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New rule for diners: Look before you eat

Updated: 2013-12-28 14:01
By Donna Mah in Hong Kong ( China Daily)

New rule for diners: Look before you eat

Hong Kongers embrace keener interest in raw, fermented and organic food. Provided to China Daily

Restaurant menus have become much more interesting reading in the last few years. Many of them include the origins of a dish, how it is prepared, what the main ingredients are, and more often now, the farms from which the ingredients come from.

Many consumers in Hong Kong have developed a keen interest in what they put in their bodies and therefore where the food comes from. This may be because of health issues related to food intolerances or that they want to support small farms; or it could be that they are concerned about food safety-to name just a few possibilities.

Blogger and mother of two, Jacqueline Renee Cohen (Lantaumama.com), thinks a lot about what goes on the dining table. "My main concerns as a parent include feeding my children healthy and safe foods," she says, "and teaching them about making smart food choices."

Cohen's blog includes a section on her ideas on healthy food, including raw, fermented and organic options as well as food dehydration, recipes and more. On her homepage she says: "Raising trilingual kids also requires feeding them healthy foods-and that is what I try to do! ... no refined sugar, no gluten or wheat, no meat-but lots of raw foods, fruit, veggies, grains and seeds!"

Cohen is not alone.

"I think people are considerably more aware of what they eat," says chef Jason Black of Shore Restaurant, "and as such, expect to be informed on a menu or at the very least have the staff know. I think it goes to the heart of the relationship between the customer and chef, or restaurant, that the customer trusts that the chef has sourced products that are farmed responsibly. We mention a lot of our suppliers by name."

In general, Hong Kongers have become much more aware of what they are putting into their bellies.

Local organic farms have become much more mainstream with the addition of companies that collect fresh produce from local farms in the New Territories and deliver directly to consumers.

However, according to the Slow Food Hong Kong website (Slowfoodhk.com): "The organic vegetable certification standards of the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre is modeled after the European and American standards and modified to suit the local limitations."

So, would what is being grown in Hong Kong be considered "organic" in other countries? Perhaps not. Yet the popularity of weekend organic produce markets seems to be on the rise. Today's organic markets sell not only produce, but also a healthy assortment of baked goods and homemade jams and jellies.

Bistro du Vin in Kennedy Town tries to maintain the French bistro ethos of using fresh ingredients from the local market to prepare the daily specials, while others source ingredients from the country of origin of the cuisine.

Christopher Mark, who's in charge of culinary development for Black Sheep Restaurants, says: "I have found that diners in Hong Kong focus more on the quality of the ingredients than the origin. Although the local food movement is growing, there isn't as much confidence in locally sourced meats and produce in Hong Kong as there is in (other) cities."

At one of Black Sheep's outlets, the Italian pizzeria Motorino, managers source many of the ingredients and the even the custom-made pizza oven from Italy to ensure authenticity.

While many small shops all over the city stock organic items, they also carry quite a number of gluten-free, wheat-free, milk-free, egg-free, GMO-free, nut-free, vegan and other specialty items. Mainstream supermarkets Wellcome, Park n Shop, Taste, and International, all stock organic and gluten-free items, though not always consistently. Demand dictates supply when the major chains jump on the bandwagon.

Hong Kongers are taking "you are what you eat" much more seriously.