Time and space: the home cook's conundrum
Hong Kong's love of food is well documented. Cooking shows dominate the airwaves, and critic and presenter Chua Lam's smile beams down at you wherever you dine. But are Hongkongers cooking along at home or watching at the neighbourhood cha chaan teng?
While Towngas classes on Chinese cookery are popular, the impression that locals are flooding cooking classes is misleading. A good portion of the students is made up of domestic helpers sent by their employers.
On television there are not only whole channels devoted to food, its preparation and history, but the subject is at the heart of dramas such as Singapore's The Kitchen Musical or the variety show Beautiful Cooking, pitting 'hot female celebs against each other'. The Naked Chef refers both to an adult Hong Kong show in which the food is prepared by women wearing little more than aprons, as well as Jamie Oliver's earliest series.
At Dymocks, the cookbook section is one of the most popular in the bookshop. Books by Oliver and molecular chefs Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria head its top 10 list, with a title on Chinese food from the Australian Women's Weekly, but it's curious that the books are aimed at cooks with Western appliances and ample kitchen space - a rarity in Hong Kong.
Free time is an issue for a would-be chef. Terri Tsang, an assistant brand manager, admits: 'I love to cook, but I can only cook on my days off, maybe once a month.'
According to Towngas, cooking is just what stressed-out residents need: 'Hectic city dwellers ... with myriad affairs to attend to may discover that preparing delicious dishes ... relaxes their minds.'
Tsang disagrees: '[Cooking] doesn't relieve stress for me. Even if the meal is simple, I'm just too tired when I get home.'
He does see a growing interest in cooking. 'Many young people are interested in cooking these days ... especially in celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver,' he says. But does that translate into actual cooking?
'Among my acquaintances, most complain that they don't know how to cook at all,' Tsang says. 'They still eat home-cooked meals, but that's because they all have domestic helpers.'
So, maybe the lack of leisure time is what's keeping folks from tying on an apron. After all, without putting in all the long hours how could they ever afford all those cookery books?