Why Hong Kong People Always Take Pictures of Food

The best photographers in the world are probably not in Hong Kong. But there are thousands of people in Hong Kong who can be professional photographers specialized in food pictures. Everyone claims they’re foodies (“食家” in Cantonese) and posts a stack of food photos on their Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and of course, food blogs. “Restaurants” is the most searched keywords on internet; food places are packed with customers in queues waiting for a table with a limited usage time of maximum 1.5 hours (but after half an hour the staff will force you to leave). The entire city is crazy about food.

When you go to restaurants with a Hong Kongese, the first thing you do when the food arrives is not to eat, but to wait for your friend to take a picture of it and post it on social media network. Here you go:


Taking photos of food is almost a staple for Hong Kong diners.

Have you ever thought of what are the reasons Hong Kong people always take pictures of food (among a thousand other things)?

Here are my explanations:

They really like to eat
Hong Kong people’s love in food can trace back to the traditional Chinese cultural root. There’s an important Chinese idiom of “民以食為天” which literally means “people regard food as the sky”; and “sky” is the most important intrinsic belief to Chinese people since “sky” produces rains that grow food which in turns sustains people’s lives. With eating being extremely crucial not just for survival but also cultural sense, Hong Kong people regard restaurants as “heaven” and taking food photos as “showing how they feel excited in heaven”.

They have to eat out a lot
This reason pinpoints Hong Kong people’s busy schedule. They’re known for working hard, and because of those ridiculous work cultures Hong Kong people have to work late at night and leave only after their boss has headed out the office. They can hardly go to supermarket and buy food to cook at home. Therefore eating out after work and during weekend has become a popular culture. Browsing Openrice.com to read reviews about different restaurants is a staple before choosing which restaurants to go. When they can finally enjoy their dinner, how could Hong Kongers resist taking a picture of the lovely sushi or freshly fried foie gras? Of course their joy can only be communicated if they share the photos with friends, so using smartphone to finish the task is a routine before actually eating.

Photo sharing shows their tastes
All those photos taken of the food would be meaningless if Hong Kong people don’t share them online to their friends. Most often, the shared photos are tagged with the name and address of the restaurants through Facebook check-in or Foursquare so that their friends know if they go to the recently most sought-after restaurants or some cafés run by pop teen models with big dolly eyes. In a word, sharing of food pictures in essence conveys the tastes of the photographer to their friends and people all over the world through social media network. This can also be an indirect way of self-identification by showing their social status through telling others how many Michelin-starred restaurants they go or how they could find a table at a popular restaurant while there are 200 people queuing outside. Well, lining up for 2 hours to dine at a renowned restaurant for half an hour is one of the 9 characteristics of Hong Kong food culture.

Eating is a good way to kill time
There are not much natural resources in Hong Kong. Although there are many good hiking spots, beaches and sports centers, Hong Kong culture is not very outdoor-oriented. People seem to enjoy doing more quiet and indoor activities (usually this involves air-conditioner) such as watching Korean dramas, shopping, karaoke and eating out. Watching TV dramas and karaoke aren’t very photo-sharing friendly; shopping requires a great deal of fortune to brag to others that you buy at designer stores; but taking photos of food? Easy trick. Popular restaurants can be cheap, and even if they go to afternoon tea at a nice hotel, it’s still cheaper than a luxury handbag plus food is essential, food is king and food is everything. Therefore, the easy two-second snap of food photos has evolved to a daily habit to Hong Kong people, as it’s a really good way to spend their time after their tiring work.

Do you take pictures of food? I do.

20 Comments on Why Hong Kong People Always Take Pictures of Food

  1. Josh Rhyne
    May 27, 2013 at 10:40 am (1 year ago)

    Such a cool article! I never thought about it this way, I love taking pictures of my food and posting it on Facebook!

  2. Daniel
    May 27, 2013 at 11:34 am (1 year ago)

    Taking photos of food is a bit of a waste of time. Only if its an exceptional looking dish is there a need to take a photo. The rest is just show boating. When a friend posts food on their fb page i tend to skip over it, especially if its a repeat offender.

  3. Markoff
    May 27, 2013 at 6:10 pm (1 year ago)

    actually you can replace HK in article with China and it will be same, it’s popular asian hobby, not so popular in west although I like to take photos of food for myself too (strictly not sharing)

  4. zenlifefrugal
    May 28, 2013 at 9:45 am (1 year ago)

    I think it’s a waste to take a photo unless it comes out to the table pretty (ie 5 star restaurant). Otherwise I just want to eat.

  5. pradonprada
    May 28, 2013 at 10:35 am (1 year ago)

    I do to, particularly when i’m not very hungry. But there’s another reason why people take photo of food like for me for an example, the reason was purely on the neatness/nicely food is presented. The plate of food it self is like a piece of art if you know what i mean.

  6. Jay K.
    May 29, 2013 at 10:56 am (1 year ago)

    perhaps its a generalization of an “Asian thing” but yeah I admit I take photos of my food. as an expat in Beijing, I love taking photos and putting it up on wechat(微信) and linking it t facebook so my friends back home can realize their burger and fries has got nothing to chinese food!

  7. John Cho
    May 30, 2013 at 4:13 am (1 year ago)

    This is unrelated to the article, but I wanted to ask a kinda weird question:
    I’m ethnically Cantonese, but I was born overseas and I went to an international school here. I’m really curious about what kind of girls that other ABCs or international school guys end up dating after coming back from college overseas.
    I mean, in Hong Kong I feel like I have an implicit advantage with local Hong Kong girls because I speak fluent English. But at the same time, I very rarely feel chemistry with local girls, maybe because of my shitty Cantonese.
    At the same time, though, it’s difficult to “identify” ABC girls or international school girls after college, and they seem to be quite “spread out”.

    Can you (or any other readers) comment on this?

    • Jin Wong
      May 30, 2013 at 10:14 pm (1 year ago)

      You’re usually attracted to people who can understand and communicate well with you, but sometimes you also like exotic stuff (like how local girls like your not-so-well Cantonese). In the end, it’s your choice. There is no “identity”, people like you for who you are.

  8. Andrew
    May 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm (1 year ago)

    Taking pictures of food isn’t a Hong Kong thing. It happens all around the world. And food isn’t the particular subject, but rather people just like to share what they enjoy, in this case eating.

  9. jnnnsnb448
    June 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm (1 year ago)

    hi Jin,

    People like to enjoy beautiful and delicious dishes of cuisine. Before eating up the stuff, it would better be shot for keeping a good memory of taste of food. Sometimes, the photo taking of food plays a role in the social dialogue among people by internet. It probably serves as a new culture since the implement of new technology of phone embedded with camera. Sometimes, when I spot out delicious food or special cuisine, I would like to introduce to my friends for sharing. However, I am aware of this behavior found on many of the girls, instead of on men. Is it the characteristic of gender? I don’t know because I am man. Jay

    • Jin Wong
      June 4, 2013 at 11:47 pm (1 year ago)

      Thanks for lots of comments from you Jay!

      Yes, I agree that taking photos of food is a good way to share to friends about the positive experience you have in life, and food is a big part of your life. I used to not care about taking pictures using my phone (I only take photos using proper camera), but now wherever I go, I just try to take photos just to keep the beautiful memories. Photos are the best way to keep memories. What I discuss in this article is that some people do it as a routine and don’t really care if they actually “share” (“sharing” on Facebook is different from actually sharing). But yeah, you’ve got a point!

  10. May
    June 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm (1 year ago)

    Hi Jin! I take photos not only from food, also from restaurants, and like to check their website too….It is wellknown that the more humble a snack bar looks, the cheaper and the more home-cooked the food is! my fav spot in London is a tiny canteen in London called stick & Bowl just on the High street Kensington. many many years ago, tea was offered for free, no not anymore, but still 90% of the customers are all from asian background, so there must be a good reason why it is here always so packed. Surely the food is more authentic in Hong Kong. I hope to land there soon!

    • Jin Wong
      June 9, 2013 at 10:57 pm (1 year ago)

      Some local Hong Kong restaurants do offer customers hot tea for free. It’s just like western restaurants offering iced water. Hope you have enjoyed Hong Kong food already.

  11. Chocolate Couture
    June 24, 2013 at 8:49 am (1 year ago)

    I am from Hong Kong and I completely agree with your analysis. So thorough. We recently went to Japan two weeks ago, and the first thing that me and my friends did when the food arrived was to take photos of it. We even investigated different angles and lighting for it.

    But sometimes I take photos of food for my blog. For example, I wrote a post on a Matcha dessert shop in Kyoto, http://chocolatecouture.org/2013/06/22/hidden-gem-in-kyoto-gion-tsujiri-茶寮都路里/ Drop by if you have time

  12. Gabriel
    July 12, 2013 at 11:38 am (1 year ago)

    I only shoot my own dishes, for testing the attractiveness of my dish layouts and evaluate if my western cuisine style can attract Chinese people.

    What i interpret from these compulsive photo shooting are maybe different from my western point of view, but I like to put some other facts in context:

    These little tips about cold/hot food that you received from your mother or grandmother, (which have nothing about physical temperature of it), food as a drug, or food pairing hacks that has been shared in the traditional China, are now extended using the photography, but not only in the family circle, but also with friends.

    Probably less in HK (where people are eating out most of the time), the photo snapping and the photo sharing is a way to save a dish or recipe for a later use. Basically, if you loved the dish you just ate, you are glad to have saved a backup photo of it and give you ideas for your next dinner at home.

    I also believe that sharing the experience of your diner or lunch through displaying the food could be also a way to overcome the fear of the too many food safety issues we recently had in China.


    • Jin Wong
      July 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm (1 year ago)

      Interesting point of views about the “taking pictures of food” scene in China! Yeah, the idea of saving the dish or recipe for later use could apply in Hong Kong too, but I guess in China, since there is big concern about the food safety, this practice could help promote the best and safe food while publishing the worst and unhygienic food through social networking websites.

  13. J
    August 27, 2013 at 4:13 am (11 months ago)

    A Hong Kongese American here from SF Bay Area and often go back to Hong Kong! I can relate to this post right on and am extremely obsessed with food and the act of food photography. I often think of really geeky things like, how the lighting is at certain restaurants and which angles are the most conducive to getting that money shot. Here in San Francisco, food photography is not really an obsession and I really love how everyone takes pride in their food photography in Hong Kong.

    I’ve even very recently starting blogging about restaurants in Hong Kong. The food there is so incredibly good compared to what I can find here!

    I think the reason to take photos of food is mainly for the socialization experience. We often eat just to spend time with others and in Hong Kong especially, a lot of the food is extravagant , so we would want to take photos of our food to show off and show who we are, since what we are made of, is who we are. I’m a guy, but I know that girls in particular like to take photos of food, because it is a cute sort of thing, as it is concerned with stereotypically delicate, little, pretty things.

    I like taking photos of food mainly because my collection of food photos, serves as a food journal with good friends and good family. The conversations and good memories created by eating that meal in that random hole in the wall, or that designer meal on the 103rd floor of the ICC… these things are to never be forgotten.

  14. nhammm
    January 12, 2014 at 6:55 am (7 months ago)

    Interesting article. We’ll pay attention to this habit the next time we head to Hong Kong :)


2Pingbacks & Trackbacks on Why Hong Kong People Always Take Pictures of Food

  1. […] call his/her name in the old days, now you would like Whatsapp “where are you?”. Everyone is addicted to smartphones at restaurants, subways and now, shopping malls and stores. What’s next? Scanning a QR code at a long-queue […]

  2. […] call his/her name in the old days, now you would like Whatsapp “where are you?”. Everyone is addicted to smartphones at restaurants, subways and now, shopping malls and stores. What’s next? Scanning a QR code at a long-queue […]

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