After Mong Kok riot, could district see street food made legal next Lunar New Year?
Government proposes setting up bazaar for hawkers from January 28 to 30
Nearly a year after a crackdown on illegal street food sellers triggered a night of violence which came to be known as the Mong Kok riot, the government is proposing to legalise the operations of these hawkers during the 2017 Lunar New Year period.
In a discussion paper submitted to the Yau Tsim Mong district council, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department proposed setting up a cooked food bazaar from January 28 to 30 in a “suitable” outdoor location that could accommodate 40 hawkers.
This is the first time the government has attempted to legalise street food businesses after decades of illegal operations and official crackdowns during the festive period.
Although the paper did not directly link the proposal to the Mong Kok riot in February, it said the “public demand for cooked food” during the period due to the suspension of eateries had prompted it to consider setting up a legal bazaar.
Lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan, who chairs the Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene, said the proposal could facilitate the authorities’ administration by gathering hawkers in one location, but whether food sellers took up the offer would depend on how favourable the terms were.
“If the rents are too high, only big catering operators would move in, and the existing problem would still not be solved,” she said, adding that the profits made by a hawker selling fishballs were very limited.
According to the preliminary proposal, 40 street food stalls will be allowed to operate between noon and 2am during the three-day period. Locations such as Macpherson Playground would be considered.
The department proposed to charge operators a reasonable amount of rent with detailed requirements listed in a signed contract.
Only electricity would be allowed for cooking on safety grounds, it said.
Yau Tsim Mong District Council chairman Ip Ngo-tung told RTHK on Saturday that the government needed more dialogue with stakeholders to promote local street food culture in the long term.
“For hawkers, the proposed cooked food bazaar would not be appealing if there were too many restrictions and regulations,” Ip said.
Mong Kok, one of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, went into virtual lockdown this February hours after the Lunar New Year began. Unrest escalated as crowds gathered to protest a crackdown on illegal street food hawkers. About 130 people were injured during the clash between police and protesters, and about 80 were arrested.