Food culture helps understand life, society and history

Hong Kong is a gourmet paradise that brings together food from around the world. In recent years, it has become trendy for people to rush to new restaurants to try out dishes or search for featured restaurants online, and then share their dining experiences on social media. With such popular food culture, do Hong Kong people have a comprehensive understanding of food culture?


Dr Siu Yan-ho, Lecturer of the Department of Chinese of Lingnan University states that food culture is indeed a collection of food-related knowledge, which can be divided into two levels: material and intellectual. The material level means tangible elements which can be felt by senses, for instance, the flavor and odour of food, culinary methods and food ingredients, whereas the intellectual level is the invisible expression of culture behind food, including history, customs, religion, thoughts, philosophy, geography, cultural exchange, etc. He took having a BBQ pork bun as an example, “when you eat a BBQ pork bun, the material level of its food culture is the tangible, visible and touchable elements of the bun itself, while the intellectual level is the culture reflected behind the bun, including its origin and history etc.”


Food culture helps understand the world


Dr Siu said that food culture is not only close to life, but also an entry point and important channel of cultural communication, helping people understand the world. However, under the atmosphere of Hong Kong’s business society, Hong Kong people’s level of food culture generally stays at the material level. Therefore it is necessary to strengthen the promotion of food culture in Hong Kong.


Having been studying food culture for six years with a specialisation in Hong Kong food culture since the 1950s, Dr Siu has been promoting food culture through various channels recently. Apart from taking up media interviews to talk about food culture to enhance public understanding, he had hosted some public lectures, including the “Food Culture and Life in Hong Kong Literature in the 1950s” organised by the Hong Kong Public Library on the interaction between Hong Kong literature of the 1950s and food culture and life, with the aim to enhance public awareness of Hong Kong’s food culture. The lecture has also been featured on a television programme. Besides, Dr Siu will work with a non-governmental organisation to organise a workshop for secondary school students on the reading and writing of Hong Kong food culture. In addition, Dr Siu has also been involved in film production. As an assistant director for the films 1918 and Boundaryless of The Inspired Island II series, Dr Siu tried to visualise food culture from the perspective of literature.


Liberal arts education can strengthen the promotion of food culture


Teaching students about food culture is not less important than promoting food culture to the public. Dr Siu feels that education in Hong Kong does not put a heavy weight on food culture, as there are not many food culture lessons in universities, secondary and primary schools, and food culture is not the main subject of academic research. He hopes that university education would strengthen the teaching of food culture, and thinks that Lingnan’s liberal arts education could be applied to it. “One of the characteristics of liberal arts education is an interdisciplinary curriculum. I think that food culture and literature can be incorporated into the curriculum through books and films to enhance students’ knowledge of food culture and reflection on their own life and culture. In addition, Lingnan University provides students with rich opportunities for overseas exchange, and every year there are many exchange students coming to Lingnan.  These are great opportunities for students to promote Hong Kong’s food culture and learn from others.”


Dr Siu also pointed out that Lingnan University values much on “knowledge transfer”, which encourages academicians to transform individual original academic research into applicable knowledge. In the past six years, he has been compiling his own research on Hong Kong food culture and disseminating the knowledge to students and the public, who may share such knowledge so that it can be promoted further. Moreover, Dr Siu has led Lingnan students to participate in a service-learning programme which helps reconstruct elder people’s lives in the 1950s, which can more or less reflect the food culture at that time. These experiences may be compiled in a book so that such knowledge can be perpetuated.


Dr Siu emphasised that understanding of food culture will help us understand life, society, history, culture and even the world. He will continue to promote food culture, and enhance Hong Kong people’s knowledge on this.