A restaurant in my kitchen
HK people on the go are discovering the joys of cooking specialty cuisine at home, minus the hassles of chopping, de-boning and grocery shopping. But is the ready-to-cook meal an unmixed blessing? Wang Yuke reports.
cha chaan teng, more health conscious and eager to eat healthy and well,” says Chan.
The couple started ordering meal kits three years ago. “We cut half the time eating outside or waiting for takeaways. When we were young, we spent 70 to 80 percent of the time eating fast food. Now, we’ve stopped fast food completely. That’s a huge change.” He says his heartburn is less frequent and he’s begun to accept that eating is not something to be rushed.
Convenience is the main consideration for the couple who don’t need to set foot in groceries to buy every single ingredient if they feel like cooking at home. “It shortens the time for looking for food, washing, chopping and cleaning up.” Chan said. “Oh, yes,” he added, “I don’t have to eat leftovers!” Their refrigerator used to be full of doggie bags. His wife does not eat leftovers, so he had to finish them.
No food wastage and leftovers is another aspect Poelnitz highlights. “You have to buy one bulb of garlic when you just need a clove, or buy a pumpkin when you just need a small chunk or one whole thing of spices when you just want a little bit.”
The company reviews and updates its menus every week. It adapts its dishes to seasonal ingredients, with seasonal eating habits factored in, says Poelnitz. Mushroom dishes, apples and cider are common items on the menu in fall, curry and soup are staples in winter, while in summer, lighter, low carbohydrate meals and fish dominate the menu.
Chan threw a party at his house three weeks ago. “We had four couples, eight people, gathered in our kitchen, busy around with each one’s task, as opposed to lounging in the living room, tapping on the phone, chatting intermittently, and just waiting for the arrival of takeout. “No movie, mobile phone, no television, no Facebook, no Wechat…” Everything was not planned, but it was lots of fun.
The company supports one-off meal orders. Chan says he can order whenever he and his wife have the mood and their friends or extended family come to visit thanks to the “a la carte” model.
While meal kits are marketed as healthy and balanced, local nutritionists advise caution.
Mandy Sea Man- mei, manager of the Centre for Nutritional Studies at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), says it is hard to assess whether the food in meal kits meets daily food requirements, or whether they contain high levels of sodium, sugar and unhealthy fat. “As ingredients in a meal kit are already marinated or seasoned, we never know how they process them, nor do we know exactly how much salt and sugar they throw in.”
Her concerns are echoed by Ruth Chan, research assistant professor specializing in nutritional studies at CUHK. She explains that even though a dish may not be salty or contain high amount of seasoning in itself, if the customer prefers heavy taste, he/she may add additional salt, seasoning or oil during cooking.
Although experts cast doubt on certain issues, many welcome meal kits — convenient and easy home cooking which particularly fits Hong Kong people who work long hours. “Overall, the service increases the availability of relatively healthy food choices, home cooking is always healthier than eating out,” concludes Chan, referencing a finding from the Centre for Food Safety that suggested dishes at restaurants or takeaways are in general high in fat and salt.
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