Hong Kong has always been a prominent food destination, not only in Asia, but by world standard. However, some may contest just how great is the culinary offering of our humble city. Earlier this week, I attended the panel discussion organised by WOM Guide on whether Hong Kong is the world’s GREATEST food destination.
On the panel were 2 star chefs Gregoire Michaud and Jeremy Biasiol, who are familiar to those who pay attention to the food scene here. They were joined by restaurateur Paolo Pong, and mediamen Andrew Sun and Nick Walton.
As the guest panelists all chipped in on various reasons why Hong Kong is certainly known for good food in every corner of the city, yet not quite the GREATEST, one thing they kept bringing up was authencity. The fact that this city imports not only ingredients from around the world, but also the chefs who would turn them into dishes on dining tables, means the food scene is not authentically ‘Hong Kong’. Even the dim sum that we are so proud of is not uniquely a Hong Kong cuisine, but rather small snacks served with tea all around Southern China, with its origin from the far far west aka Silk Road.
A lack of parental and government’s support to encourage young people develop their passion for food is supposed to be blamed for the few homegrown talents that Hong Kong has today. I can totally imagine Asian parents frowning upon their kids’ dream of pursuing a career in the kitchen as it is not a ‘professional job’ involving punching numbers at a desk under fluorescent lights.
On the talent side, I am glad that someone is stepping in to promote careers in the culinary world to our next generation. To commemorate the gas company’s 150th year in Hong Kong, Towngas Cooking Centre is hosting the Young Master Chef competition for students between the age of 15 to 20 years old to showcase their cooking talents and create their signature dishes. They will be evaluated based on creativity and appearance of the dishes. 24 individuals/teams of two will be selected to go through weekly training by star chefs in Hong Kong this summer.
The winner will be sent to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to receive Western culinary training, while 1st and 2nd runners-up will go to Beijing and stay in Hong Kong respectively to hone their skills in Chinese cooking. This is definitely good news, as mentorship and relationship-building in this industry is just as important as formal training, and this competition can help students get a head start.
On the ingredients side, agriculture in Hong Kong is sadly shrinking. Farmland and villages are being acquired by real estate developers under the blessing of ‘urban planning’ by the government. The controversy sparked by the decision to bulldoze Tsoi Yuen (vegetable garden) Village to make way for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express railway is still a reminder to all Hong Kongers how vulnerable these communities are.
Luckily some villages are standing up to it to protect their heritage and also community farming.
Located in Fanling in Northeastern New Territories, Ma Shi Po is one of the few surviving farming villages in Hong Kong. As it falls within the Northeast New Territories New Development Areas (an infrastructure project for private housing development), Ma Shi Po is also facing an imminent end. Developers have been abusing loopholes in the law to acquire land from indigenous owners and evict tenant farmers, displacing many families and destroying many farms in the process.
To promote awareness of farming lifestyle and to protect the village from its tragic fate, Mapopo (meaning baby horse, but also a play on the original name of the village) Community Farm was born in Summer 2010. By growing organic seasonal produce and composting kitchen waste, MCF is attempting to promote respect for the land, develop sustainable farming and rebuild the food supply chain in Hong Kong.
Villages are no longer just the forgotten backyard of the city, but its own vegetable garden supplying food to its own people. The farming process is completely transparent, and with integrity. And it is also a way to support the livelihood of farmers, whose families have spent generations building the community here.
To show your love and care, and to support this community, you can visit Mapopo’s farmers’ market every Wednesday and Sunday (2:00-6:00pm). Also feel free to contact me for a list of stockist that carries fresh produce from Mapopo.
A lot of people may question how ‘clean’/organic the local produce can be, especially in Hong Kong where blue sky is a rare occasion worth celebrating, and half the time you cannot see across the harbour from Central because Tsim Sha Tsui would be clouded in smog.
The boys behind IHM believe in ‘from-farm-to-table’ and the benefits of eating premium, sustainable clean food, and therefore started the quest to bring the best organic fruits and vegetables from farms in New Territories and China to Posto Pubblico, its first restaurant. It has now opened this up to all Hong Kong foodies who care about what they eat, and Homegrown Foods was born.
What’s more, your veggie box is delivered straight to your doorstep. Now you really have no excuse to say no. Pick only what’s in season, fresh and local, instead of flying something ‘organic’ from 1,000 miles away. The ingredients you can work with may be more limited than you are used to, but that is just how our ancestors have been cooking and eating for centuries before the advent of commercial farming post Industrial Revolution.
‘Agriculture’ is not only the cultivation of crops, but also the preservation of humanity, ethics and traditional wisdom. May Mapopo and Ma Shi Po, and other farming villages under threat be preserved, and our children will not lose the opportunity to connect with the land that feeds us.
Buy local, eat organic.
Mapopo Community Farm
Add: Ma Shi Po Village, Fanling, New Territories, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 9761 6123 / +852 6121 8961
Some photos coutesy of Mapopo Community Farm