18 April 2016
Street Food Fiesta
The inaugural event marks a fitting return to the tradition of vendor food carts, which once lined the city’s streets, but have been diminishing since the 1970s. For decades, steaming-hot rice topped with wok-tossed meat, fish balls on skewers or a sweet fix of creamy egg tart – cheap and cheerful hawker fare – was the quick fill-me-up of choice for office workers on the go. Concerns about hygiene, safety and street congestion, however, led to a crackdown on the practice, including a freeze on the issuance of new licenses since the 1970s.
Today, street food is huge worldwide. “We’ve all seen pictures of queues in front of the Halal Guys cart in New York City,” says Wendy Hegglin, Director of Divine Marinade Ltd, a Korean sauce company located in Sheung Wan.
The modern street-food movement is said to have started in the United States' West Coast in the early 2000s, when catering trucks from Los Angeles movie-sets moved onto the streets. During the recession, unemployed chefs joined in, buying a truck, and creating jobs for themselves, to take their fare curbside.
In the United Kingdom, the concept took off after enterprising stallholders at farmers’ markets began selling their produce ready to eat. Street food now makes a welcome return to Hong Kong as the latest in a line-up of food events scheduled for the city throughout the year.
Hosted by the Hong Kong Markets Organisation (HKMO) with venue partner Lan Kwai Fong Association, Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) Street Food Festival, on 23 and 24 April, is a carnival of food and fun extending throughout the weekend in Central’s famous entertainment district.
More than 50 local and international street-food stalls will serve an abundant variety of affordable food and drinks. The mix of East and West dishes will include traditional Hong Kong-style pastries, Thai food and snacks, Korean fusion dishes, British and American food, and Italian delicacies. Some of the participating vendors will create food and drink items specially themed for the festival.
Alongside the cuisines, the event will offer entertainment for all ages, including live music from local buskers, dance performances, amusing games and inspiring workshops.
Vincent Poon, HKMO Managing Director, says the vision behind the LKF Street Food Festival is threefold: to celebrate the vibrant and diverse food culture of Hong Kong; create a city-wide community behind food and allow everyone in Hong Kong to participate; and to provide a platform for micro-small businesses to develop their F&B concepts.
“There are many food events in Hong Kong and what makes this festival stand out is its focus on diversity and affordability,” says Mr Poon. “We have spent great effort in selecting vendors to keep the food options diverse enough for people with different food preferences, and with different budgets.
“Our concern for affordability is also why admission to the festival is free. Everyone can come as long as they crave a unique food experience. Our food/drink options start from HK$25 and the highest price point will be around $80, so it won’t break the bank for everyone to enjoy a wide range of street food.”
Divine Marinade’s Wendy Hegglin agrees that the event provides valuable exposure to a small business such as hers, which the UK expat co-founded in December 2013, along with Korean-born business partner Sandra Rhow-Haik.
“While our product, Divine Marinade, can be bought in most local supermarkets, past experience has taught us that at fairs and shows, our food is one of the most popular offerings, which in turn leads to sustained higher turnover in our distribution outlets,” she says. “For us, the LKF Street Food Festival is a wonderful branding opportunity as well as an occasion to meet old and new customers.”
The event adds one more element to the entrepreneurial culture of Hong Kong, which is a “wonderful place” for food start-ups, Ms Hegglin adds.
“In our sector, there are many parts of the value chain that can be outsourced. For example, we use an incubator kitchen, which keeps our overheads much lower than if we had to own the entire production infrastructure.
“Government regulations for small businesses in the food industry are quite helpful, too; particularly the SME Export Marketing Fund and the Small Business Nutritional Labelling Exemption Directive, which are both very accommodating for a business in the early stages of development.”
The Place for Parties
Well-known for organising street events and carnivals, such as the Beer & Music Fest, Halloween party, Christmas carnival and the New Year’s countdown, LKF is an obvious choice for staging Hong Kong’s latest event, according to Allan Zeman, Chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Association. “LKF is a great place for people to have fun, enjoy good food and entertainment," said Mr Zeman. But it is also a place for pushing innovation and for young entrepreneurs to execute their ideas. We are very excited that the Street Food Festival will introduce the food truck elements to LKF, for the first time in Hong Kong.”
Helping the Hungry
There’s a CSR (corporate social responsibility) side to the event as well: Foodlink Foundation, a leading hunger-relief and food rescue charity in Hong Kong, is one of the partners. Festival-goers are encouraged to bring along canned food or rice to the foundation’s mobile van, which will deliver the donations directly to those in need.