Proposal for licensed food bazaar in Mong Kok worthy of support

The plan to turn Macpherson Park into an eating centre for three nights over the Lunar New Year will benefit both hawkers and visitors, though care must be taken not to inconvenience local residents

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 12:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 5:55am

It says something when an idea as simple as a temporary food bazaar becomes a point of contention. Like the Lunar New Year fairs across the city, the outdoor bazaar in a Mong Kok playground proposed by the government is expected to cause some disturbance to local residents. But that does not justify killing off the proposal. After all, the venue would accommodate just 40 hawkers for three evenings. With proper management and control, the project could bring more benefits than drawbacks.

Mong Kok residents, investors give thumbs down to plan for legal food bazaar

Food hawkers have been taking to the city’s streets for decades, be it to make a living or just for some quick money. They usually turn out in Mong Kok and other busy areas after hours and take advantage of the relatively slack law enforcement during the new year. Illegal as it is, the smorgasbord of snacks on offer is what makes the city’s street food culture so special. It also fills the stomach of hungry revellers when many restaurants and eateries close during the festive season.

The tradition had been going along well until this February, when a crackdown by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department triggered violence that came to be known as the Mong Kok riot. Some 80 arrests were made while about 130 people were injured during the clashes. The minister in charge of the city’s hygiene denied that the latest proposal was aimed at pre-empting a repeat of such mayhem. But that does little to win over critics who are convinced by the theory.

It is true that hawkers may still make an appearance with or without the bazaar. But an authorised outdoor food location would give an option to those who are willing to foot the licensing fee in return for a reprieve from law enforcement. Under the proposal, some 40 hawkers would be able to prepare food, but without naked flames, inside the Macpherson Playground until 2am for three nights over the Lunar New Year. As long as they can make money, the idea will have appeal. Revellers would also be able to satisfy their taste buds in an organised environment.

For once, government would do well by doing nothing

But officials may need to consider expanding the capacity to cater for more small vendors, lest the bazaar only benefit food chains rather than individuals. Similar to the flower markets that set up in different districts in the run up to Lunar New Year’s eve, the food bazaar would also be created for the public good.

More options have since been floated. Should the department go ahead with any proposal, it should consider all possible measures to minimise the inconvenience to the neighbourhood. Other districts can follow the model in future if it proves to be popular.