Stories in Food

By Jessica Lin, Foster Undergraduate who is participating in an exchange with the University of Hong Kong

Three months into my exchange and as a foodie, something I will forever carry with me is all of the delicious food I have eaten. With such a dense population, Hong Kong has an incredible number of eateries. Food is an important part of Hong Kong culture and it’s easy to try a different restaurant, cafe, or bakery each day. Like the rest of Hong Kong, there is incredible variety within this city’s eateries. International fine dining is available in many of the new shopping malls and a block away, classic tea restaurants feed the masses. While many are drawn to the well-dressed waiting staff, impeccable decor, and fancy menus, I personally steer away. For me, the most charming and lovable aspect of Hong Kong is the fact that this city and it’s people are a bit rough around the edges.

In tea restaurants (茶餐廳) and open-air food stalls (大排檔), the menus are taped to the walls, the seats aren’t very comfortable, the space is small, and everything is loud. Some go in and hear what sounds like angry shouting and the banging of pans. But what I hear are the delivery men making jokes. I hear all the customers chatting with the workers and each other. I hear the aunties who work there give discounts to regulars because they had an awful day at work. I hear the chefs making a plate of vegetables for an elderly grandma because they want to make sure she’s healthy.

China Jessica Lin 2Everyone and everything is a little rough around the edges but that’s what makes it worth going. I walk around the crowded streets every day and pass an endless number of people, but when I sit down to eat, I get a glimpse into a life that is just as complicated and important as my own. I see the people behind their uniform or position and get to experience Hong Kong people and culture. But as the large malls appear and are filled with luxury retailers and high end restaurants I lose more and more of the city I love. The floors are impeccably clean, the dishes aren’t chipped at all, and the servers are so polite and quiet when they take my order and bring my food. But that’s all they are. The server is just a server and the meal is just a meal. I don’t deny the fact that dining in nicer restaurants is more comfortable, but I will always choose the noisy eateries on the street because they are part of Hong Kong’s charm and why I absolutely love this city.