No appetite for delicacy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am


Weddings are filled with elaborate customs and the banquet is one of the most important. But in response to growing concerns about environmental and sustainability issues, some traditions are making way for modern variations.

Between 50 and 80 per cent of the shark's fin market is handled in Hong Kong and, along with the tradition of serving it at Chinese wedding banquets, the delicacy was always guaranteed a place on the menu.

Nevertheless, the city's appetite for dishes such as shark's fin soup is diminishing as the efforts of environmental groups gain momentum.

A growing number of hotels, including the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin, Mandarin Oriental and The Peninsula, have removed it entirely from menus, and brides and grooms-to-be are opting for alternative dishes.

Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin, whose wedding menus include Dongguan and northern Chinese cuisine, took shark's fin off its menus in January.

The hotel's executive chef Cheung Hongman says there is a definite shift in the food people want served at their weddings. 'Couples are very cautious about serving shark's fin and we are constantly asked if we have [shark's fin] on our menu,' he says.

Cheung and his team are creating alternative soups using sustainably sourced ingredients, served alongside other customary dishes, so the banquet retains many of its traditional elements.

Dishes include whole suckling pig, abalone and grouper, and seafood, vegetables and poultry.

The Peninsula also removed shark's fin in January. The hotel has long supported sustainably sourced food products and works with organisations such as the WWF and the Marine Stewardship Council to ensure the products it uses are not harmful to the environment.

Meat and poultry are sustainably selected as far as possible and the hotel also works with organisations in Hong Kong that promote sustainable and organic produce.

Vindy Lui, director of catering for The Peninsula says, to the gratification of the hotel, the move has been received positively. 'Our banquet guests recognise the importance of their choices and that their banquet can be just as memorable, while practising ethical luxury,' she says.

In February, the Mandarin Oriental also removed shark's fin from all its restaurant and banqueting menus, replacing it with double-boiled soup.

According to the hotel's director of sales for catering, Joanne Cheng, its guests are 'really enjoying' the soup, which features alongside other delicacies such as sea whelk, whole pig, abalone, grouper and crabmeat.

Other hotels are offering shark's-fin-free menus, but will make it available upon special request.

Stella Wong, senior director of events at InterContinental Hong Kong, says, in keeping with the hotel's environmental initiatives, it offers a sustainable seafood menu approved by the WWF.

'Many couples nowadays are happy to have a wedding banquet menu without shark's fin soup. However, sometimes it is the parents who still insist on having this [on the menu] because of cultural traditions,' she says.

The hotel offers a series of World of Wedding packages that include 10- or 11-course contemporary Chinese wedding menus. Dishes include barbecued whole suckling pig and seafood variations, such as wok-fried scallops, baked stuffed crab shell and sea whelk with double-boiled black chicken.

But according to Wong, most couples request a tailor-made menu. 'They know our culinary team is creative and that we can accommodate their special requests and customise each wedding so it is as unique as the couple,' Wong says, adding they usually opt for an East-meets-West combination of Chinese and Western dishes created by its chefs.

The hotel's Chinese and Western culinary teams can also work with a couple to create their own wedding cake or signature cocktail for the banquet.

Customising menus is a common benefit offered by many of the city's luxury hotels, such as Four Seasons, Hong Kong, which will accommodate the restrictions or traditions of different cultures and religions.

Some hotels report a change in Western menu trends.

Cheng says in the past all weddings at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong were four- or five-course, sit-down dinners.

'We are seeing a shift in this trend with some guests now preferring a buffet-style banquet instead,' she says.

The hotel's Michelin-starred chef and his team create menus that are paired with wines chosen by the sommelier, and the hotel's in-house and award-winning cake artist can create 'the wedding cake of their dreams', Cheng says.

Cheung says he is witnessing a similar trend in Western wedding menus, with more couples going for casual buffets rather than formal set meals.

'It's common to find a balanced mix of ingredients in Western wedding menus,' he says, adding that a vegetarian salad appetiser, and seafood and meat for the main course are popular.

'The variety of food is even greater for weddings in buffet style,' Cheung says, adding that dishes such as dim sum, marinated seafood, parma ham with melon, roasted beef tenderloin, pasta and different desserts can be incorporated into a buffet-style wedding dinner.