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Hong Kong’s Locally Sourced Food: The Wet Markets

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What are the Wet Markets?

When we think of Hong Kong, we see a city that has become one of the biggest financial capital centres of the world. It has booming skyscrapers surrounding the Victoria harbour and the infamous million dollar view. Yet, a hidden part of Hong Kong culture influences the daily lives of its people. Welcome to the Hong Kong Wet Markets, a traditional food market that seems the opposite of your regular grocery store.

When you first arrive at a wet markets, you’ll immediately be alerted of its by the smell of fresh fish. The wet market sells a variety of foods from vegetables, fruits, meat, herbs and even candy. Prices are usually written on Styrofoam and then either thrown on the food or poked into the container using a wooden stick. During the day, customers wander into stalls and browse the food. They will pick up the fruits and examine to make sure they pick the perfect apple or the freshest Bok Choi. Once they pick their foods, they would hand them to the hawker, who would either look at the price written or weigh and then declare the price.

So what’s the issue?

Unlike your regular Trader Joe’s or ParknShop (Hong Kong’s supermarket), a lot of what the wet market has to offer has recently come to my mind: “Despite being organically grown, how clean the are wet markets compared to my local super market?”

Use the Google Form to choose which place you’d choose where you buy your food from: the wet markets or the supermarket.

Google Form Link

Research

I began looking at the local wet markets in my area to determine how they run their business every day. I asked one store keeper how they managed their shop:

“I would get to my store at around 7am in the morning. Fresh fruit and vegetables would arrive later by a truck. I would then organise the fruits onto the display and change any prices if I have to.

At the end of the day, I would repack all the leftovers into containers (Styrofoam containers/Plastic baskets). Using water, I would spray the ground to get rid of the excess vegetables. That’s all.”

Storekeeper in South Horizons Wet Market

I wondered how much of the food was “locally grown”. According to the Hong Kong government’s Frequently Asked Questions on Food Supply of Hong Kong, 90% of the total food supply in Hong Kong is imported food. In fact, the mainland (China) is Hong Kong’s most important source of fresh food. 100% of fresh beef, 94% of fresh pork, 92% of vegetables and 66% of eggs all come from the mainland. A table below shows the exact amounts imported from the mainland in 2010.

Food TypeSource of ImportVolume of retained in 2010
Fresh PorkMainland (100%)112, 175 tonnes
Chilled PorkMainland (97%)
Thailand (0.41%)
14, 825 tonnes
Frozen ChickenMainland (65%)
Brazil (12%)
USA (23%)
95, 338 tonnes
Live ChickenMainland (100%)4, 990 tonnes
Live FishMainland (97%)
India (2%)
51, 650 tonnes
Fresh FruitsUSA (32%)
Mainland (21%)
Thailand (8%)
536, 050 tonnes
Fresh VegetablesMainland (92%)635, 557 tonnes

Since we know that most of the food comes from imports, there isn’t much I can do about changing the suppliers. However, I began to look into how the stalls was cleaned up after the sales were made. Here is a youtube video that I took showing the Wan Chai market during the afternoon.

Awareness

When I heard the store vendor talk about cleaning up the store every day, I immediately got curious. I learned that in order to clean a regular stall, gallons of water would be poured over the floor to remove any stray bits and pieces. Not only was this a waste of water, but there is also a chance that it could lead to bacteria spreading across the floor and eventually into the food. Thus, I began my plan to spread awareness about what protective measures a stall could take in order to ensure food safety.

For live produce, faecal matter is one of the most potent sources of pathogens. Adding a bottom tray to the cages would ensure the reduction of faecal matter that drops onto roadsides. Furthermore, adding special trashcans for specifically faecal matter and disinfecting cages would also help keep levels of pathogens down. Overcrowding, a major problem in most stores, leads to poor health in live produce. Thus, I also advised them to keep the number of live produce as low as possible without harming the business.

Vegetables and fresh fruit also have certain regulations for the store vendors. The vegetables cannot be wrapped up with newspaper since it is unclean and could contaminate the food. Furthermore, no store should sell cut fruit as cut fruit has a higher risk of contamination.

One last important part of my project also has to do with the other end of the wet market: the customers! Here are some tips after purchasing food to ensure food safety.

Tips

  • When you purchase your fresh fruits and vegetables, make sure to wash them before consuming/cooking them.
  • After purchasing foods, separate them into different bags (specifically for raw meats and poultry)
  • Sanitise all surfaces and appliances before preparing/cooking food
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling food
  • Cook food to safe temperatures before consuming
    • Raw beef, pork and veal roasted to around 145 degrees Fahrenheit before safe
    • Raw beef, pork, and veal cooked to around 160 degrees Fahrenheit before safe
    • All poultry to around 165 degrees Fahrenheit before safe

If you are interested in learning more about food safety, watch the video below.

Finally, if you have any other suggestions to improve the quality of the wet markets, or the suggestions for food safety, be sure to add them to this Flipgrid!

Citations

“A Guide to Healthy Food Markets.” World Health Organization, www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/capacity/healthymarket_guide.pdf.

Administration, U.S. Food and Drug, director. Food Safety in Seconds. YouTube, YouTube, 6 Sept. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=iguM_pqetzo%EF%BB%BF.

Boland, Rory. “Where to Find the Best Wet Markets in Hong Kong.” TripSavvy, 1 Aug. 2019, www.tripsavvy.com/best-hong-kong-wet-markets-1535435.

“Centre for Food Safety.” Centre for Food Safety, 31 July 2017, www.cfs.gov.hk/english/food_leg/food_leg_fb.html#fb_section10.

“Tips for Buying Fruit and Vegetables.” Food Safety First, 5 Sept. 2016, www.foodsafetyfirst.com.au/2016/08/tips-buying-fruit-vegetables/.

United States, Congress, Food and Health Bureau. “Frequently Asked Questions on Food Supply of Hong Kong .” Frequently Asked Questions on Food Supply of Hong Kong , Hong Kong Government, 2016, pp. 1–4.

“Wet Markets in China: A Food Safety Perspective.” Food Safety News, 30 July 2018, www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/12/wet-markets-in-china-a-food-safety-perspective/.

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COMMENTS: 5
  1. April 25, 2019 by Laura Reysz

    Denise, I really found your project interesting! I love the authentic pictures of the market itself and the way you interacted with the store owners. You really brought the sights and sounds of the market to life and you were passionate about your plan.

  2. April 25, 2019 by Karin.Noskova

    Denise, I find your project very interesting. Honestly, I have never heard about wet markets. I really like that you conducted your own interviews and really emerged into the culture of wet market. I am just thinking how we can raise awareness not only of buyers, but also sellers, since they are important stakeholders as well. What do you think about it?

  3. April 25, 2019 by Chloe.Smith-Frank

    Hi Denise,
    This project is so engaging and it definitely made me want to visit a wet market! I know next to nothing about Hong Kong, so I’m curious about why 90% of its food supply is imported. Did you come across any initiatives to increase the percentage of Hong Kong’s food that’s locally sourced?

  4. April 26, 2019 by Annika Chiara.Klaus

    Hi, I also live in Hong Kong and I found your project on Wet Markets very interesting as it is a growing issue with more people buying things and selling things from the wet market. You have a lot of promising research and I can see you explained it very well to people who may not have heard of it before. It would have been nice for you to have a conversation with a local at the fish market so you could get legit answers for your project on how they get their food and etc.

  5. April 27, 2019 by Dr Broderick

    SO interesting, Denise (also from a HK person)! I wonder if there ever was a comparison in the “germ count” on a piece of fruit or veg from the wet market versus Taste or Park n Shop. My bet is the wet market is so much fresher but wonder about the cleanliness …. particularly with all the hanging meat around. Thus your recommendations on food safety! WELL DONE!!

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