Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Getting Closer to Food Trucks in Hong Kong

The 16 winners of the cooking competition with Gregory So (in white)
Food trucks in Hong Kong are one step closer to reality after a cook-off was held yesterday at the Chinese Culinary Institute in Pokfulam.

Fifty-one applicants presented their signature dishes to nine judges, many of whom are celebrity chefs, and from there 16 winners were chosen.

What was strange was that the whole process was opaque -- the media wasn't allowed to watch the actually cooking and taste the food, nor did they taste the winning entries either.

Reporters were only shown pictures of the dishes, photographed against dark backgrounds, as if to make them look cooler, but instead made them look less like food truck food.

So wore a chef jacket, but boasts no culinary skills
At the press conference, Gregory So Kam-leung, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development wore a chef's jacket, even though he professed to not have a sophisticated enough palate to judge the applicants' food...

However, six judges came on stage and commented on the winning dishes, some of them making them sound more delicious than they looked. One example from Tan Sing Cafe was a pineapple bun "hamburger", complete with a patty, lettuce, tomato and fried egg.

Another was a whole grilled squid on a bed of greens. It immediately made me think of "chao yao yu", which means deep-fried squid, or the Cantonese slang for "being sacked".

One winning dish from Mitsu Company featured fried rice (also with a fried egg on top), served on a plate that looked like an artist's palette, and on the edge were small containers to hold several different sauces. How was that dish, called "sakura shrimp umami sauce fried rice" supposed to work in a real food truck situation? Does that mean diners have to eat the dish on the plate near the food truck and then return the dish afterwards?

We also wondered about a fish maw soup -- how much was that going to cost? And isn't fish maw expensive?

When reporters talked to some of the winners, they admitted they didn't expect this food truck venture to make much money; they looked at it as an opportunity to be pioneers in this field in Hong Kong and saw it as a way to gain more experience in the food industry.

One successful applicant, Raymond Chu Wai-man, was a chef in the UK for 17 to 18 years, and when he heard Hong Kong was starting a food truck culture, he specifically came back to his hometown to try to get a food truck license.

He'll be selling a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches and real fruit smoothies to go with them.

Turns out only a few were big players, and they weren't even Maxim's, Cafe de Coral or even Butcher's Club. However a subsidiary of Chee Kei, a famous wonton noodle chain won, as well as Beef & Liberty, best known for its burgers and its winner was the slow-cooked pulled pork burger which is already on its menu.

Winning the food test doesn't mean the 16 successful applicants will automatically get food truck licenses -- they still have to individually apply and comply with the requirements of each of the departments involved.

Seems like a lot of hoop jumping for the applicants, while legislation hasn't caught up with the demand for food trucks in the city.

Isn't that like putting the cart before the horse?

The last thing the government should do is leave these 16 winners in a lurch if laws aren't in place to help foster this fledgling industry. They really have invested a lot of time and effort into this project.

In the meantime, what about also boosting our local food culture of dai pai dongs? They're an even more interesting food attraction than food trucks, no?

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