WHEN Hung Ching-tin and his friends were always complaining that they couldn't find a good place to eat, they realised that they had a problem. To find a Chinese restaurant that serves less greasy, healthier MSG-free food in a family-like environment was a tall order. So the solution? Set up your own restaurant. Thus, the birth of Steam and Stew Inn. In its second year, not only is the restaurant attracting health-conscious residents, but it is also fulfilling its initial intent to serve as a meeting place for the gang. ''Our regulars are also our friends. We have known each other for years, althoughwe have not seen some of them for eight to 10 years,'' Mr Hung said. Politicians are frequent customers. ''We know them all. Those from United Democrats, Meeting Point, former CRC and now Liberal Party. It's multipartisan here. In fact, a lot of political campaign strategies originate here,'' explained Mr Hung, who works as a political stragetist. The shareholders of Steam and Stew came from all professions - engineering, law, architecture, accounting. ''We are about 15 or 16. All of us have our own professions but none of us had ever run a restaurant.'' But what they lacked in experience, they made up for in the adventurous spirit. They had a vision - a restaurant that reflected the demand for a more health-conscious lifestyle. The initial period consisted of trials and errors. Deciding on the menu was done, of course, by shareholders in a democratic manner. The most difficult task was finding the cook. ''Traditional Chinese cooking has always been done with MSG. We had a difficult time. The first five to six cooks interviewed said it was impossible. 'How can you steam fish without MSG? People will not liketo eat.' ''But luckily we found Master Yan who was willing to discard the old ways of cooking and experiment with us.'' Using Yan's special stock of chicken and ham as a base in many dishes increased their costs. But the taste, it was agreed, was worth it. In the first year, the menu comprised of strictly steamed or stewed dishes, serving more vegetables and using fat toa bare minimum. But to the owners' dismay, it was not enough to attract the customers. A few stir-fried and deep-fried dishes were added to the 40-item menu. One of the most popular - chicken with Chinese ham - requires minimal oil. So does steamed bean curd with shrimp paste in soy sauce. Shreds of ham and scallops inject flavour in some dishes that depended on MSG, such as melon soup. Their style has a sweet and soothing taste, similar to the home-cooked version. Crabs are off the menu ''because of pollution''. Mr Hung said: ''We only serve garoupa. The rest are imported.'' On weekends, the restaurant serves dim sum for the yum cha (tea drinking) lovers. But ironically, the three-storey restaurant is seldom packed. ''The dim sum have not been so popular because the shui gau and the siew mai are made without MSG,'' Mr Hung added with a slight grin.