A part of life in Hong Kong that I missed the most was the vibrant food market.
Grocery stores here in North America, which are very clean by many countries’ standard, could appear sterile compared to this kind of “live” market.
Market opened early, 5am or 6am, already brimming with freshest products of the day.
Due to the very liberal import regulations, plenty of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish were available in the market from many parts of the world.
Farmland was a rare commodity in Hong Kong nowadays, and most food imports were from Mainland China, Southeast Asia, Australia or other exotic locations.
Stalls were typically fairly small in size, nothing compare to the capacity of a North American grocery store; as a result, storage was minimal.
Coupled with people demanding fresh and quality products, fresh produce flowed through these markets at a high rate.
It was hairy crab season when I was in Hong Kong; hairy crabs were one of the touted Chinese delicacy.
Temporary stalls similar to the above in the picture popped up everywhere in Hong Kong just to sell hairy crabs for perhaps a month to maximum 2 months.
Hairy crabs started appearing in the market around Fall, and they were referred as “hairy crab” because they were much hairier than regular crabs.
In Chinese though, direct translation of the crab’s name would be “big gate crab”.
Usually they were just steamed, and the delicate sweet crab meat were consumed with a ginger vinegar.
The inert were used in multiple ways including topping steamed buns, steamed egg or fried eggs.
Tofu stalls sold all manners of fresh pressed or fried tofu, tofu puffs and etc.; along with the stalls with all manners of “balls” — fish balls, cuttlefish balls, beef or pork balls to name a few.
The egg stalls had thousand-year old eggs, salted eggs, and my favorite, quail eggs as well.
Frogs were consumed as well in application of congee or with my family, they were cooked Shanghainese style with sweet soy sauce and green onion (“hung sui”).
I still vividly remembered (perhaps traumatized) walking pass stalls that sold frogs when I was a kid.
The frog was already de-skinned, naked, and splayed open on top of the cage.
My dad told me that health law had prohibited selling pre-killed frogs; they were kept in the cage and slaughtered only when someone ordered them.
I particularly missed the old-style market candy store.
The stall in the picture was not fully opened yet, otherwise, all the empty spaces in the pictures would be full of snacks.
I used to go to these stalls with my grandma, especially before Chinese New Year.
We bought all the sweets and savory snacks to fill up this compartmentalized box to offer to guests when they came to our house for Chinese New Year greetings.
The stall carried treats from western candies and chocolates, to Chinese dried picked fruits such as sour plums, to snacks such as dried squid, wasabi peas etc.
Candies and snacks were sold by the pound and one could get as little or as much as they wanted.
With Hong Kong occupying such a small geographical area and its super convenient transportation, it was customary for people to go to the market and buy food for the day every day to guarantee freshness of their food.
It also helped that a lot of people had maids, so the shopping and cooking were done by the maids anyway.
Alas, both super fresh food and maids were luxury for life in North America.