Hong Kong street food is characterised as the ready-to-eat snacks and drinks sold by hawkers or vendors at food stalls, including egg tarts, fish balls, egg waffles and stinky tofu, according to the definition provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization.[1] They can be found throughout the city, especially around Mong Kok, Causeway Bay, Yuen Long, Tsuen Wan, and Kwun Tong.


Street food is ready to be taken away and eaten elsewhere instantly. Generally, the customers are served snacks, which are contained in polystyrene boxes, with disposable bamboo sticks or plastic utensils. Street food needs to be sold along the street, even though nowadays the junkers have transformed into shops without providing seats, but the sales are still being done along the street. Food can easily be taken away via small plastic bags, paper bags or bowls. Besides, people can simply taste the street food using the disposable tableware like plastic spoons or bamboo sticks provided by the shops.[2]

The nutritionists prove that, comparing to other food, street food sold is often cooked in greater portion of oil such as fried squid legs and hawkers usually add much sugar or salt for seasoning.[3]

According to travel websites- Timeout.com and About.com in 2013, the snacks prices averaged between $1 to $25 and were found to be most acceptable to Hongkongers.[4][5]

Cultural research suggests that food stalls supply a variety of snacks, including both local and international, ranging from red-bean pudding from Guangdong to Thai prawn cutlets.[6]


Ancient snack stalls

According to Tang Zhiyan (Chinese: 唐摭言, "selected words from the Tang"), hawkers had sold cold food on the streets to get relief during summer heat as early as the Tang dynasty. Then, during Qing dynasty, the street-side snack stalls gradually developed into street markets.[7] As highlighted in a feature article namely 'Finding the Dining Habit of the Unemployed' (Chinese: 尋找地踎飲食), the scene of hawkers carrying wood barrels, traditional wares and stoves has become part of the history of local street snacks.[8]

Development in 20th century

In the 1950s, facing the economic downturn and high unemployment rate, the majority of grass roots were forced to become itinerant hawkers to maintain their livelihood. Owing to the limited resources, rough canopies, cooking stove and wooden carts were used. Considering the effectiveness and convenience, they sold the snacks on mobile carts in the main streets to maximise revenue.[9] During the post-war period, the political stability and economic development of Hong Kong attracted immigrants from Mainland China.[10] At that time, 300,000 of them worked as hawkers, including street food hawkers. The growth in the number of itinerant hawkers fostered the development of street food culture.[11] These hawkers mainly served the lower-income group. These stalls were in form of junkers, a kind of wooden car with wheels, allowing these junkers to be pulled and pushed around.[12] The food was very often cheap in price and with many variations.[13] They became very popular during 1950s to 1960s. However, the Hong Kong government has banned these type of shops in order to build a hygienic image of the society while maintaining public health. Thus, the owners attempted to run their business in a shop instead of utilizing their own junkers.[14][15] Although the original style of “wooden junkers service” has more or less been changed, the types of food being sold are the same as those in the past.[16]

Contemporary development

From the 1970s to 1980s, several changes concerning the development of street snacks were caused by the following factors.

Governmental factor

In 1970s, the government adopted an oppressive attitude towards hawkers instead of the laissez-faire approach adopted before.[17] This showed in the change in government policies. For example, the government stopped issuing itinerant hawker licenses to control the number of hawker stalls since 1979. Later, the Urban Council and the Regional Council implemented a policy to eliminate hawkers in 1995.[18] All of the above actions suppressed the prevalence of street food at that time.

Hygiene factor

The street snacks contained germs like cholera and Escherichia coli. According to a publicity film released by the Medical and Health Department in 1987, food stalls were considered unhygienic in terms of their environment and cooking process. In the video, a hawker was shown smoking while selling snacks.[19] His stall was located beside a busy road and the floor was wet with rubbish and sewage. This unhygienic condition aroused customer concern, which acted as a catalyst for change.

Social factor

Often crowds surrounding hawkers' carts are seen as causing inconvenience to other pedestrians. In some cases, the elderly might slip as they walked over the puddles, while children might get hurt by the boiled oil from the stalls.[20] The safety concern and disturbance to the public aroused their discontent towards street hawkers.

Changes made in the contemporary society

Over the past few decades, Hong Kong street food has changed its operation.

Introduction of new legislation

The government has set a quota in the licenses provided. According to the official document, they have let 233 contracts for fixed-pitch hawkers and 93 contracts for itinerant hawkers until 2011.[21] The number of hawkers has decreased compared to 2005, in which there were 1,075 contracts for fixed-pitch hawkers.[22] To maintain a safe and clean environment, the government has also controlled hawking activities through laws. They are listed below:

  • Sections 83-86D of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap.132);
  • Hawker Regulation (Cap.132, sub.leg.);
  • Food Business Regulation (Cap.132, sub.leg.); and
  • Section 4A of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap.228).[23]

Improvement in hygiene condition

Street food is readily available for sale and hawkers keep them boiling during operation to prevent the growth of bacteria.[24] Fried food such as three stuffed treasures, are refried before being served to customers so as to lower the bacteria count.[25]

Change in operation mode

Due to the limited supply of itinerant licenses and the introduction of a compulsory deletion policy, hawkers have a fixed bunk after moving into shopping malls.[26] The distribution of street snacks was geographically dispersed throughout Hong Kong before.[27] But nowadays, street snacks are mainly located in 6 districts, including Eastern, Central and Western, Wan Chai, Yau Tsim Mong, Sham Shui Po and Kowloon City.[28]

Importance to Hong Kong

Local tourism and international recognition

The worldwide popularity of local street snacks has fostered tourism in Hong Kong. It is recognised locally and internationally. The Hong Kong Tourism Board website featured street food as 'must-eat food'.[29] While for the overseas media, the CNN travel has opened a column especially for Hong Kong street snack.[30] According to Reuters' article, Hong Kong street food gourmets was ranked the first in the top 10 street-food cities by online travel advisor Cheapflights.com in 2013.[31] In short, the above honour has arisen Hong Kong citizens' appreciation towards the local street food culture.

Demonstration of core values in Hong Kong

Street snacks have epitomised Hong Kong's core values of cultural diversity. An example can be the emergence of street stalls selling foreign treats like Takoyaki and Indonesia skewers.[32] This showed the diversity of choices of street snacks and matches Hong Kong's title of Gourmet Paradise. Despite all changes, it can also represent Hong Kong's identity. For example, the name of 'Hong Kong style Egg Waffle' showed its local origin.[33] The alterable essence of local street food has demonstrated Hong Kong cultural acceptance and serves as a medium to display its character to the world.

In 2015, a marked rise in nativist sentiment led to the growing influence of localist groups such as Civic Passion and Hong Kong Indigenous. Localists, feeling that street vendors – who generally representing the bottom stratum of Hong Kong society – were being increasingly oppressed by a government colluding with commercial interests and property owners, offered high-profile support for the traditional lunar new year Kweilin Street Night Market in 2015 when it was targeted for closure by the CY Leung administration. On the eve of lunar new year in 2016, FEHD inspectors carried out a pre-emptive raid against street vendors in Sham Shui Po, and made arrests and seizures.[34] This led to the 2016 Mong Kok civil unrest, where nativists defended stall holders from being victimised by FEHD inspectors and engaged in confrontations with the police.[35]

List of common Hong Kong street food


Name Image Description


Fishball.jpg Fishballs are always served in curry and sold on skewer.[39]
Siu mai


Siu Mai.jpg Different from the dim sum served in Chinese restaurants. It does not include any ingredient other than fish meat and pork.
Imitation shark fin soup


Wun Tsai Chi.jpg Mushrooms, vermicelli, scrambled egg are commonly used as the major ingredients. It is a tradition to add red vinegar in the soup when eating it.[40]
Fried chestnuts


Fried Chestnuts.jpg Chestnuts are stir-fried with black sand and sugar in a wok.
Egg waffles


Mini Egg Puffs.jpg Made by stirring eggs, sugar and flour as a pulp, then baking it until it turns to golden colour. It is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Put chai ko


Sticky Rice Pudding.jpg Palm-sized, steamed in a porcelain bowl.
Stinky tofu


Stinky Tofu.jpg Deep-fried, smells stinky after natural fermentation.
Baked waffles


Baked Waffles.jpg Peanut butter, butter, sugar and condensed milk are put together in the 2 waffles.
Beef offal


Cow Offal.jpg Braised beef offal, including tripe, lungs and intestine.
Fried squid tentacles


Squid Tentacle.jpg It is pre-pickled till the outside become orange. The texture is like a rubber. It is conventional to dip it in black vinegar when served.
Deep-fried pig intestine


Deep-fried Pig Intestine.jpg It is cut into slices and placed on a bamboo skewer. The outer side is fried until orange colour and the inside is filled with grease and fat.
Roasted sweet potatoes


Roasted Sweet Potatoes.jpg soft and pipping hot - perfect snack during the winter

See also


  1. ^ Fellows, P. & Hilmi, M. (2011). Selling street and snack foods, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  2. ^ Hong Kong Street Food and Dai Pai Dongs http://www.hong-kong-traveller.com/hong-kong-street-food.html#.VFEbqUuEQ_M
  3. ^ MSL Nutritional Diet Centre Website. Retrieved 3 November 2014
  4. ^ Lau & Gwun (2014).The last of the street hawkers. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  5. ^ Boland, R. Mongkok Ladies Market Tour, About Travel. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  6. ^ 香港「街頭小食」與香港文化認同, 白頌麒, 《嶺南大學 文化研究》, September 2007.
  7. ^ <自負>, 《唐摭言》卷十二, 王定保.
  8. ^ 柏齊, <尋找地踎飲食>, HKEdCity website.
  9. ^ 消失中的小販文化, 梁燕玲,《嶺南大學 文化研究》, July 2011
  10. ^ 香港戰後工業發展, 《香港記憶計劃》, 2012
  11. ^ Hawker,. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  12. ^ Hong Kong Travel Guide: Hong Kong Street Food http://www.hongkongtripguide.com/hong-kong-street-food.html
  13. ^ Popular Hong Kong Street Food by Lionel http://www.weekendnotes.com/popular-hong-kong-street-food/
  14. ^ Weekly wrap [videorecording] ; A factory hub reborn ; An appetite for HK / reporters/producers, Michael Wong, Linda Kennedy ; visual director, Ho Keung Kwong ; TVB News, Public Affairs production. 2014.
  15. ^ Huayuan Jie pai dang shang fan fan dui "zhao hang wan chai"][videorecording].[花園街排檔商販反對"朝行晚拆"] [videorecording]. Xianggang : Ya Zhou dian shi, 2012. 香港 : 亞洲電視, 2012
  16. ^ Next Media. 旅遊網選出 港街頭小食 全球最惹味. April 29, 2013. http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/news/art/20130429/18243794. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  17. ^ PARTICIPATING IN THE INFORMAL SECTOR: To be or not to be? Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  18. ^ Hung, W. S. (2001), <大城市小人物──小販>, Cyber Culture Express
  19. ^ 切勿光顧無牌熟食小販, publicity film (1987), Medical and Health Department
  20. ^ <誰的城市─戰後香港的公民文化與政治論述>, 羅永生, Oxford University Press(Hong Kong). Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  21. ^ Public Consultation on the Management of Fixed Pitch Hawker Areas. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  22. ^ 呂國民, <澳門,新加坡,香港小販管理比較研究>,《行政》第二十三卷, 澳門公共行政雜誌, 2012
  23. ^ Control of license and unlicensed hawkers – legislation. Retrieved 29 October 2014
  24. ^ <次文化 食在街邊>,《大學線月刊》, Chinese University of Hong Kong. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  25. ^ <香港街頭小食脂肪高含菌量超標>,《大紀元》, 6 March 2006.
  26. ^ Public Consultation on the Management of Fixed Pitch Hawker Areas. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  27. ^ 吳昊: 《飲食香江》(香港: SCMP Book Publishing Limited)
  28. ^ 43 fixed-pitch hawker areas.Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  29. ^ Local Snacks, Hong Kong Tourism Board. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  30. ^ Mok, C. (2010).Gai daan tsai challenge: The quest for Hong Kong's best egg waffle.
  31. ^ Casciato, P. (Ed). (2013).Travel Picks: Top 10 street-food cities. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  32. ^ 香港「街頭小食」與香港文化認同, 白頌麒, 《嶺南大學 文化研究》, September 2007.
  33. ^ Christine Ho (2010).Kong Style Egg Waffle (雞蛋仔 Original Flavour)
  34. ^ http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/realtime/news/20160207/54737881
  35. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2016/feb/09/hong-kong-fish-ball-revolution-china-riot
  36. ^ Next Stop Hong Kong. http://www.nextstophongkong.com/gourmet/street-food/ .Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  37. ^ Christopher DeWolf, Izzy Ozawa, Tiffany Lam, Virginia Lau, and Zoe Li. Hong Kong Food: 40 dishes we can’t live without. CNN Travel, July 13, 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  38. ^ Hong Kong 2010 - Street Food: SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2010 http://cwfoodtravel.blogspot.hk/2010/10/hong-kong-2010-street-food.html
  39. ^ Weekly wrap [videorecording] ; A factory hub reborn ; An appetite for HK / reporters/producers, Michael Wong, Linda Kennedy ; visual director, Ho Keung Kwong ; TVB News, Public Affairs production. 2014.
  40. ^ CNNGo. Better than the real thing: Hong Kong imitation shark’s fin. CNN Travel, May 27, 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2014.

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