City Weekend

Five unethical foods available in Hong Kong

The notorious shark fin soup is not the only food being served in the city which gives cause for concern

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 9:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2017, 1:48pm

Snake wine

Considered to have health benefits in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this alcoholic beverage is believed to have originated in China during the Western Zhou dynasty. It is made by pushing a live or dead venomous snake into a bottle of rice wine or another strong alcohol. Traders often use the most endangered species, such as cobras because their poison, which dissolves in the liquor, is believed to be vital for the wine’s invigorating effects. Many countries have banned the importing of snake wine because it generally contains endangered species. But in Hong Kong it is still possible to buy snake wine from some traditional shops.

‘Imagine eating a panda’: Wildlife campaigners urge Hongkongers to give up shark fin as animals face extinction

Snake soup

Like snake wine, snake soup is believed to have medicinal benefits in TCM. It generally includes two types of snake, plus chrysanthemum leaves and spices. Popular species to include are the water snake or python, but the Chinese cobra and Banded krait are also sometimes utilised. Wildlife campaigners have said the practice of making snake soup is cruel and unnecessary, because they are sometimes kept in inhumane conditions in snake farms in mainland China before being skinned alive. The dish is considered to be a Cantonese delicacy but has reportedly become less popular in recent years, particularly with young people as Hongkongers increasingly question whether the practice is ethical.

Turtle jelly

This dark brown dessert is made by boiling a turtle shell for up to 12 hours and infusing it with Chinese herbs. Followers of TCM believe it has health benefits. Hong Kong restaurants serving turtle jelly will keep turtle shells stacked up inside — a grisly reminder of what is being prepared given turtles die once their shells are removed. Wildlife campaigners remain concerned by the amount of turtles being traded through Hong Kong for food, as many species are endangered.

Frog legs

Generally served in more traditional Hong Kong restaurants, sautéed frog legs with bamboo shoots is another Cantonese speciality. But with worldwide populations of frog in decline, and some species reaching the endangered status, environmentalists have emphasised the dish is not eco-friendly. Scientists have said frogs face multiple man-made threats, such as pollution and pesticides, so consuming them for their meat is not sustainable. Moreover when the dish is prepared, the rest of the frog’s body is normally discarded, causing unnecessary food waste.


Only half of the seafood eaten in Hong Kong is sustainable, a survey by the World Wildlife Foundation suggested in 2015. Meanwhile in 2011, Hongkongers consumed about 71.2kg of seafood per person, about four times the global average, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. This makes Hong Kong the second largest per capita consumer of seafood in Asia. Bluefin tuna, swordfish, sole and black cod are among the species which the WWF advises Hongkongers to avoid because of their dwindling populations worldwide. Meanwhile Pacific salmon, abalone and oysters from certain regions are graded as acceptable to eat.

And finally...

Plastic wrapped fruit and vegetables

Hongkongers are fighting against their supermarkets for over-wrapping fresh fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets including Wellcome, ParknShop, City’super and Taste have been criticised for individually wrapping the fresh produce, although most insist it is for hygiene reasons. The Environmental Protection Department has said “there is a strong community consensus” on food hygiene, therefore discouraging excessive packaging is still on voluntary basis.