity I realized it was called Bus Café, and that serves as a perfect rest stop during the summertime as it was air-conditioned.
On the lower deck it was selling trendy clothes and accessories, while the upper deck had benches installed alongside windows.
Many people reckon food trucks in Hong Kong are too charging too much for their snacks. To a certain extent, I believe that the price is set according to the cost, which should be rather high, given so many limitations.
But in other cities, the food comes at very attractive prices.
Trucks parked at Omotesandō, Tokyo, during weekends charge more or less the same compared to fast-food outlets, but the chefs take their work seriously and their offerings are delicious and full of character.
Hot coffee from Bus Café costs 350 Japanese yen a cup while Italian gelato cost only 450 yen. The good prices prompt people not to bother too much about the absence of interior design in the vintage vehicle.
Most Japanese food trucks are cute miniatures refurbished from vintage vehicles or minivans, and run by individual operators. I seriously doubt if Hong Kong authorities studied any examples in Japan before launching their tourism initiative.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 6
Translation by John Chui with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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