Words and Photos by Marilynne Cheng
Globalization and urbanization are two words that are frequently used to characterize the generation we are living in now. They are synonymous with how we define “progress” and “innovation” as pioneers across all industries strive to create products and services to accommodate this fast-paced social, technological, and economic movement happening on a daily basis. In the meantime, consumers are also constantly looking for the newest, the fastest, and the trendiest.
You may ask: why am I talking about these big, abstract business concepts in a food publication? Since joining TasteBUds, I have become more cognizant of food trends and changes that are happening in the food culture around me. This summer, I went back to my hometown, Hong Kong. While it has only been less than half a year since the last time I went back for Christmas, the streets that I visit frequently have already put on new shirts and have changed their outfits inside and out. My favorite wonton noodle shack has expanded its storefront and abandoned the original, hand-painted signage for an LED one. The bakery where I bought my sausage buns every day when I was young is replaced by an electronics store. The store where my mother has been buying dried foods to make Chinese soup for years was forced to relocate because the owner could no longer sustain the business, as land prices have skyrocketed over the past decade. While globalization and urbanization have attracted pools of talents to Hong Kong, fueling the city with economic activity, the traditional style of living has taken the burden of what we call “progress.” The signage of the noodle shack only bares remnants of history. A piece of my childhood at the bakery has become history. The owner of the dried foods store lost many loyal customers, like my family.
Seeing some of the familiar faces disappear on the streets that I know too well was a little disheartening, but this summer was not all that depressing. As a certified foodie, I took my chance to explore all these new places that vendors have opened up during the five months I was gone. One of the most interesting food trends I have observed over the summer is that many food vendors are modernizing classic Hong Kong street foods. For example, one of my favorite street foods are egg waffles, or “gai dan zai” in Cantonese. They are fluffy and heavenly egg cakes that are crispy on the outside but chewy and soft on the inside. They are usually just served plain, but now you can find a myriad of flavors including red velvet, chocolate chip, Chinese sausage, and black sesame mocha. A dumpling stall that I had stumbled upon allowed you to customize the whole dumpling from the filling, to the dough of the skin, to the type of frying oil, to even the type of soy sauce you want the dumpling to be dipped in. The fillings ranged from scallops to kimchi, the dough from spinach to squid ink infused dough, and the oil from truffle oil to organic walnut oil. For millennials like me, I fell for these kinds of innovative foods without hesitation.
These are just the many new concepts that are emerging in the city, and I am sure the next time I go back, there will be even more new food places to go to. However, it wasn’t until this summer that I realize these two concepts—globalization and urbanization—can also be applied on food. The globalized world allows the fusion of the East and the West. Urbanization forces some of the modernity to take over the traditional, especially in the city. However, what I discovered is that it is very much possible for the modern way of eating to live in harmony with the traditional. This is well-demonstrated by, for example, the flavored egg waffles and the customizable dumplings. With the vast pool of possibilities available because of globalization and urbanization, what matters is how we make use of them.