Find out how one foodie survived two weeks of Hong Kong quarantine. Spoiler alert: preparation is key…
Since the pandemic began, I’d been overly precautious. I’d followed all the rules and had zero life to speak of. Yet on Sunday, April 18, 2021, I received that dreaded WhatsApp. The little logo showed the Centre for Health Protection, and the text, in part, read “You need to be sent to a quarantine centre”. I am not too proud to admit that I immediately had a meltdown.
Within 24 hours, I was picked up by five hazmat suits and whisked away, leaving behind a hubby on crutches and our two disabled dogs. Not knowing anyone who’d been through mandatory quarantine (I repeat, zero life), I had no idea what I was in for, but this is how I survived in a foodie wasteland.
Although my experiences written here came as a result of a government mandate, I was allocated a hotel site. Therefore, the general concepts, and my tips and tricks for survival, will be useful to anyone heading into Hong Kong quarantine, either at a centre or a designated travel hotel.
What to Expect From The Food In Hong Kong Quarantine
Quarantine facilities provide three meals a day, delivered by more hazmat suits. For the most part, my meals were Cantonese cafeteria-style staples, with the occasional “spaghetti bolognese”; vegetarian and halal options can be arranged. I was also given a daily apple or orange, Chinese tea cartons and lots of bottled water. As I was at a hotel site, I also had an invaluable kettle and mini fridge (arrangements for these can also be made on-site or by you on/after arrival at the camp centres).
Foodie Packing Hacks
As much as your friends will try to convince you to relax and enjoy your “staycation”, there are a few items I did not pack, and their absence will instantly bring you down to reality: this ain’t no vacation. Aside from the obvious, snacks and long-life milk, these items now make up my realistic desert island list:
- A mug (I was given four paper cups for three weeks!)
- A set of cutlery (only teeny tiny plastic fork and spoons provided with each meal)
- A sharp knife
- A large bowl to substitute for a mixing (or undies washing) bowl
- A bowl or plate (all meals are provided in plastic trays, the lids of which served me as a chopping board substitute!)
- Dish soap and a sponge
- Condiments (pesto and sweet chili sauce were versatile and great for adding flavour)
- A salt and pepper shaker (you’ll be amazed what a simple crack of salt & pepper can do to a boring meal!)
- Herbal tea bags; sleepy tea for when it all gets too much; and honey (for your throat, the hotel rooms especially get rather stuffy)
If you’re like me, a coffee press (and grounds) are essential. For an extra nutritional boost, I also used the press to make herb and fruit infused waters and teas: orange, rosemary and honey was a favourite (mocktail hour anyone?). Plus, the used coffee grounds gave me an excuse to make up a homemade body scrub and treat myself to a “spa” day – I was positively glowing after three weeks!
You have to support your immune system and, realistically, there weren’t many fresh, nutrient-rich greens going on in quarantine meals. To combat this, I stocked up my mini fridge with spinach, fresh parsley and rosemary (wrapped in damp kitchen roll to keep fresh), cucumber and kale, and a couple lemons.
While deliveries are easy to arrange to hotel sites, rules may vary according to different government centres and so it is worth packing as much as you can physically manage, and getting to know those rules shortly after arrival.
Learn To Love Sweet Corn
I’m not going to critique and tear apart each meal, venue by venue, I’ll leave that to the myriad social media groups. Admittedly the meals were carb-heavy and relatively bland, but the hotels, centres and catering companies are doing the best they can, often on a shoestring budget.
So, the corn? It became a running joke in my family – one meal literally consisted of sweet corn sauce served with a side of sweet corn! Although it took me a whole month to look at corn the same way again, the yellow stuff is an intentional nutritional choice by caterers – not only is it a cheap and somewhat versatile ingredient, it also provides a great deal of fibre (helping to regulate blood sugar), potassium, B vitamins and more – even out of a can.
Firstly, I should clarify, actual cooking is prohibited. That does not, however, mean that you can’t get a little creative…
Heading into quarantine had turned life upside down too much already for me to be able to justify spending a fortune on daily deliveries on top of everything else. So instead, using my new found addiction to the Discovery Channel, I turned my necessary confinement into a journey of culinary survival. Mixing and matching between the meals provided and a few shopped-in extras, I was able to go all-out MacGyver, turning famine to feast – and not gain 30 pounds.
I turned a couple of these ideas into IGTV video recipes – mostly to give myself something to do (after all, I’d already mastered survival in the Alaskan wilderness)! But also to help anyone else in my situation. My favourite creation was my Salsa Verde Genoese:
Salvaged from meals:
Pasta from a “bolognese”
Chicken (omit for vegetarian)
Squeeze of fresh orange juice (I’d been greedy and eaten my daily orange already, so resorted to a pre-mixed juice)
Brought in myself:
1 tbsp pesto
Handful fresh spinach
Sprig fresh parsley
Salt & pepper
- Peel the hard boiled egg – try not to lose half of the white like I did!
- Tear up spinach and put half of it into a cup or bowl; pour boiling water over and leave for 1 minute to fully soften. Pour out the majority of the excess water, keeping only a little in order to mash the spinach.
- Fork the boiled egg until you get a crumbly texture.
- Add half of the mashed spinach, a heaped spoon of pesto and a squeeze of orange juice.
- Add fresh parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
- Mix in your pasta, chicken if using, mixed veggies and fresh spinach. Enjoy!
A Plastic Nightmare
Hygiene and sanitisation are obviously essential to this entire process. The sad side effect is an absolute mountain of plastic waste. There are organisations that will collect recyclable boxes, or donate saved juice boxes to relevant charitable organisations. Check out the Facebook Group “HK Quarantine Support Group” or the location-specific WhatsApp groups for options.
Returning To Freedom
I was fortunately told in advance that it is quite common to feel rundown within the first week or so, post-quarantine. As much as you’ll likely want to devour every treat you’ve been missing since your ‘”retreat”, be sure to support your immune system properly and focus (at least half the time) on healthy eating.
Mandatory or travel-related quarantine may be here to stay with us a while, in any variety of ways, shapes or forms. I viewed my time as a community service; a necessary evil to prevent any potential risk to myself or my family.
Should you find yourself caught up in a quarantine whirlwind, whatever the circumstances may be, it is entirely survivable – even for a die-hard foodie – regardless of your budget. As with so many other things in life, the trick is all in the preparation!