Hong Kong Foodies Under the Umbrella

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While strolling through the downtown area of Hong Kong where the Umbrella Movement is centered, we’ve been running into many of our Hong Kong foodie pals–from expat chefs to hardcore food bloggers. (One of the colorful stories from the first few days was the one about how several hedge fund guys went out to barbecue sausages for the hungry students). Normally, we’d be out in the alleyways digging deep looking for a great hidden noodle joint. Instead, we’re out on the street eating stale saltine biscuits.

 

Why? What does loving Hong Kong food have to do with the protests, you may wonder?

 

Well, actually, they are quite connected.

 

A few days ago, I took clients to one of our favorite congee places, Yung Kee, on the corner of High Street in Sai Ying Pun.

 

Yung Kee is the type of place we love here at Little Adventures–it’s not on any of the Michelin lists, has zero blogger profile, but is an underground fave, with lots of fans among people who know their food (like HK Magazine’s Adam White, who I sometimes bump into there while hosting guests for a luscious late breakfast of creamy fish flake congee and perfectly fried yau tiu (dough sticks, see above), the best in HK! Yung Kee’s owners are a family that’s been serving customers in that location for more than 30 years. They are old-school, make everything by hand, and one of the delights of eating there is watching the auntie by the counter steam her sheets of rice noodle by hand in a press.

 

That is, Yung Kee was the type of place we love at Little Adventures. It is now shuttered, for good, soon to be replaced by a craft beer bar, a chain.

 

When I saw the plywood shutters and the sign the other morning, my heart dropped. “The landlord raised their rent from 40,000 HKD a month to 90,000 HKD,” explained the shop owners next door to Yung Kee (their noodle shop, Ying Kee  is a kick ass family run beef broth noodle place that has superb fried wontons–we’ll be taking more of our guests there soon).

 

And so, sadly, Yung Kee joins the long, too-long list of superb family run eateries that have been wiped out by Hong Kong’s insane, out of control property bubble in the last five years. And the list of places that brought joy and pleasure to our Little Adventures guests–and to us.

 

Whatever you may think about the striking Hong Kong students and their politics, here’s the heart of the matter: the deep cause of this protest is the widespread feeling that our city, our streets, and yes, our food, is being squeezed to death by policies designed to benefit a tiny handful of people with little stake in the daily life of Hong Kong. As a city, we are desperately in need of competent policies and planning to make our streets more walkable, our air more breathable, to save our street markets from the claws of developers, to preserve our older buildings, our vibrant neighborhoods. And to keep our rents under control so our small family businesses–so many of whom are food related!–can keep making a decent living.

 

In other world cities, the mayor has to listen to the public’s demands, or risk getting booted out by the voters. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, however, has no accountability (the number “689” that you see at the protests, is the number of electoral college votes that put our “mayor” into office).

 

We are losing business from the Umbrella Movement demonstrations. The international news reports showing demonstrators and police in the streets alarm people who don’t know Hong Kong is a peaceful place–far more peaceful even in demonstrations than New York is on a normal day!

 

But we also know that if there isn’t some kind of serious reform in the way that Hong Kong is run as a city, we are going to lose what is wonderful and unique about our city–all the flavor that makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

 

And that would not just be bad for our little business, but bad for Hong Kong people–and bad for everyone around the world who, like us, deeply loves our city.