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If you hail from a place where the paleo diet is already very established (for example US cities like Austin and San Francisco) you might think Hong Kong is a paleo desert. It’s hard not to miss those seemingly unlimited Wholefoods shelves that are overflowing with paleo products, but don’t despair yet. Three key factors offer hope for the budding Hong Kong paleo community. Firstly, Hong Kong is a food-lover’s paradise so there are lots of people in the know. Secondly, Hong Kong is a place where health trends get adopted very quickly. And finally, Hong Kong is and has always been a logistic hub, so when demand is strong enough, the products will come.
I actually consider Hong Kong fairly paleo-friendly if you know what to look out for. It’s getting easier since health shops are slowly stocking up on paleo-friendly and specifically paleo products. But rather than relying on packaged paleo groceries, give my Hong Kong paleo survival hacks a try.
Embrace Variety: Experiment With Regional Produce
In Germany we have a saying: “What the farmer doesn’t know, he doesn’t eat.” Don’t be that kind of farmer! Do not just limit yourself to the staples you are used to. As previously mentioned, Hong Kong is a logistic hub which gives us access to fruits and veggies from other Asian countries. Instead of just relying on sweet potatoes as a healthy carb source, consider plantains or ‘cooking bananas’ as Filipino helpers sometimes refer to them. They are easy to peel and can be cooked, baked or fried, just like sweet potatoes. Having access to exotic ingredients also allows you to expand your recipe palette and test out cuisines that are already paleo-friendly. Try making paleo versions of Indonesian Beef Rendang, Filipino Adobo or Thai Green Curry, for example.
Know Your (Wet) Market Vocab
Now that the weather is getting cooler, stroll through the wet markets and check out local, seasonal, organic greens which are unfamiliar to you (you can use Green Queen’s handy wet market guide series). Buying local and seasonal can be cheaper than filling your shopping basket with imported curly kale. Poh from Khush Life, who hosts paleo cooking courses for domestic helpers, told me that she loves to explore the Central wet market. On one of her visits, she stumbled onto a stand that sells extremely cheap organic sweet potatoes (a paleo staple) and another that stocks decently-priced ripe avocados (perfect for her guacamole). Many stalls only mark their organic produce in Chinese, which is why Poh equips all her cooking class students with a card displaying the Chinese characters for organic that they can keep in their wallet. It’s definitely worth making such a card yourself and just show it to market vendor during your shopping jaunts.
Hitch A Ride On The Vegan Wagon
I often joke that being strictly paleo is almost like being vegan, only with the grass-fed animal products thrown in. Although the paleo and vegan diets are often portrayed as opposites, they actually have a lot in common. Both vegan and paleo adherents are health conscious, like to soak/sprout nuts and seeds, are willing to pay a little extra for good quality ingredients, try to stay away from grains, gluten and other anti-nutrients, and basically prioritize real, nutrient-dense food at the heart of their diet. You can view vegan restaurants as almost paleoish. A vegan restaurant/takeaway can save you a lot of headache if you don’t have much time to cook, and Hong Kong does have quite a few of those. I often order a vegan take-away and just supplement with meat or eggs at home. Moises Mehl, one of the vegan head chefs at nood food, has even come up with paleo salads that are available at the Kinwick Centre location. So, thanks vegans!
Rejoice In Our Beefy Friends Down Under
A friend who is an expat from New Zealand once pointed out an interesting fact: if you check out the menu of any fairly decent steak restaurants in Hong Kong, you will often notice that American USDA (United Status Department of Agriculture) steaks are more expensive than the steaks from New Zealand and Australia. The main reason for this: New Zealand and Australia are geographically closer to Hong Kong than the US so the transport cost is lower. Further, cattle in New Zealand and Australia is often pasture-raised and/or grass-fed (if you want to know more about these terms, read this) and as such, not as thoroughly marbled with fat as grain-fed USDA meat. This can make the meat less buttery and require longer cooking times. In the past, grass-fed meat was considered inferior for these very reasons, even though it is far more nutritious meat hailing from a much healthier animal. With paleo on the rise, many restaurants now offer grass-fed meat options and large supermarket chains sell NZ beef and lamb and OBE organic grass-fed meats from Australia, all great news for Hong Kong consumers. Beef from New Zealand is mostly grass-fed. I say mostly because during the winter season or during times of drought, farmers will supplement with a mix of hay, grain and silage. Unfortunately, grain-fed cattle has become a growing trend in Australia especially because of the bigger demand for Australian Wagyu beef. For Australian meat, you will actually have to check the label to ascertain whether it’s grass-fed/pasture-raised.
Click That Mouse: Online Shops That Fill In All The Gaps
With shop rents in Hong Kong consistently on the up and up, lots of food shops have gone online. Locally based online merchants make it easy to cover paleo needs (and are usually a tad cheaper than the brick and mortar versions). Unlike physical shops, their warehouses do not have to be situated in prime locations with plenty of foot traffic so they can afford to offer their products at slightly lower prices. For big meat orders, which I tend to split with friends, I rely on Tenderloin Fine Foods– I have always had a good experience with them. They have a variety of grass-fed beef and lamb products, as well as sausages. I also like Berrytime for paleo snacks and fancy coconut oil. Berrytime was one of the first online shops to target the paleo community in Hong Kong: they have a paleo category on their site for easy searching. Plus, delivery within Hong Kong is free. Of course there is always iHerb! That’s where I order all my supplements. I am quite picky with fish oil, B12 and D3 supplements and iHerb has a wide range of premium supplement brands at unbeatable prices.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Look Out For The Small Stores
I have been following the lead of domestic helpers and often go off the beaten path grocery-wise, meaning that I don’t limit myself to only shopping at the big grocery chains like Park’n’Shop, Wellcome or Citysuper. Look out for those small grocery/snack stores that follow the ‘Small Profit, Quick Return’ strategy like 759, PrizeMart and the like- they keep their prices low to ensure constant visits. I frequent such shops to buy cheaper nuts in bulk for homemade almond/cashew butter and so my sister can supply us with nut-based paleo bread. Those shops are also my supply point for decent Vietnamese coffee, coconut milk and quality dark chocolate.
Be Frigid: Frozen Foods Make Life Easier
If you are a smaller household of one or two, frozen foods are a blessing. Cooking for one without wasting food or having to throw away perishable food is almost an art in Hong Kong. Frozen foods keep longer and you don’t have to worry having to use them up within 3 days. Although it does not sound very glamorous, I use frozen veggies if I am short on time. I also always have a batch of frozen berries in my freezer for smoothies, paleo porridge or pudding. It might already be common knowledge but it’s worth repeating here: frozen produce can be as good nutrition-wise as the fresh kind. Often the frozen stuff is even better since they are cleaned, packaged and frozen immediately after harvest. Many of the imported fresh produce you see in the stores have been harvested unripe in order to prevent them from rotting during their plane journeys across the world. Produce destined to be frozen is allowed to actually ripen and develop more of its natural nutritional punch. Some supermarkets are better with their cold-chain/cold-storage management than others. The higher end chains like Citysuper and Great seem to do a good job of it, meaning that at no point during transport and storage do their frozen foods have an opportunity to thaw. Although the Taste chain of supermarkets is part of the same Park’n’Shop group as Great, I have found that the Taste closest to my home carries many products which appear to have thawed and then refrozen. I can tell because the packaging is either encased in chunks of ice or feels like a solid ice block. Have a look at your grocery store’s frozen food department and make sure you are buying products that have remained consistently frozen.
Lory May Martin is a NASM certified personal trainer, a yoga teacher, a Thai massage therapist, a NESTA sports nutrition specialist (with a focus on Paleo Sports Nutrition), a doula, a popular health and wellness blogger and a devoted member of Hong Kong’s burgeoning paleo community. She is the founder of Pack of Packs, Hong Kong’s best and only guide to living paleo.