My Take

Eat and be merry: street food, properly regulated, would be to the benefit of all

Decades-old laws that target hawkers should be updated so we can keep beloved Hong Kong tradition alive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2016, 1:35am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

I would like to propose a “localist” programme that would help the grass roots, make street life more interesting, create jobs, enhance the government’s popularity and actually reduce bureaucracy. Heck, it may even help ease social tensions.

Revive the local hawker trade by revamping repressive, decades-old local laws that have penalised the poor in the interest of shop owners, mall operators and property developers.

Despite the government-sanctioned repression, the trade simply refuses to die. We still have more than 7,500 licensed and illegal hawkers plying their trade today. That is probably an underestimate as many moonlight only occasionally, such as during popular festivals. The reason for the trade’s survival is simple: supply and demand. Many have no other ways to make a living, and they don’t want to go on welfare. And many Hongkongers love hawker food and drinks.

Fish balls, egg waffles, imitation shark’s fin soup, soy sauce-fried noodles and many more food items now sold in shops and fast-food chains were originally hawkers’ staples. They have been taken over by the food establishment, but without necessarily making them taste better or more hygienic.

Last month, a group of hawkers and their supporters made a point of gathering in Sham Shui Po and setting up a hawker market in Kweilin Street, the site of a once-popular but now defunct bazaar. They have been more vocal since the Lunar New Year Mong Kok riot. By some accounts, the unrest was triggered by a crackdown on hawkers by police and hygiene squads.

So long as hygiene, pedestrian safety and street congestion are addressed, there is no reason to stop or limit this trade. Even the government has made conciliatory statements.

A Legislative Council subcommittee submitted a final report last October with a list of recommendations to relax hawker policy. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man has said the bureau keeps an open mind about opening more bazaars, so long as they have district support and suitable sites are found. So what’s stopping him?

Our finance secretary wants food trucks on our streets like New York. Don’t they pose the same problems with hygiene, pedestrian safety and street congestion? And why bother when we already have our own unbeatable street food tradition?