Going hungry on mean street

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am


A friendly back-and-forth argument about street food hawkers has played out on the South China Morning Post's letters page in recent weeks, following an article about the harassment by control officers of vendors in Tung Chung.

The licensing of food hawkers has been discussed on and off since the government banned street food in the 1970s. These days, only a late-night sojourn to the dark side in Kowloon reveals the last of this breed.

Some say we should do a Bangkok and return to the down-and-dirty days, when people paid their money and took their chances when it came to street food.

Others say we should follow the example of squeaky-clean Singapore, where air-conditioned hawker centres are starting to resemble American fast-food courts.

I say we look at another city altogether: New York. The stereotype is hot dogs and bagels but anyone who's spent a signifi- cant amount of time in the Big Apple knows there is much more. From Brooklyn to the Bronx, thousands of carts and trucks sell everything from basic snacks and soft drinks to entire boxed meals.

I lived in New York for four years and can't imagine what life would've been like without these vendors: they offered the ideal grab-and-go for my morning coffee and the opportunity to enjoy the summer outdoors with a basket of southern fried chicken and mash.

New York encourages street food vendors and, in return, its people are given a sense of camaraderie and culture that is sorely lacking in our ubiquitous 7-Elevens and microwaveable dim sum.