Tong Chong Street — a short block surrounded by the cluster of glass, steel and concrete towers that make up TaiKoo Place — used to be all but deserted on Sundays. Now it’s the unlikely home for a weekly farmers market. Yes, there are farms in Hong Kong. Hundreds of them.
Actually, to call Island East Markets a farmers market doesn’t quite do it justice. Yes, many of the nifty, meringue-white tents are staffed by certified organic local growers selling fresh, picked-that-morning produce. But you’ll also find a selection of specialty food shops and local artisans, kid-friendly workshops and performers, plus pop-ups and demos by some of Hong Kong’s favorite chefs and restaurants.
The inspiration for IEM came from her visits to markets abroad. “I was traveling around the U.S. and visiting a lot of farmers markets, and capped off that trip with a detour to Europe and Noma,” she says. “Just before I left for the trip, I caught up with Vincent [Poon, her partner in the project] about doing something together.” The pair originally conceived IEM as a single event for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, but as they worked, it became apparent that “it needed to be something more long-term and entrenched in the community.”
After a successful trial run early last autumn, IEM is on every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The vendors vary from week to week, but there’s always plenty to graze on or take home: sweet and savory pastries, artisan breads, honey, preserves, coffee and tea. Most vendors are local, though, this being Hong Kong, there are some importers, too, specializing in craft beers, organic wines and olive oils.
Jeremy Biasiol, a Ducasse veteran and chef of Wan Chai’s Mirror, will do three demos in the upcoming weeks. For the first, he’ll make a Gaul-meets-Guangdong dish of frog legs with thin garlic cream and watercress sauce, using only local ingredients. “I remember when I opened Mirror, I was one of the first Western chefs to go and use local markets’ ingredients. Now I see more and more chefs are doing it,” he says.
One of the most visible vendors is Vinny Lauria, the executive chef behind farm-to-table favorites Posto Pubblico and Linguini Fini, as well as Homegrown Foods, an organic produce delivery service. He’ll be at IEM on April 7.
I asked Leung if she had any plans for expansion. “We were really lucky to have found our current location, and a very supportive partner and sponsor,” she said. “Whether we’d find that winning formula in Hong Kong again is anyone’s guess. For now, our main focus is to really get Island East Markets on everyone’s radar and make it a must-go destination for locals and visitors alike.”
Photos courtesy of Island East Markets