Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where has all the Hummus Gone?

A minor crisis has occupied my thoughts this week: I have not been able to buy hummus for about 3 weeks now. It’s not an essential part of our weekly diet but I do like it as a snack now and then, and I have been looking for it every time I go to the supermarket. I can’t find it at Taste, Wellcome, Park N’ Shop or threesixty. I thought I was going mad but a friend brought it up today so I know it’s not just me that’s noticed. Most days I can walk into any supermarket and buy yoghurt from the UK, cheese from New Zealand, pears from South Africa and beef from Australia, so I do. But then there are days, I guess between shipments, that I can’t buy any of the above and I have to either drive to another supermarket (sometimes 2 or 3 more) or have pizza for dinner. Sometimes things are out of stock for weeks, or they're available in bulk for a limited time and then they're gone forever. You never know from one week to the next whether or not you're going to be able to get everything you need. Some days I can't even get milk. It’s probably obvious by now that I really like food, and I love cooking, so this is a big problem for me.

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.


  1. Hi BLWC,
    I've been reading your blog for a week now and I feel like I am reading about myself! I too am an Australian expat and I too have an 8 month old son. I also live on Lantau and I find the issues you write about are the same issues I deal with as an expat Mum. I also love cooking (as per your latest entry) and am also struggling with how to feed my boy a nutritious, fresh and safe diet in the face of living in a country where everything is imported. One of the biggest things I miss about 'home' is shopping at the Victoria Market - all the produce there is so fresh!
    If you are really keen to eat hummus it is really easy to make. Just take 1 can of chickpeas and put it in a blender with 1 clove of garlic, a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (to achieve desired consistency) and a dash of soy sauce. Blend until smooth - yum!
    Also love the number wooden blocks - don't suppose I can ask about where you got them? :-)

  2. Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment - you made my day! I started this blog so I wouldn't feel like the only one who thought about seemingly trivial things like hummus, and hoped to get mums talking about things and sharing ideas, so your comments were very much appreciated. Lantau is a fairly small community, I can't believe we haven't crossed paths yet. Thanks also for the hummus recipe, I will definitely give it a try. It's more the principle of not being able to buy it that bothers me! I just spent a month in Melbourne actually and was at the South Melbourne Markets every day they were open, so I know exactly what you mean. I brought a lot of food back with me! The wooden blocks were a gift from the UK but I did see them in a small stationery shop on Clarendon St, South Melbourne. If I remember the name of it I will let you know.

  3. I happened to have stumbled across your blog during my expedition for hummus in Hong Kong. After walking around all the grocery stores in the neighborhood, I have finally found it in a Park'n Shop superstore. I realize that you might have already found hummus, since this post was written nearly two years ago. But if by any chance you have not found it yet, this store has some hummus (and swiffer too).

    Whampoa Garden 3
    Shop 2, B1/F, Homeworld,
    Wonderful Worlds of Whampoa,
    Tak Hong Street, Hung Hom, Kowloon
    Tele: 2365 7472
    Hours: 0800 - 2230