Singapore and Hong Kong street food showdown

Singapore and Hong Kong street food showdown

Popular Hong Kong food blogger K.C. Koo picked Singapore's street food scene over Hong Kong's in an article in The Sunday Times last week. The 45-year-old newspaper columnist was sponsored by the Singapore Tourism Board to write a food guide on the Republic's street food, which is published online at STB's Your- Singapore website (www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/zh/browse/international/countryexclusive/hk/whats-new.html?intcmp=foodguide_ redirection_hk_).

While focused predominantly on hawker fare, the guide also has options for afternoon tea and happy hour, which feature restaurants and bars.

Since the Sunday Times story, however, the article has sparked controversy on which city has better street food in terms of variety, flavour, consistency and quality.

Foodies in the two cities weigh in.

Singapore food has greater variety

Like fellow Hong Kong food blogger K.C. Koo, Hong Konger Janice Leung laments the loss of street food in her city and lauds Singapore's scene for its diverse cultures.

The 29-year-old food writer, whose articles have been published in the South China Morning Post and Wall Street Journal, says: "I have heard that the demise of street food is a hot topic in Singapore, but compared to Hong Kong, it is alive and kicking.

"In Hong Kong, street hawkers are almost non- existent because of licensing restrictions, and small shops are disappearing because of unsustainable rent hikes and homogenisation brought about by chain stores.

"We have redevelopment plans that will knock down old buildings and force traditional food shops to close, but have no plans to offer them new spaces.

"If you define street food in Hong Kong as curry fish balls, stinky tofu and egg waffles, good versions of them are virtually non-existent. Fish balls, for example, are more flour than fish and come from industrial producers. They are a far cry from the real thing."

Ms Leung, founder of farmers' market and social enterprise Island East Markets in Hong Kong, visits Singapore every five years and counts kaya toast, bak chor mee, Hainanese chicken rice and laksa as some of her favourite dishes here.

Foodies that SundayLife! spoke to all agree with MrKoo that Singapore's street food scene trumps that of Hong Kong's, and echo the sentiment that the Republic's hawker culture is much more vibrant.

According to Mr Edward Chew, Singapore Tourism Board's regional director, greater China, Mr Koo shortlisted the stalls and restaurants for the guide - which was in the works for six months - on his own.

Mr Chew says: "We suggested 15 food categories from which Mr Koo did his research on. We did not dictate the stalls and restaurants he wanted to visit and eventually include in the food guide. The stall owners were not informed of Mr Koo's tasting sessions either. This guide serves as an insider's guide to the hidden gems of some of the most authentic hawker fare in Singapore."

Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost.sg, 43, whose blog focuses on hawker food, says: "I've known it all along. Our flavours are more robust and Hong Kong street food lacks the variety that we have, especially for Malay and Indian food. For example, laksa is the tastiest thing under the sun, nowhere else makes it like we do."

Photographer Michelle Tng, 25, who moved to Hong Kong with her partner Davis Ng, a 28-year-old financial analyst, in March this year, also lauds the variety in Singapore.

Ms Tng says: "We have a diverse range of dialects plus different ethnic groups, so we get different tastes and spices. In general, Hong Kong has predominantly one dialect type - Cantonese. While it's really good, over time, the dishes start to be very similar."

Mr Dennis Wee, 61, chairman of real estate agency Dennis Wee Group, says: "I think each place has its own individual style. But as a Singaporean, I would pick Singapore's food over Hong Kong's. Our hawker culture here is also stronger."

Accessibility is key for Ms Cheryl Lee, 27, a Singaporean postgraduate student at the University of Hong Kong who moved there in August this year.

She says: "It's not easy to locate street food stalls in Hong Kong while in Singapore, we can just go to the hawker centre to get what we want."

While the outlook for Singapore's street food scene is still positive, those that SundayLife! spoke to also feel there is room for improvement.

Hong Kong-born master chef Lap Fai of Orchard Hotel's Hua Ting restaurant, 50, who moved to Singapore in 1991 and is now a citizen here, says: "The issue here is that the prices for hawker food have gone up significantly over the years, making the 'street food' no longer as cheap as before."

Civil servant Gwendolene Phua, 25, says: "While I do think that Mr Koo's views may be a bit biased, I prefer the flavours of our local street food. I will go to stalls where the hawkers make their dishes from scratch. More hawkers should do that.

"I also think that the push for the new generation of hawkers is a good thing and should continue."

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