THE date: mid-1985. The place: a meeting in Hong Kong. The topic: how to create an attraction to complement the territory's reputation as a shopper's paradise. 'What else have we got?' someone asked. 'Food,' came the reply. And the Hong Kong Food Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, was born. The festival, which in the past decade has joined the Rugby Sevens and Dragon Boat races as one of territory's annual highlights, hitches to its wagon every restaurant owner and hotelier who ever thought a promotion was the way to fill tables. This year's festival, organised by the Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA) with Governor Chris Patten as its patron, runs from March 2 to 17. As in previous years, it kicks off with the Fun And Food Fiesta in the New World Plaza and along the Tsim Sha Tsui East promenade and ends with the Hong Kong Waiters' Race along Chater Road in Central. Many of the events are pure tourist attractions. Three tour operators are offering special excursions to Lei Yue Mun, including the Cocktail Cruise With Seafood Dinner ($550 per person), and the Gourmet Seafood Dinner And Open Market Exploring Tour ($660 adults, $400 children). 'Participants can enjoy their seafood the way the local residents do - as fresh as it can be and cooked just the way you like it,' the HKTA promises. High on the visitor must-do list are the Morning Tea And Tai Chi Tour ($360), the Double Happiness Tour And Banquet ($400) and the Savouring Sai Kung Tour ($440). For locals who aren't thrilled by the idea of dim sum on a restored junk bobbing against the Hong Kong skyline with the smell of the harbour in their noses, the annual festival means a heavier than normal flood of guest chefs, discounts, bonus dishes and special offers. While veterans have come to expect a gung-ho festival calendar in Central from the Lan Kwai Fong Association, the Canton Road Association across the harbour makes its debut this year with a two-day Spring Carnival in Kowloon Park. Between 50,000 and 100,000 people are expected to visit the range of Asian and international food stalls set up by about a dozen hotels and restaurants in the area. Entertainment is being laid on as well, with local artists performing on stage, plus games, retail booths, arts and crafts, fortune telling, hot-air balloon rides and other sports. 'If you call it a festival, it had better be a festival,' says project co-ordinator, Dick Kaufman. 'You have to put people in the streets, give them fun, make them enjoy themselves.' The Omni hotels are the backbone of the association, along with Marks & Spencer and Duty Free Shoppers. But it's the high-visibility venues, Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe, that give the association glitz and some star-studded glamour. Along with the Spring Carnival, the Canton Road Association, headed by John Girard, Omni The Hong Kong Hotel's general manager, is holding an Australian food promotion that runs throughout the food festival. For international glamour in an apron, the Lan Kwai Fong International Food Festival (March 11 to 17) is unrivalled. The tradition of flying in chefs from around the world continues this year, with special menus, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, mime artists, musicians and jugglers. The theme is 'The Art of Eating'. 'We're focusing on the synergy between the senses,' Lan Kwai Fong Association chairman Richard Feldman says. 'I think we're going to have some of the best food of any food festival in Hong Kong.' For the first time, the association is publishing a recipe book to coincide with its annual event. Recipes from this year's 12 guest chefs will be included along with best-selling recipes from participating restaurants. 'Every year we get better chefs,' Feldman says. 'The event has become better known and it's easier for us to work with restaurants and cookery schools around the world.' This year's event also celebrates the street's latest upgrade. No fewer than six new restaurants will open in time for the festival, including Dillinger's and Cafe des Artistes. As they race to turn the area from construction site to carnival venue, all restaurateurs in Lan Kwai Fong are looking forward to putting down their hammers and picking up their forks. Festival highlights include: Hong Kong At Home cooking classes by local chefs William Mark and Lisa Fong (March 5 to 16). The Galloping Gourmet - A Day At The Races, at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club's Pak Hop Restaurant in Sha Tin (March 2). Gourmet's Choice Banquet at the Yung Kee Restaurant (March 7). Cooking With Great Chefs cookery demonstration classes (March 2 to 17). Various theme parties including the Feast Of Selected Dishes From Dynasties Party (March 8), Vegetarian Dinner (March 10), Imperial Banquet Highlights (March 11), Dual Spicy Banquet (March 13) and Galaxy Of Bazhen (March 15). The Health Food And Body Reinforcement Exhibition, which charts the differences between Oriental and Western approaches to health, at the New World Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui (March 10 to 17).