Hong Kong: Local Produce and Hello Kitty

March 12th, 2012 § 7 comments

I was buying milk at the local Park & Shop the other night when something in a display of reduced-priced merchandise caught my eye:

Hello Kitty bolognese sauce. Naturally, I bought it.

Food shopping in Hong Kong is at once glorious and frustrating. I generally don’t worry about being able to find a particular ingredient, as was often the case in Paris.* The question is not, “Will I be able to find a can of chipotles?” but, “I wonder what kind of ransom City Super charges for a can of Chipotles?” Prices and quality run the gamut, and in the early weeks I repeatedly found myself paralyzed in front of the dairy case at Park & Shop, trying to find milk and not “milk drink”, and then wondering if it’s worth paying a 100% premium for New Zealand milk, or if Trappist or Kowloon Dairy brands (not produced in Kowloon, but still closer than NZ) would do.

Imported pantry items are one thing, but fruits and vegetables are quite another. Supermarket produce is significantly more expensive than what’s sold at greengrocers and wet markets. What’s at the markets is usually (but not always) fresher, and most (but not all) of it comes from mainland China. Here’s an example: A bunch of cilantro — provenance unknown — goes for HK $2 (about US $0.25) at my closest greengrocer, while a smaller quantity of Australian cilantro sells for HK $17 (about US $2.20) at the supermarket, and comes in a plastic container that I can’t recycle.**

And so I nearly cried tears of happiness when I finally visited the farmers’ market that happens at the ferry terminal in Central every Sunday. About ten local and organic farms — most in the New Territories — participate. Greens and cresses were well-represented, of course, and I also saw young alliums, tender celery, gorgeous orange and red beets, lettuces, and rainbow chard. One grower even had strawberries.

The prices were higher than that local greengrocer, but not nearly as high as the supermarket. The products were fresh and exuberant, unencumbered by plastic wrap, and both local and organic. This market isn’t the only option for buying local produce in HK, by the way, but aside from this delivery service, it’s probably the one that’s most convenient for me.

But back to the Kitty. It turns out there’s plenty more where that Bolognese came from, including Hello Kitty-shaped pasta, Hello Kitty balsamic vinegar spray, and Hello Kitty cookies.*** I was skeptical of the “Made in Italy” stamp on the label, but looking more closely, I discovered that this sauce was made by a company called Terre Sangiorgio, who appear to make a whole range of organic and biodynamic tomato sauces. For some reason this makes the whole thing more strange, not less.

I may or may not ever use it. As for that chard from the market, it went into ravioli. The vegetables were local, the gyoza wrappers I used as pasta were from Japan, the ricotta from Italy, the olive oil from France.

And I’m from Ohio.

*It’s not as challenging in Paris as it used to be, however. “Le Philadelphia” is everywhere.
**If I had not already killed every potted plant I’ve ever come in contact with, I would grow my own.
***Oh, and airplanes

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§ 7 Responses to Hong Kong: Local Produce and Hello Kitty"

  • Caroline says:

    so great to read a bit from Hong Kong, Barbra. I was curious what you were up to over there… I’ve inherited a relatively green thumb from my mother, and I still can’t keep cilantro plants alive. and I’ve tried… and I’ve tried…

    And in case you were bored and wanted to be weirded out by more Hello Kitty than you could possibly dream of, check out http://www.kittyhell.com. seriously. it’s hilarious.

  • Lindsey says:

    So glad to see you blogging again! Love this, can’t wait for more stories from HK!

    (I hope the supermarkets are less terrifying in HK than in Shanghai…. )

  • Ola says:

    The jar also would catch my eye:)
    the market looks really interesting for a European

    Life and travelling

  • Barbra says:

    Caroline – Did you know that Hello Kitty actually has a name? It’s Kitty White. For reals.

    Lindsey – I’d like to visit Shanghai…

    Ola – Thanks for reading. The supermarkets cater to expats and locals, to varying degrees, depending on the location. The customers at the farmers’ market were mostly locals, actually.

  • Shelli says:

    Great to learn some of your HK adventures, food shopping clearly not the least of them. Wish there was some way for you to bring dim sum to Paris…

  • OMG I could never have resisted this either.
    If only I could fit into Hello Kittie PJs…my secret dream
    I’m always surprised how much HK shops/stuff is in Paris!

  • I never got to shop when I was working in HK eons ago…I was staying at the Peninsula..sigh
    But Japanese groceries mystified me completely and still do in New York.
    Loved yr sage interview on Lindsey’s FFF but can’t comment for some reason…
    Politesse is everything in France but not always guaranteed to work.

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