Taste test reveals truth about Hong Kong’s food trucks: snacks that are bland, overpriced and hard to eat

High prices, some uninspired dishes and poor locations – Hong Kong’s first food trucks fall short of expectations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 5:53pm

It hasn’t been a smooth ride for Hong Kong’s food truck operators since they began operating a month ago. Owners complain about a lack of customers at some locations, and have added popular local snacks to menus to boost takings. Customers, on the other hand, find some of the food on offer isn’t up to scratch or worth the price.

We decided to find out ourselves by conducting a taste test early this month. Although licences have been issued for 16 food trucks, there were only 11 listed on the “HK Food Truck” app. We visited nine – the 10th had left early. (Trucks change location every two weeks, so check the app to see what’s available in your chosen place.)

Apart from quality and pricing, another flaw of the scheme we found is a lack of seating – which matters given some dishes need to be eaten with a knife and fork.

Hong Kong temple worshippers balk at prices for offerings from food trucks in Wong Tai Sin

Central Harbourfront

It’s not a good start. We begin at 11am, when the app tells us Bao & Buns should be here, but the vehicle is nowhere in sight. A security guard on patrol tells us it usually shows up around noon.

We can’t wait so we take the MTR South Island line and head for Ocean Park. It’s a convenient way to get there, crossing a walkway from the station to get to the park’s entrance. Unfortunately the food trucks are parked down below by the bus stop, so MTR passengers miss them.

Ocean Park

There are two food trucks here – from Table Seven and Beef & Liberty. The former has a Hong Kong-themed truck with the plastic red lampshades seen in wet markets and a neon sign in Chinese boasting “fresh and generous ingredients”. We try the “Sorrowful burger” (HK$68), named after a dish in the film The God of Cookery starring Stephen Chow Sing-chi. It’s a thick slice of char siu in a pineapple bun with tomato and lettuce. The bun was is tasty but the thick char siu slice is a mouthful and hard to chew on.

We also try the Roaster [sic] suckling pig bagel (HK$60), which requires jaws of steel to chomp down on, and has quite crunchy skin, too. It’s not very satisfying, but the hot milk tea (HK$20) is passable.

Staff member William Tong Kan-lung says business is quiet and they had better luck at the Kwun Tong ferry pier.

A few steps away is Beef & Liberty. We try the padron peppers (HK$28), which taste just like the ones it sells in its California Tower outlet – not at all spicy and served warm. The pork crackling (HK$18) is very crunchy and topped with caraway seeds.

This smells fishy: cook-off for Hong Kong food truck licences a closed event

Little Pecker is a new burger the truck and restaurant has debuted. The chicken, with shredded lettuce, is on the bland side, but spiced up by the sriracha mayonnaise. Maybe we should have ordered the beef or pork burger instead.

Central Harbourfront ... again

We schlep all the way back to Central, arriving just after 1pm, and Bao & Buns is now in business, close to the Hong Kong Observation Wheel. The truck looks pretty funky, decorated with kung fu caricatures, but the menu is all over the place, from ham and cheese sandwiches (HK$38) to honey chicken wings (HK$28 for four) and butter corn (HK$22).

A worker walking by says to his companion: “HK$18 for two jumbo fish balls? I’d rather get an ice cream.”

Asked why they weren’t there at 11am, the staff explain they were stuck in traffic.

We order the chicken wings but they’re not available – they say we could have the wings if we wait 10 minutes. No thanks. They also don’t have any of the iced drinks listed because the ice machine hasn’t yet arrived.

We try the Beijing roast duck bun (HK$38), and it’s a giant steamed wrapper stuffed with a big piece of roasted duck with julienne cucumber and spring onion, two slices of fluorescent yellow Japanese pickled daikon and lots of plum sauce – but the sauce is practically the only thing we taste.

The jumbo fish balls (HK$18) do indeed look like fish balls on steroids, but don’t have much flavour. Lots of passers-by take a peek, but not many stop for a bite.

Golden Bauhinia Square

Mama’s Dumplings is a colourful-looking truck plastered with cartoon drawings of dumplings. Its signature five-coloured dumplings (HK$40) should appeal to the captive Chinese tourists in the area, but instead they flock to the nearby Mobile Softee for a HK$10 soft ice cream cone.

Each of the five dumplings has a different filling. They’re served in a bowl with dark vinegar and soy sauce, with lots of coriander and minced garlic. It’s a good snack.

The pig trotters (HK$50), though, are blanched cold slices of the meat, and two slices are enough, leaving many more still left in the bowl. There are many “sold out” items, but the operator says they aren’t actually available yet.

Salisbury Garden

After taking the Star Ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui, we find three food trucks by the Space Museum. Mein by Maureen serves a variety of noodle dishes and we choose one with a 63-degree egg (HK$56). The onsen egg is in a sectioned off cardboard container, when it should be on top of the noodles so the yolk can ooze like a sauce.

We also try the lemon chicken (HK$38), with slices of chicken that have been cooked sous-vide but look slightly pink, with a thick lemon sauce drizzled on top. It wasn’t the traditional Hong Kong lemon chicken we were expecting.

At Ho Yuen Express, the signature grilled squid (HK$58) is quite large, but it was hard to eat because it wasn’t sliced all the way through, and didn’t have much of a grilled flavour – it seemed heated up. However, we quite liked the deep-fried chicken wings (HK$38), though they were a bit too salty. We washed them down with an iced lemon tea (HK$28), but the plentiful lemon pulp may not be to everyone’s taste.

Finally we try some healthy options at Princess Kitchen with “dragon bowls”. We opt for the small dragon fruit bowl (HK$48, HK$68 large) – purple dragon fruit pulp made into a refreshing sorbet with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, coconut shavings and goji berries. This is the best dish of the day, though the blueberry soda (HK$20) – berries, berry syrup and soda water – seems a bit gimmicky.

Kwun Tong Ferry Pier

We rush over by taxi to arrive at 3.40pm because, according to the app, the truck selling fish maw here will close at 4pm. But it’s nowhere to be seen. We call the food truck and they explain unapologetically that they’ve left for the day.

Wong Tai Sin

Unable to get our collagen boost, we head to Pineapple Express, situated in an open space next to the entrance of the famous temple. It’s a good location and a good example of one that could benefit from more seating: it has the space, too. School has just closed and many people are crowding around the truck are students eager for an after-school snack.

This truck offers a variety of pineapple buns, ranging from a plain one for HK$12 to a pineapple bun with pork chop for HK$33. We choose the signature pineapple bun with fresh cream and diced pineapple (HK$20) but it’s not very tasty. The pineapple ice drink (HK$22) is soda water with diced pineapple in it. Another gimmicky drink.

One customer, Terry Yip, also tries one of the buns and agrees it’s nothing exceptional. “This is my first time trying food from a food truck and if I see another one I will try it,” she says, but doesn’t seem impressed by her first experience.

Disneyland

Next to the luggage valet and with large signs pointing towards it, the food truck at Disneyland is impossible to miss. Run by a restaurant group, the Chee Kei food truck offers bento boxes with its signature braised pork (HK$65) or braised beef brisket (HK$70), paired with rice, chilli wonton and mixed greens.

It’s a substantial portion but the food is mediocre. The braised soy sauce chicken wings (HK$30 for three) are almost tasteless and would benefit from being marinated longer.

However, the theme park guarantees a steady flow of visitors – more than any we saw at other food trucks – some possibly eager to avoid overpriced food in the park. There are plenty of benches nearby for people to sit down and eat properly.

Chee Kei was also taking advantage of its limited time at the profitable location by extending the truck’s opening hours from 9am to 9pm.

Overall, the food we tried from the trucks was rather disappointing, especially given the fact that the dishes have been vetted by a panel of supposed experts. Requiring the food trucks to park at designated locations defeats the purpose of having food stalls on wheels, and most of the locations are not well thought out. Rather than burdening the food truck operators with unnecessary rules – such as not being allowed to change their menus – it is time for the government to step up and give the scheme its full support.