Long queues at Hong Kong food trucks despite minor hiccups on first day of business

Some operators opened later than planned, and customers experienced long waits

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 5:38pm

The dumplings were late, but hungry Hong Kong customers were willing to wait.

Three food truck operators made their debut yesterday under a two-year pilot scheme that will eventually see 16 restaurants on wheels serving their specialties at designated locations throughout the city.

Rooted at designated spots, without the option to cruise around a space-starved city for customers but allowed to rotate every two weeks, all three opened for business behind schedule and struggled to adapt to a mobile fast-food style of service, as setting up shop took longer than expected. But that did not dissuade long lines of customers.

All three reported better than expected sales by the end of their first business day.

Hungry for success, Hong Kong’s food trucks hit the road

Ma Ma’s Dumpling started operating at noon in Wong Tai Sin Square, next to the famous temple, an hour later than planned. Truck owner Liu Chun-ho said it took them around 45 minutes to set up, not 15 minutes as they had expected.

Food lover Benson Fung, who woke up at around 5am to make the journey from Sha Tau Kok, said he did not mind the wait. “I’m not disappointed,” Fung said. “I understand it takes time to prepare.”

Elaine Lai, who travelled from Sheung Shui to Wong Tai Sin to worship at the temple, said food trucks were a safer way to try local fare. “I feel the trucks are cleaner than roadside food hawkers,” she said.

The operator, which charges HK$40 for a set of five dumplings, said some 300 sets were almost sold out by 6pm. Pig trotters in wine and Chinese-style pizza were cleared by 4pm.

Where to tuck in at a Hong Kong food truck stop

In Tsim Sha Tsui, the Pineapple Canteen food truck rolled up to the Kowloon Public Pier, charging HK$12 for a single pineapple bun. It cost HK$20 for buns with fresh cream and real pineapple, and HK$50 to add all the trimmings, including ham and tomato.

Operator Carrie Lam Kit-wai, said all 600 pineapple buns had sold out by early evening.

Despite its name, the traditional pineapple bun has no tropical fruit in it at all. Instead, it gets its name from its sugary crust, which resembles the outside of a pineapple.The menu also offered non-pineapple bun cha chaan teng items, such as macaroni soup.

Hongkonger Kelly Wong was the first in the queue to try the new take on an old favourite. After an hour-long wait, she finally got to try it. Her verdict: “Very good flavour.”

Eight-year-old Jonah Chau, also a local, preferred the savoury option to the cream-filled creation. He said it was “yummy”.

At Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, hungry Bao & Buns customers had to wait an hour to get their first taste of the meat buns, but they were cheerfully patient to sample the newest offerings in Hong Kong’s street food culture.

Operating the American-style barbecue meat venture under the Book Brothers brand name, Raymond Wong Wai-man, general manager of Atlantic Sunrise Food, said he sold 300 “bao” buns, a third more than anticipated.

For HK$38, customers could sample Bao & Buns’ line-up of meat-based snacks.

I feel that the trucks are cleaner than roadside food hawkers
Elaine La

Ng Pak-san, 10, who skipped breakfast for the event, tried a Peking duck bun. “It tastes awesome,” the pupil said. “But you have to wait a very long time.”

Others ran out of patience and began to grumble after spending too long queueing up.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung, said he was encouraged to see the lines of customers after inspecting the trading day at Bauhinia Square.

“It’s indicative of the kind of support both from tourists and local residents and I hope this momentum will be sustained, and we will do everything we can to facilitate that,” he said.

The government is promoting the food truck scheme as a novel idea to boost the touism industry. The Tourism Commission is supporting the endeavour with a free mobile app named “HK Food Truck” to help customers locate the food trucks.

The scheme has attracted criticism for its high start-up costs and the burden of government red-tape facing food truck operators.

Watch: Five rules for Hong Kong’s food trucks

A particular gripe among operators was that the mobile food kitchens would be stationary and unable to roam around the city. In other cities, such as New York, operators are allowed to cruise for customers as long as they are not blocking traffic or pedestrian flow.

“You can’t compare a very populated, dense city like Hong Kong, or expect to be able to park a food truck on the side of the road or go wherever it can, simply because of traffic considerations and the interests of existing restaurant owners,” So said. “I think this is something we need to work out.

The food truck project is a two-year pilot scheme, first proposed in the government’s 2015-2016 budget. The next batch from the 16 operators selected from more than 190 applicants will start business by early next month.