Restaurants on Wheels

Hong Kong food trucks

For cities where eating well is an obsession, diverse street food seems an indispensable match. Hong Kong, known as a culinary paradise and the dim sum capital of the world, not until February 2017, lack something that its counterparts, like Los Angeles and Singapore, have in the street: food trucks.

The launch of a two-year Hong Kong food truck pilot scheme, initiated by former Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in the 2015-2016 Budget, has attracted all eyes, with a total of 192 applications were received by the government, of which 51 were shortlisted to participate in a cook-off contest.

After more than a year of preparation, series of fierce competitions, a rigorous selection process and millions of dollars invested, food trucks are finally here. Now 15 food trucks on the street serve 7.3 million total population in eight different venues.

Till now, newspapers are stuffed with negative reports on food trucks’ business. As reported by the South China Morning Post, only five of 15 businesses have brought in 1 million Hong Kong dollar ($0.13 million) in their first eight month. Three operators, namely Creative Yummy, Christy Cafe, and Xiao Tian Gu, have called their quits as the business had not lived up to their expectations, which creates a sense of uncertainty to the initial promising scheme.

Fortunately, the government actively intervene into the gloomy business by providing more available spots along with other refinement measures to improve the suitability and flexibility of the food truck.

With the experience of three failed business and the government intervention, the remaining 15 have devoted every effort to move forward.




Towards a green truck

Pat Chun Saucy Food Truck

Pat Chun Saucy Food Truck — operated by famous local sauce firm Pat Chun, is one of the 15 that continue moving on.

With sauces served on the side of its signature dish Sakura Umami sauce fried rice, it offers customers opportunities to DIY flavors according to their taste. In the meantime, the combination of slow-brewed traditional sauce and fast-served street food opens a new way to market their sauce products.

“We hope our customers come here not just for food, but also to understand more about sauce culture and to raise the environment awareness,” said Beaver Leung, the sales and marketing manager.

Except for their unique marketing strategy, what really distinguish Pat Chun form the rest is its environmentally-friendly truck design. Awarded gold award by GREENPLUS program, Pat Chun is the only food truck that make innovative efforts to save energy and to achieve a circulatory use of resources. The green food truck has installed solar panels on its roof to power its cooling fans and an exhaust hood. The extractor hood then store oil and turn it into bio-diesel for fuel. Having invested a huge amount of money for a green kitchen, all the kitchen appliances of Pat Chun are high-tech and energy-saving.


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Towards a food reform

Pineapple Canteen

Each food truck has its own way to attract customers. Pineapple Canteen, the vibrant yellow truck specializes in classic Hong Kong pineapple buns, for example, make its name for innovating a traditional recipe.Although named after pineapple, traditional pineapple buns have nothing to do with fruits. Tied of the monotonous taste of traditional pineapple buns, Pineapple Canteen’s signature pineapple bun enhances original flavor by adding fresh pineapple and cream inside. Only HK$20 can customers enjoy a mouthful of juicy pineapple mingled with thick cream.

In addition to the traditional buns, Pineapple Canteen also sells some peripheral products, like pineapple bun keychains and miniature food trucks. The vendor even has posted a “Pineapple Bun Truck” theme song on YouTube to promote business.Having earned a bunch of following on the food truck, Pineapple Canteen is about to open its first shop outside Tung Chung MTR station in December.

Pineapple Canteen is not the only one that successfully expand their business to physical store. SaWaDeeCar food truck, featured with the cheerful pink and green and exotic patterns of elephants and coconut trees, is going to open a Thai restaurant nearby How Ming St, Kwun Tong. The food truck has gained a popularity by selling high-quality, tasty Thai cuisine in a relatively cheap price. Its signature dish Hainanese boneless chicken rice cost HK$28, while coconut milk rice boll with chicken costs HK$ 14 and roast chicken kebabs HK$9.Table Seven × W. Burger’s choose Whampoa to debut a new store. The store will continue selling its signature burgers, like the well-known sorrowful burger and offer take-away services at noon. But in the evening, it will transfer into a hot-pot restaurant. 

Towards a bright future

still a long way to go

Despite some exceptional cases and the fact that that the government closely follow the food truck business and bring forward improvement measures in time, problems behind the scheme haven’t been radically addressed.Food truck vendors complain about poor locations and urged the government to designate more areas for food trucks to operate. Gordon Lam Sui- wa, the head of the food truck association and the owner of Table Seven × W. Burger, said: “It is very hard to operate in certain locations. In places like the Ocean park, Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, the business should have been great, but our food trucks are designated into spots where the crowds are thin.”To help improve the business, “the government should consider areas in the New Territories, like Tai Wai Tin and Shui Wai, where also have many tourists,” said Chan Ghok Fung, the operator of SaWaDeeCar. 

Food trucks in most cities are mobile. However, in Hong Kong, a food truck can only operate in a designated location, where the owner has to pay monthly service fee that is based on its sales performance.In addition to the location restriction, there are lists of mandatory requirements that limit the vigor of food tucks. Lam suggested the government to increase the operational freedom for food trucks. “The government should allow food trucks to operate beyond the Hong Kong tourism plan and make appearances at private events,” he said. To save the costs, “food trucks’ opening hours and locations should be determined by the needs of clients,” Lam added.Chan, in fear of negative reports might have scared the operators and customers, said, “I hope the media can report less on the negative information about food trucks”.

The concept of food truck is not new to many regions in the world. The degrees of vending restrictions for trucks, however, vary from places to places. Los Angeles’ method for food truck regulation is perceived as the most vendors-friendly one. The city imposes neither restrictions on the operation time nor anti-competitive rules. Hence, vendors are able to run the business according their own schedule.Densely-populated city like Singapore, also has its own rules regulating food truck. In general, the country’ strict requirements imposed on the food trucks has already impeded the development of the business. Compared with a traditional restaurant, starting a food truck business is not getting any easier. To be specific, except for meeting the hygiene standard and a set of requirements for the design of truck, operators also need to go through cumbersome administrative procedures.

Based on local circumstances, different regions adopt different rules governing food truck operations. However, the most desirable scheme we are always looking for, is a scheme that can both provide operational flexibility, convenience and freedom to food trucks, and enliven the city by offering people with more dining choices.