My name is the Fat Gwailo and I have a Love/Hate relationship with Hong Kong. There you go, I got it off my chest. On one hand Hong Kong is the greatest city in the world, on the other hand its innocence is being corrupted by those trying to Americanize it. Let me explain.
I lived in Hong Kong for 2 years, from 1993-1995 and fell in love with the place and its way of life immediately, mainly the food. Homes are not stocked with huge kitchens, pantries and huge refrigerators like America. Living quarters are tight, no room for a lot of the kitchen essentials we, in America, get used to. With limited refrigerator space veggies and fruits need to be purchased on a daily basis. Back in 1993 grocery stores were not existence. They had a few major chains “Wellcome”(yes, two “ll’s) and “Park n Shop”, but these stores were small and just provided you with 1 full aisle of at least 20 types of “gung jai mihn” (ramen), an aisle for crackers and bread and a small section for other essentials like toiletries, medicine etc…..very limited. So you may ask where you buy your food, back then the answer is the “Gaisih” directly translated “street market”.
The Gaisih Experience
Now we have markets in America, but not markets like these. I am talking a Wal-Mart sized outdoor or indoor market that is packed full of fresh veggies, fruit, meat, poultry, seafood, ready to eat food, small shops hawking everything from dried herbs a pharmacy. This place is a foodies dream
In the USA we don’t know what fresh food means. Pork packaged on a plastic tray wrapped in plastic wrap is NOT fresh. Seeing a whole pig after whole pig being packed into the market by a 5’2 old man is fresh. They cut the pig up on site and hang the cuts of meat on a meat hook, you tell the vendor what cut of pork you want, how much you need and he weighs it, you agree on a price and he will even slice it up how you want. Now, that’s fresh my friends.
Look I haven’t even touched the fruits and seafood section, but you can see where I am going here. The markets make Hong Kong a special place. Literally every household in Hong Kong would have someone from their household visit the “gaisih” at some point during the day to get the food for that day. I love it!
Fast forward to 2016 and Hong Kong has changed. The once small “Wellcome” and “Park n Shop” locations are now super centers. The innocent days of being the place to go for ramen are long gone, you now feel as if you are walking into an American grocery store. The fruit and veggies all look their 3 days old, with fruit flies lingering around. \You can no longer choose how much pork butt you need, it’s all already packaged for you. The once humble bread section has now been taken over by Wonder bread and Twinkies and the stores now have 15 employees walking around in matching vests to serve your every Americanized request. YUCK!!! HONG KONG WHERE ARE YOU!!!!
Now, the “gaisih” has not disappeared, just not used as much. Alot of the new housing developments have made them really nice, you don’t have to worry about slipping on some fresh fish slime and breaking your tailbone, they are really nice now. Clean and smell good, it’s just not the same. My name if the Fat Gwailo and I have a Love/Hate relationship with Hong Kong.