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Mong Kok riot

Fishball spike: world searches for meaning in Hong Kong treat that helped spark a riot

People the world over ponder what role the humble snack could possibly have played in sparking Hong Kong's worst unrest in decades

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 February, 2016, 4:19pm

A spike in fishball searches online has been recorded as global interest turns to the Mong Kok riots, with Google Trends showing a sharp uptick in interest over the fast-food.

After the 10-hour protest-turned-riot on Monday night and Tuesday morning shocked Hongkongers with a scale of violence and destruction not seen in decades, the world was left scratching their heads as to what could have caused such unrest.

Britain's The Guardian newspaper led with the headline "Is Hong Kong really rioting over fishball stands?" The food entered headlines from Italy to the United States, where it was likely unfamiliar to many readers.

Singapore and the Philippines were the sources of much of the interest shown in the riot, where the food is a popular snack and many web searches revolve around recipe ideas.

But a rise in searches for simply the term "fishball" was also seen as people sought an explanation of the term.

Since the start of February, searches for “fishball” have jumped 34 per cent and “fish ball” 26 per cent, according to Google Trends, before which the name had seen a steady, slowly rising level of interest for a decade.

The food – a concoction of flour and fish meat to varying degrees, and seasoning – is rarely offered outside Asia.

But in Hong Kong the white lumps can be savoured floating in curry sauce, on a skewer or doused in shark's fin soup.

And as the hundreds of people present at the beginning of the fishball hawker crackdown late on Monday night would attest, the snack is part of life in the foodie city.

TAKE 5: we rank five popular brands of fish balls

The ugly riot in the early hours of Tuesday provided rare scenes of destruction on the streets of Hong Kong as hundreds of people picked up and flung anything they could lay their hands on at police. Officers retaliated with tear gas, pepper spray and baton attacks.

Some 64 people have so far been arrested and 124 injured, with 90 of those police officers, according to officials.

Many street hawkers have found themselves under increased scrutiny as government policies become more stringent concerning the practice. There has been a ban on issuing new street hawker licences since 1974, along with limits on transfers of permits.