31 July 2011

…Or Eating In - Part 1 還是屋企煮-上卷


New Yorkers often joke about keeping their sweaters in the oven because they never cook. Hong Kongers would have loved to do the same, if only we had the space for an oven. The lack of a proper kitchen and the ease of dining out have made home cooking a vanishing art in the city. At times it seems like no one around us – other than those penny pinching, foldable cart pushing see lai (師奶; middle-aged housewives) – bothers to prepare a home cooked meal any more.

Two see lai grocery shopping at the wet markets


Cooking is time consuming. Considering that most worker bees get home just before the 9:30 soap opera starts, banging and clanging in the kitchen is the last thing on their minds. From buying groceries to all that washing, chopping, frying and steaming, the whole production is guaranteed to take up the entire evening...


_______________________

Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.


20 comments:

  1. Well I’m part of that rare breed these days who still does indeed cook most of their evening meals. Maybe I haven’t shaken that bit of expat out of my system yet! Not at the weekends though. That’s a time for ‘time off’ from cooking for me and enjoying the incredible range of culinary delights Hong Kong has on offer. I should point out, however, that once I moved to Hong Kong, my cooking morphed from something I would spend time on, to what I now call survival cooking. Unfortunately, hours spent preparing a pasta sauce, a variation on my mother’s tired and true recipe, has been replaced with a jar of mass produced sauce grabbed while running through Park n Shop on my way home from work. And even though I have an above average sized kitchen by Hong Kong standards, the will to be creative has disappeared. Maybe when I’ve returned to my kitchen in Australia, the creative juices will flow again.
    Thanks Jason once again for an interesting, entertaining, and this time quite amusing, post.
    Don

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Don. That IS something about a Hong Kong kitchen that makes one want to spend as little time there as possible. Perhaps it is a space issue and perhaps it has something to do with the culture itself. I suppose it's hard to get excited about cooking when no one around you is into it.

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Jason,

    I LOVE your article, because it's so true. Apartments in HK these days are making their kitchens smaller and smaller. I can personally attest to that as I recently purchased a decent size apartment (by HK standard), but only with a major caveat -- a small-ish kitchen. One can easily tell the original designer's attention wasn't really for the kitchen, but the heart of the house was clearly in the living room and not in the kitchen.

    When you throw your next house party - i hope i get invited! :)

    AB

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was just contemplating how I've lost myself. This recent year has been like getting pulled through the wringer. My clue was that I haven't been inspired to cook.

    I discovered cooking was a stress releaser back in my college days. Since then, cooking has been a part of every holiday, dinner parties with friends, family time, the best of times were always over a shared meal. I think teaching kids how to cook, how to appreciate the process, that sense of exploration, should be a part of growing up. The lessons it teaches, patience, curiosity, and being creative, the art of conversation with guests is invaluable from my own experience.

    It's too bad, the 2 electric burner or microwave makes up the apt kitchen in HK. Kitchens in Asia can be small and stuffy, greasy and cluttered. It's too bad, our work schedules are so demanding that we can't prepare healthy wholesome meals.

    It's incredible you have an oven in HK. I've seen an article with your apt featured over a year ago and that's how I found your ever entertaining and insightful blog.

    I better find the next occasion to cook to find my sense of self again. Thank you for reminding me.

    The BEST cooking class I was lucky to take was at Bayan Indah, outside of KL Malaysia. The teacher there offers a wide range of courses, she's a hoot to be around. The setting is her home that she renovated into a 3 suite hotel, connected to her open huge kitchen with a garden around the house. The class made me feel like being in a kitchen stadium for a small scale Iron Chef, although it's not a competition, you do feel the pressure to perform well.

    Food Writing is rather fun isn't it?
    -Lily

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for your comment, AB. Whenever I have a dinner party, my guests and I end up spending most of our time chatting in the kitchen. I would be very sad to have to give up my big kitchen!

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  6. You touched on a great point, Lily. Nowadays cooking is under-valued and under-taught. Parents don't bother teaching their kids how to cook, either because they themselves can't cook or they think it's a waste of time given other more pressing priorities like homework and exams. Very few school offer home economics any more and students get zero exposure in the classroom to cooking.

    Little do parents and teachers know that cooking is not only a wonderful way for children to express their creativity, it is also a precious opportunity to bond with kids and to build confidence and trust.

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hence the importance of a TV show like Junior Master Chef Australia, which incidentally, is currently being screen on TVB Pearl. Hopefully it will inspire some younger people here in Hong Kong to take to cooking for pleasure and not just necessity.
    Don

    ReplyDelete
  8. 看畢此文章, 真係對你改觀, 一直以為你是一個只談嚴肅話題的人, 文章好有趣。

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's not only in HK where homecooking is slowly going extinct. In the UK, while more and more people enjoy watching celebrity chefs cook up a storm on TV, few actually attempt even the simplest dishes. The aisle after aisle of oven-ready meals at the supermarkets means you don't have to know how to cook. Here in Australia, ordering a pizza from Domino's is far cheaper than cooking your own dinner.

    I love food and enjoy cooking. Luckily for me, my family finds most of my dishes edible. My hours in the kitchen each day aren't wasted. The kids, little do they know, think I'm the best 'cooker' in the world. :)

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading one of my favourite subjects. Good work, Jason!

    Sarah McM

    ReplyDelete
  10. Dear Anonymous,

    I try to balance my blog with not-so-serious subject matters from time to time. Reading (and writing) about racial tension in Hong Kong and human rights abuses in China all the time can really get us down. Given the recent market turmoils, I figured we could all use something light-hearted.

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sarah,

    It's great to hear your perspective given your extended stays in the UK and now Australia. You are one of the few people I know who really enjoy cooking and stick to it all these years! Kudos!

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  12. Jason,

    Thanks for the inspiring article; hopefully it helps tempt to bring back home-cooking mentality into Hong Kong households again, specifically to those who currently do not do so. Personally, I love to eat home-cooked food but would not like to indulge in the process of cooking on my own.

    In the past, as a child, I only like to enter the home kitchen to watch the fun of what mom or the domesitc maid is cooking and get excited with aroma of hot cooked food when it is ready for serving. I always have no complaints about the food cooked. Beggars cannot be choosers.

    Then, I was off to the UK to study with no options but to learn simple cooking. It was no fun, but a struggle to find time between study and visiting groceries (Tesco, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer etc.) and then spending time with process of having a full system life-cycle of preparing a simple dish from start to finish plus washing. Oh, what a dread - often to learn through mistakes. I still vividly remember cooking curry with a whole fresh chicken from Marks & Spencer and ate the same for a few days thus saving some time the next few days from cooking to studying.

    Coming back to Hong Kong again - my kitchen space cannot afford to accommodate more than three people moving freely around, so entering the kitchen to watch becomes a show-stopper. However, I was recently invited to a friend's place for lunch BBQ at their house at Redhill Peninsula, Tai Tam - which really delighted me. It was a hugh spacious open kitchen nicely fitted with amenities beside the living room - as the likes of those open home kitchens I have seen abroad. So, it was an eye-opener. My friends cooked for us. We also had outdoor BBQ food over some wines.

    I know your article will motivate your readers to cook more frequently at home than before - for home-cooked food not only tempts the taste buds, but is also delicious, nutritious and healthy, while the process of cooking is a good stress reliever.

    Cheer, Martie

    ReplyDelete
  13. Martie, your friend's house sounds amazing!! It's interesting how our desire to cook has so much to do with the kitchen set up.

    Jason

    ReplyDelete
  14. thanks for your nice and inspiring article,,since i was new here in hong kong,,i don't have much idea on what or how to have a better food,,but now,because of your article i wish i could be better,,thanks lot,,

    jonelyn

    ReplyDelete
  15. This is a really hilarious piece of yours, quite a change to your recent more sobering articles. Guess we can all do with a bit of fun in our lives in these days.

    Was going to suggest that maybe people in Hong Kong can keep their sweaters in the microwave ovens and refrigerators, but I caught myself and thought they may need to stock up on microwave dinners (which was half my staple diet in Sydney, I could pen a thesis on which was the best and the passable and the totally inedible of the brands and flavours in the supermarkets. The same goes for instant noodles which constituted the other half of my diet, and the occasional bread and butter, maybe. Those were the days…)

    To prepare a good, or just decent, meal, is definitely time-consuming. Not to mention that normally I’d still be stuck at the office around 9 pm. And as my cousin once said, by the time we get home we are too tired to even peel an orange, let alone fry a steak or steam a fish with some proper greens. As for doing the dishes, I remembered when I first went to Sydney to study my elder brother said he’d do the cooking and I’d do the cleaning up. Fair, but obviously as time streamed by I ended up being the one doing both the cooking and the cleaning up if we are eating at home. That was amidst disapproving remarks by him over my less than cordon bleu cooking too (at least he is still alive and none of us has suffered any food poisoning from my cooking. Thank goodness he has commended one or two dishes that I prepared other than fetching him the cornflakes).

    For me, when I was living by myself I could hardly ever be bothered to cook properly for myself, the only “proper” dish would just be some necessary greens for the body. The only occasion when I would be willing to cook was if I am to cook for someone or for an occasion, like when I was baking for my friend’s birthday or cooking at a professor’s place before or when everyone brings a dish to a pal’s home for a weekend gathering. Somehow I always ended up doing the washing up for my friends and cleaning their kitchen for them afterwards, must be my ingrained character to do the dishes. I couldn’t tolerate an untidy or dirty kitchen so the places would be even cleaner than before the party! Echoing your earlier pieces, I might have been a good maid had I not been a lawyer. Plans for a career move…

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

    ReplyDelete
  16. As you said, if I am cooking for anyone I’d also ensure that nothing except the best goes into the dish, the prawns must be alive and kicking (or squirming more like it) from the market, the cut of the beef being the premium / tender one, and meat / poultry properly marinated without over-doing it, and what greens are in season. And what to put on a cake/dessert to make it look nice and delicious given that I don’t have that many cake-making utensils. And one of the “hobbies” of my dad and me when we have the time is how we cut the fruits to make it an artistic caricature. But given that half the time I am no longer cooking for myself nor eating at home anyway nowadays most if not all of my cooking skills have gone rusty (if not oxidized altogether). If I have the time and not having to worry about whatever else I need to attend to like yesterday I would love to cook proper, nice dishes to entertain family and friends. It would be like creating a nice artwork which I have always loved doing since a kid.

    When I was younger and living in Happy Valley the kitchen was much smaller and dimmer with nooks and crannies where anything might lurk. Yup the feel was certainly more sinister though I didn’t recall seeing lots of cockroaches flying out from there (speaking of which, I’ve noticed lots more cockroaches around town in Hong Kong for the past weeks or month or so? What is happening? We are not having a cockroach plague like the moths plague we had back in Sydney or the locusts plague in the Bible, is it?). The back potion was another section for our Chinese helper to rest and store things and another tiny washroom for her. My present kitchen, though not large is at least brighter and more airy with a proper small room cordoned off for our helper and a separate washroom for her as well. We’ve even fixed an air-con in the kitchen so our maid can have it on at night if it’s too hot for her to sleep or when she’s cooking (the down-side is, of course, the food gets cold.) I’ve never figured out how I can keep the dishes warm like the restaurants do so when you put the food on it, they don’t get cold immediately. Or do you need a special gadget for that? I do have an oven at home, though I can’t even remember when was the last time I saw my family making anything with it (granted, I am not at home when they are preparing dinners or meals and Christmas turkeys by definition are done only once a year usually).

    I certainly hope to be invited to one of your dinner parties one day. As I owned up, I am no cordon bleu cook, but if I don’t bring a dish, at least I can bring a bottle.

    Christine

    ReplyDelete
  17. Another reason I used to tear through my instant cooking in Sydney was due to the fact that I was loaded with school and house work and I would leave my desk 5 minutes before 7pm to do the cooking (whatever you can get out of it) and then settle myself comfortably before the tv at 7pm to chase up the international news on ABC and SBS channels while having my dinner ! That was a part of the day when I enjoyed.

    Another funny thing I just recalled was: my brother does love to cook and is getting pickier by the day as to what eats and the ingredients that go into a dish. He was trying to make sushi once in Sydney and has made lots of them which were all put in the fridge. They were ok though certainly didn't live up to the standards of a Japanese chef. And for some reason my brother didn't want to eat any of them afterwards and left me to finish them all for goodness knows how many meals afterwards. Guess I should be the one counting myself lucky I haven't suffered any food poisoning then.

    ReplyDelete
  18. ahahahah that's all so true, from the beginning to the end :-)
    I wouldn't change a word of this article, that's exactly what I have ever thought about Hong Kong people's attitude to cooking; and at the same time it's the reason why I keep cooking as much as I used to do in Italy, for myself only or for some guest. Because, as you said, the reward can be more than just a kiss...ahah :-D
    once again, great article!!

    Diego

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks, Diego! I just spent 2 weeks in Italy with my family. I seriously miss all the food and wine!!

    Cheers,

    Jason

    ReplyDelete