In Sydney we lived in the Eastern Suburbs and my local shopping centre was a Westfield, where I could get everything I needed, and lots of things I didn’t, under the one roof. I loved being able to buy fresh produce, imported delicacies and gourmet treats whenever I wanted. Don’t misunderstand me, I was never a caviar and smoked salmon type, but I have always been very specific about what I eat (my husband would say I’m a fussy eater, I prefer discerning). For example, spaghetti bolognaise tastes better with freshly grated parmesan on top and hot, crusty pane di casa on the side. When I make an Indian curry I want raita and pappadums and mango chutney. I have never in my life cooked with watercress or celeriac but I loved the fact that I could get them at my local Coles if I wanted to. Hong Kong has proven a challenge in this respect because almost nothing is grown here; there’s no room. A lot of produce comes from China but you can never be certain that it’s not been covered in pesticides or pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. I may sound neurotic but I think the fruit and vegies from China taste different, and I’m sure when it comes to meat, animal welfare is not an issue. So, we rely on imported foods most of the time. They are fairly readily available, just not in the same quantities or varieties we’re accustomed to. We’ve had to compromise a lot and be a bit more creative. We used to eat veal and lamb at least once a week, now it’s a rare treat. We eat a lot of spaghetti bolognaise, minus the bread, and we’ve accepted that to eat well we need to pay a premium. This issue has never been more of a problem than it is now I have a baby to feed. I want my son to eat well and I’m determined to make as much of his food myself as I can. I may sound a bit pretentious but when I can I buy imported organic vegetables or D shops when he’s away and brings things back. It’s not ideal but it’s worth the effort, and things like nappies and cleaning products actually cost significantly less elsewhere than they do here.
When it comes to imported fruit and vegies the level of freshness is hit and miss. The food has travelled a long way and who knows how long it sat in the back of a plane before it hit the supermarket shelves? (Don’t get me started on our carbon footprint – that’s a discussion for another day). We seem to waste so much food here, which makes me sad, but most of the time it’s almost out of date before you put it in your trolley. On the other hand there is something to be said for having less of everything. I remember going to a supermarket on our last trip to Australia and being completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choice available to us. Fruits, vegetables and meat were piled high in great quantities and I was almost embarrassed by the excess of it all. It seemed so unnecessary and I wondered how much of it was thrown out at the end of the day.
On Saturday I went to Taste, the largest supermarket on Lantau island, and I could not get pears, yoghurt, curry paste or the baby cereal J likes. I was incredibly frustrated and had a bit of tantrum if I’m being completely honest. Part of me feels like it’s arrogant of me to expect to be able to maintain my culinary lifestyle in a foreign country, in an Asian country no less. If I was willing to embrace a diet of rice, pork and Chinese vegetables I’d be able to find what I wanted at the supermarket 100% of the time. That might be oversimplifying the local cuisine quite a bit but I hope you get my point. Ironically I can buy vegemite, Tim Tams and Aussie beef sausages at my local Wellcome, a tiny village supermarket. There are also foods available here that I never would have bought before. Things like kale, quinoa and aloe vera juice are new things we’ve tried. As I already mentioned products on the supermarket shelves come from all over the world and I have been introduced to so many different brands. I have become quite attached to certain biscuits, cereals and pasta sauces, and will miss them when we leave Hong Kong. I also noticed that there are many more organic products available here and there’s a real effort to stock eco conscious and fair-trade products.
On the days when I take my sense of humour to the supermarket I get a kick out of trying to track down the items on my list; it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. On other days I sound a lot like a spoiled expat, but all I really want is to have my hummus and eat it too.