Having food trucks in Hong Kong is a great idea, but what they serve up must be great fare too
Flexibility in issuing the licences is key, otherwise the trucks will simply end up in the hands of major fast food chains
The food truck craze so fashionable in North America and elsewhere has been given the go-ahead for Hong Kong. A two-year pilot scheme will allow 12 trucks to operate in six locations, all popular with tourists. But as welcome as the decision is, its worth lies most in flexibility and creativity. If the offerings are unoriginal or do not reflect the culinary place of our city in the world, we will have gained little more than a dozen more restaurants.
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Hong Kong already has more than 15,000 places to eat; it is why many consider our city Asia’s food capital. The trucks therefore have to offer more than cup noodles, hot dogs or hamburgers. Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah hinted at that in unveiling the idea in his last policy address, speaking nostalgically of his student days in the US and his fondness for the truck from which he bought the Middle Eastern snack falafel. Providing food that is out of the ordinary has to be key.
A cooking competition will be held as part of the selection process. Food experts and tourism sector representatives will be the judges and it is to be hoped their taste buds are attuned to the need for food that is different. A measure of concern has been expressed, though, that the cost of winning the right for a truck – estimated at HK$600,000 – will be out of reach of all but existing restaurant owners. Some suggest fast food chains are more than likely to be chosen.
That surely cannot be what tourists or residents want. While hygiene and quality are priorities, the best food would be representative of Hong Kong, Chinese in nature, but influenced by the West. For the foodies among us, that raises all manner of mouth-watering possibilities.
The idea breaks with a long-standing government policy shunning street food. Outdoor dai pai dongs, once commonplace, have in all but a handful of instances been driven into extinction by rigid rules. It is to be hoped that there is more flexibility with food trucks and that the best, not the biggest companies, are given a chance.