The Protest Restaurants of Hong Kong

Welcome to the first installment of Counter Space, a new cooking series that reaches beyond the kitchen to explore larger questions about the culture, economics, and politics of food.
December 17, 2020, 3:36pm

HONG KONG — A kitchen in the back of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant isn’t the first place you’d think of as the heart of Hong Kong’s resistance against the Chinese Communist Party, but with Beijing accelerating its crackdown on dissent, so-called “yellow” restaurants like this are taking up the fight to protect the freedoms that make Hong Kong distinct from the rest of China. 

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Amber Foods opened shop in June, on the one-year anniversary of the first police crackdown of the 2019 pro-democracy movement. Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes are named after protest chants, and owner Joey To hires staff based on their political views, including chef Mandy, a college-age protester who was once arrested for her activism — and hardly knew how to cook before. 

Amber Foods is part of Hong Kong’s so-called Yellow Economy, a network of businesses that resist through the free-market, supporting pro-democracy individuals and other yellow shops, even if that means less profits or higher prices. 

Expanding that network is up to entrepreneurs like Matt Lau, who developed pickeat.hk, an app that offers free cross-district food delivery for customers who choose to support yellow restaurants. 

“Even though I’m losing money, I am willing to help,” Lau told VICE news.  “The neutral [restaurants] are siding with the government. The reason is that those shops would like to have revenue from both political sides.” 

The yellow businesses have drawn the ire of the Communist Party, which accused the businesses and pro-democracy politicians of trying to “kidnap the economy.”

While there’s no shortage of rhetoric used to shut down dissent, Hong Kong's economy is a long way from being stolen by protesters -- especially in the food sector. The territory relies on mainland China for 90% of its food imports, while less than 5 percent of its own land is set aside for agriculture. 

The yellow businesses have drawn the ire of the Communist Party, which accused the businesses and pro-democracy politicians of trying to “kidnap the economy.”

While there’s no shortage of rhetoric used to shut down dissent, Hong Kong's economy is a long way from being stolen by protesters -- especially in the food sector. The territory relies on mainland China for 90% of its food imports, while less than 5 percent of its own land is set aside for agriculture. 


But the protests and the pandemic have been a boon for Wong Yu Wing, a small-time organic farmer on the outskirts of Hong Kong. With the rising price of imported food from China, demand for Wong’s crops has gone through the roof. On the weekend, tourists from the city even come to lend a hand and learn about farming. 

Though Wong’s farm is far from the city center, to him, the struggles are interconnected.

“Now [Hong Kong] is like a messy farm full of weeds and infestation. You need to use so much effort to take care of it, and slowly sort everything out.” 

Video by Laurel Chor, Crystal Wong, Andrew Lang, and Angad Singh. Video edited by Jose Flores.