Face Off: should Mong Kok get a legal food bazaar for the Lunar New Year?

Face Off: should Mong Kok get a legal food bazaar for the Lunar New Year?

Each week, two of our readers will debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...

Rai Anna-l, 18, University of Hong Kong

Every Lunar New Year, food stalls line the streets of Mong Kok and other districts. However, last year’s festivity turned ugly, when a crackdown by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) triggered a violent riot. Government officials should learn a lesson from this, and give a green light to a Lunar New Year food bazaar in Mong Kok.

From developing countries such as Nepal to developed ones such as the United States, people all around the world have embraced street food culture. Hong Kong should, too. The bazaar would be a great event to show the tastiness of Hong Kong food culture, while giving encouragement to food vendors.

Street food is an integral part of our history and culture, but unfavourable licensing policies have already reduced food stall hawkers. If they are not allowed to operate during major festivals like Lunar New Year, it would be a major blow to their livelihood.

MacPherson Playground is a good location for a legal food bazaar, because it is close to Mong Kok East MTR station and there are a lot of people walking in the area to celebrate the festival. It would certainly be good business for hawkers.

Because they use boiling oil, or open flames, street hawking can pose safety issues. Accidents could happen if hawkers don’t treat the food, oil and other items carefully. But the proposed food bazaar would only allow electric cooking devices.

Hawking also blocks streets and roads, which can be very inconvenient to pedestrians. In an emergency, hawkers might block ambulance officers from getting through. But police officers could do crowd control, to make sure the hawkers are keeping the path clear.

A more concerning issue is the hygiene problem, as unsafe food management could cause food poisoning. But having a legal food bazaar is an effective way for the FEHD to ensure food safety. As a result, the government should push forward the food bazaar in Mong Kok for the Lunar New Year.


Face Off: is Hong Kong a cultural desert?


Lucinda Kam Wing-lam, 20, University of Hong Kong

The upcoming Lunar New Year will mark one year since the Mong Kok unrest, when clashes between protesters and police broke out over the government’s clearance of street hawkers. To avoid a repeat of this, the government has proposed setting up temporary food stalls at MacPherson Playground during the festival. The idea was rejected, however, and rightly so.

First, the proposal had a lot of restrictions that do not favour hawkers. According to the details, hawkers would only be allowed to cook food using electric hobs. But banning the use of open flames might make the food bazaar less popular, because many traditional street foods would not be able to be made. How could they cook satay chicken or beef if there is no fire?

As well, only a few hawkers with food factory licences would be allowed to take part, and they would only be allowed to operate between 12pm and 2am on the three days assigned. The time is not long enough for the hawkers to prepare for the event, if the government wants it to be one of the special features of the Lunar New Year.

Moreover, the proposed location of MacPherson Playground is a poor choice, because nearby residents were unhappy about the potential noise it would make late at night. This is understandable as people often shout and talk loudly when visiting food bazaar. But instead of the playground, the food bazaar could be set up on the streets, which would provide easier evacuation routes to ease public’s safety concern.

And while street hawking would block some roads and streets, leaving limited space for pedestrians, many people would tolerate it, as it would only happen for three days.

Street hawking is a unique culture in Hong Kong, giving us a wide variety of tasty, convenient food. But this culture won’t survive if we continue to put too many rigid restrictions on street food. All these restrictions together take away any reason for hawkers to take part in the food bazaar. As a result, the food bazaar should not be held.

I wonder why the government made such a big deal about this issue, but they don’t focus on more serious things like care homes.

Edited by Sam Gusway

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Should Mong Kok have a legal food bazaar for the Lunar New Year festival?

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