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.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

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.

Con­tact the writer at jenny@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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