In his budget address last week, Finance Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced he wants to bring food trucks to Hong Kong. The idea seems to have not really thought out or the government has completely disconnected itself from the rest of society. These types of eateries already exist. Hong Kong doesn’t need food trucks. It needs more Dai Pai Dongs or smaller food stalls.
Our city has long and rich street food culture with over 50,000 Dai Pai Dongs and food stalls in 1974. The government stopped giving out cooked food licences in 1974 due to concerns around hygiene and congestion. Some of those food stalls used the money to open up restaurants. Others were moved into the cooked food areas above wet markets and some open food stalls remained either legally or illegally. Today there are only 25 legal open food stalls left according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Soon there will be none as the licenses will disappear when the owners retire.
Just after the Second World War, the government saw giving licenses for open cooked food stalls as a way to help poorer people earn money and help create an entrepreneurial spirt for Hong Kongers. We need this today with rents going up and showing no signs of going down. Our inexpensive food options are becoming limited to McDonalds and other fast food shops since the costs to do business continue to climb. We need find ways to help people who want to start their own business.
The food truck idea will cost too much and will not get ordinary people into the business. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung estimates the start-up cost to be HK$500,000. These food trucks will not move and will only serve “gourmet food.” Chan Kong-chiu, a street seller or hawker, told the SCMP this week “I think this will just end up helping the chain restaurants or big companies as a marketing ploy,” since the larger companies can afford setting it up.
The Food and Hygiene Department should look at ways to allow for more open cooked food stalls in the city to make sure the food is safe and they are not causing problems. They need to hire more inspectors to help reduce the cost of the license and make sure the food is safe. Places like Thailand, Korea or Japan have a vibrant street food culture and should be looked at to see how they regulate and allow street food. There would need to be a requirement by the street vender to have the agreement of residents surrounding the area as a condition of the permit. The permission could be given in a form of a petition with contact details it to be verified. The Department should always be looking at its own regulations and rules governing cooked food to find ways for helping those who want to open a business.
Allowing food trucks are a great way to help established restaurants. Allowing more Dai Pai Dongs and cooked food stalls are a great way to help people.
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