Evidence of Hong Kong's status as an international city is easy to find - just pick up a restaurant guide. A discerning diner can choose from a dazzling variety of cuisines from all over the world. The tempting selection, combined with an unparalleled choice of Chinese restaurants, gives our city a good claim to be the food capital of Asia. It makes Hong Kong a more interesting and enjoyable place in which to live - and is a big draw for tourists. But spare a thought - when trying to decide which chic, air conditioned restaurant to visit - for the humble dai pai dong. The famous food hawkers have long been part of everyday life in Hong Kong. They are a colourful component of our city's heritage - and they are facing a slow death. The government has not issued new licences for dai pai dong - classified as fixed-pitch cooked food and light refreshment hawkers - for more than 30 years. The number has therefore plummeted. Dai pai dong are gradually being phased out. The government policy is that these licences can only be passed on to a spouse. Many of the licence holders are now elderly. Their stalls are bound for closure - unless they take the rather extreme, and unlikely, step of finding a young husband or wife. If the policy continues, dai pai dong will be consigned to history within the next 10 or 20 years. It would be a sad day for Hong Kong. The government had good reasons for wanting to reduce the number of hawkers who once plied their trade in so many of our crowded streets. It has also gone about the job with some sensitivity. There were valid health and hygiene concerns. Hawkers also often caused an obstruction, made a lot of noise and sometimes became involved in corruption. Hawker control became a big, expensive operation. But bringing hawkers under control is one thing - stamping out food hawkers altogether is quite another. Dai pai dong have, for decades, offered a great variety of relatively inexpensive food. They provide a slice of life which adds to Hong Kong's allure - and provide a refreshing alternative to our glitzy shopping malls and designer restaurants. There is clearly a need for them to be regulated. Hygiene is especially important. But surely a system can be developed which ensures dai pai dong are clean, safe and cause no trouble. It is vital that Hong Kong continues to embrace the outside world and become more attractive to both residents and tourists alike. The theme parks and shopping malls have a valuable role to play. The trick is to allow these developments to take place while holding fast to our city's heritage and protecting Hong Kong's identity. Dai pai dong are part of that heritage. They should be supervised and controlled - but not allowed to die out.