The cost of food in Hong Kong has risen, but you can save money if you shop smartly – and not just at gourmet supermarkets

We all know the cost of groceries has risen dramatically in the past few years. Even some expatriate friends in Hong Kong recently complained about it.

I said I agreed, then expounded on the various factors that led to such sharp increases, from ingredient shortages to supply chain bottlenecks, climate change and the state of geopolitics.

However, as the chat continued it became obvious that we were talking about very different things.

Their points of reference were the price of French Comté cheese and organic Roma tomatoes at City’super and gourmet shops like Mercato, whereas I was thinking about the cost of local staples such as frozen dumplings, Chinese vegetables and dried shrimp noodles at the Wellcome store around the corner.
Expats in Hong Kong may gripe about the rising price of imported French Comté cheese, but most Hong Kong shoppers have less gourmet appetites. Photo: Sbutterstock

I suppose Comté and Italian tomatoes can be everyday necessities too. But in Hong Kong, clearly, they are not items the masses buy regularly. These imported, speciality goods fall under the category of luxuries for a small demographic. That’s why they rarely get marked down – unless on the verge of expiry.

Many people do consider Hong Kong an expensive city, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be one.

Affordable fine dining in Hong Kong? Yes, if you know where to look

Just like the wealth gap, there’s also a wide disparity in prices. You can easily spend a ton of money on food and dining, but with a little restraint and some smart shopping, it’s possible to get by on a thrifty budget – and still enjoy very good food.

Of course, not all expats live extravagantly, but it does seem like many of them spend a lot more on groceries than they probably need to.

I’m not even referring to splurging at gourmet shops for pricey treats. Occasionally, we all do that. But what I don’t get is folks picking up ordinary items at premium stores. I guess people don’t mind paying a convenience tariff.

A woman shops at a Hong Kong branch of Marks & Spencer, where some residents buy food items they could get for less elsewhere. Photo: Felix Wong

I know these friends feel more comfortable at English-friendly supermarkets in Central and Admiralty. However, just know most items have a much higher mark-up.

They also trust Marks & Spencer for ground beef rather than the sweaty street-side butcher.

If you really want to pinch and save, I recommend braving a visit to a Hong Kong wet market. I know some people still think they are dirty and unhygienic, but they are wrong. Many have been renovated and improved. I actually find them lively, fun and full of Hong Kong character.

Why is Hong Kong’s inflation so low compared with other global cities?

The lack of price signage in English and most vendors’ inability to speak it fluently can be an intimidating factor, but if such rudimentary communication is too hard, then maybe you shouldn’t be in Asia.

Besides, language is really an excuse. In Central, if you go to any fruit or food stall on Graham Street or Gage Street, everybody can converse at least in broken English.

I, for one, get most of my salad greens from here. They are always inexpensive and fresh.

A seafood vendor at Wan Chai Wet Market. Photo: Dickson Lee
The only confusing issue is weights; I still haven’t worked out exactly how much a catty (0.6 kg) is. But I do know that one such unit of Chinese greens will last me about three days and cost less than HK$20 (US$2.50).

Grocery shopping in the city has also greatly benefited with the proliferation of direct import chains like PrizeMart, Best Mart 360, DS Groceries and 759 Store.

Anyone who does a price comparison will know they are often much cheaper than the big supermarkets for everything from shampoo to sardines to chilli sauce.

A 759 Store branch in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai neighbourhood. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

It might surprise some of my expat friends to see how many imported goods are available there too.

You might still complain about the price of food in Hong Kong, but don’t ever say you haven’t been given any money-saving local shopping tips.

You’re welcome.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.