Where to find that spicy deli mustard perfect for your Summer bbq? Or that real Vermont maple syrup that elevates pancakes to the next plateau? Hong Kong’s reputation as a shopping bonanza isn’t just limited to clothing and electronics. It’s time for a trip to Hong Kong’s upscale supermarkets!
Eating in Hong Kong: a culture of dining out
More so than in other cities, in Hong Kong, dining out is a time to see family and friends, as well as do business. Due to the realities of life in crowded apartments, people entertain less in their homes and utilize public places more for their daily routines. Additionally, Hong Kong is a city in flux and the town’s eating habits reflect this constant motion. A large percentage of the population doesn’t regularly cook at home.
Yet, despite these factors, for those that do cook, Hong Kong thankfully offers a wide array of choices to help you find that special ingredient, or something to remind you of life elsewhere.
Before there were supermarkets…
Traditionally, people bought their food at fresh markets in Hong Kong. To this day there are remnants of this system in every major neighborhood in the city. In addition to pockets of stalls, the government has sanctioned entire buildings packed with stands selling fresh fish, live chickens, fruits, vegetables and butchers of all sorts. The street markets that still remain, apart from being extremely photogenic for tourists, offer a good selection of fruits and vegetables at lower prices than the upscale grocery stores.
Contemporary supermarkets are relatively new and offer the convenience of having all foods under one roof, with no haggling, and perhaps better hygienic conditions.
Hong Kong has two major supermarket chains called Wellcome and ParkNShop. These are not the massive supermarkets one gets in the U.S. (For example, they don’t also sell tires for your car!) Real estate being one of the highest per-foot costs in the world forces them to occupy smaller spaces. Selection is therefore somewhat limited. With branches throughout the city, the two are o.k. for necessities, but once you stray from the norm, or want to create something that requires special ingredients, chances are you’ll need to visit one of Hong Kong’s upscale supermarkets.
More recently, the two major chains also offer “Superstores” in special locations that include a greater selection and stock additional specialized items. Wellcome also operates a 24-hour supermarket on Patterson Street in Causeway Bay across from Windsor House that can be useful.
Friends sometimes laugh at me when I tell them that I’ve been to three supermarkets just to prepare one dish. Items typically found in upscale markets include cold cuts, cheeses, finer cuts of meat, fresh seafood, high-end condiments, ethnic foods, organic produce, and foreign alcohol beyond the basics.
In comparison to ParkNShop and Wellcome, Hong Kong’s upscale supermarkets typically occupy large, prime spaces in popular shopping centers often connected to transportation hubs. (For example, City Super in IFC and Times Square.) Their prices reflect their high-cost per square foot locations. If you’re on a budget, you’ll want to buy your basics elsewhere. (Think of it this way, do you buy your socks at Gucci?)
The main high-end supermarkets include Oliver’s in Prince’s Building; City Super in IFC, Times Square, and Ocean Terminal; Great in the basement of Pacific Place, Gourmet in the basement of Lee Garden; Three-Sixty in the Landmark Atrium; and Gateway (which isn’t actually high-end, but does specialize in American products,) situated in a somewhat obscure location above the Sheung Wan MTR station.
Apart from Gateway, all generally include bakeries on the premises offering a large selection of breads, pastries, muffins and cakes. Several of them also offer prepared food. The selections tend to be foreigner-friendly items catering to working professionals who need to grab something quick.
As a quick generalization:
City Super, located in the IFC mall, Times Square, and Ocean Terminal is strong on Japanese, Korean, Mexican and Italian goods, as well as alcoholic beverages from other Asian countries.
Oliver’s, located in Prince’s building in Central is perhaps the oldest of the upscale markets, and is a great choice for cold cuts, cheeses, snacks like pretzels, foreign beers and high-end condiments.
Gateway, located above the Sheung Wan MTR station (exit E1) resembles a sort of Costco or Sam’s Club but on a much smaller scale. Here you can find things in bulk, as well as mainstream American products not found in the other high-end groceries (such as American candy). Gateway is a prime destination for American junk-food and household cleaning products from the U.S.
Three Sixty is the new kid on the block, located in the Landmark Atrium in Central. It’s a good choice for organic goods, as well as fresh produce and meats (the steak selection looks particularly large.) An added bonus, they have an excellent food-court on the level above the grocery which is a great place to go with picky eaters during an off hour.
Great, located below Seibu in the basement of Pacific Place, has a full market, good bakery and prepared foods, in addition to a large selection of candy. They also share space with the popular Canadian burger chain Triple O / White-Spot, which is worth a trip if you’re craving a burger while shopping!
Gourmet is located in the basement of Lee Garden in Causeway Bay. It has sister stores on Kowloon-side in Festival Walk and Citygate branded as ‘Taste’. I don’t shop here enough to appraise it, but it looks like a full featured market similar to the others.