Any traveller that is new to South East Asia will enthuse over street food.
In Europe, this concept is barely seen. No such thing as frequent stands along the road. No opportunity to simply grab something from a vendor on the go. Yes, Belgians have their fries, French have their crêpes, Germans the Currywurst and so on. And yes, we do love to spend our time eating outside. Especially mild summer days lure crowds to cafés, bars and restaurants with outdoor seating areas. Groups of friends, couples and families engage in vivid conversations over a good meal and cold drinks. But after all, the feel of street food culture in Hong Kong for instance is fundamentally different.
Having spent nearly four months in Hong Kong now, I came to realize how eating culture between Europe and South East Asia diverge. In fact in either place it often is a social act. Nonetheless, the culture, climate and lifestyle shaped them somewhat differently. Fish balls, egg waffles, or fried squid are a few of the ones I came across in Hong Kong and there is still manifold more of them. Seafood snacks hint the proximity to and the importance of the sea to the city.
On the contrary, in Europe street stalls to me often seems like the last resort. Or in many cases the typical snacks that are expected and served at special events, let’s say concerts.
The main differences I believe are the diversity, the commonness and the integration in the local lifestyle. Many places in Hong Kong are packed with the so-called hawker stands. One vendor next to another- and it is beautiful. As a foreigner, your eyes are overwhelmed with the colours and shapes of the foods that you can often times not even recognise. And the nose is trying to identify the various smells.
This concept in Europe does not shape the impression of a city. In Hong Kong however, the queues of people lining for the desired treats and the abundant impressions in the street created by the food stalls, decisively shape the way you see and experience the place. You can easily immerse in the local culture; neighbourhoods like Mong Kok take you onto a culinary journey that let you sense the local lifestyle. With a bowl of fish balls you stroll along the colorful and buzzing streets.
In Hong Kong, experiencing culture through food is one of the biggest pleasures of the traveller. Cheap, savoury and authentic. Unlike photographs of sights, the tasting of local foods is something that leaves a long lasting impression on you because it touches not only the visual sense, but the taste buds, too. Not surprisingly then, that aside of all the spectacular views, temples and other cultural attractions, it is the street food that creates one of the most lasting memories. Of course, there is a lot more that makes up Hong Kong. Food is just one of the reasons why anyone that has been to Hong Kong will urge you to go, see and experience the city yourself.
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