Chopsticks come out tops in Oz

A NEW study of Australian eating habits has found that Asians go out to restaurants far more than any other group in this country, with people of Chinese background spending up to three times more on eating out than the average Australian family.

Top of the dining-out list are people from Hong Kong, Adelaide restaurateur and food sociologist Dr Michael Symons, has found.

Dr Symons, who has a Phd in sociology and runs a restaurant at Uraidla in the Adelaide Hills called the Uraidla Aristologist, has released his findings in a new book called The Shared Table: Ideas For Australian Cuisine.

He used the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 1989 household expenditure survey (the latest figures - the survey is done every five years) to reach his conclusions.

He found people from Hong Kong spent up to A$34 (HK$180) a week per household eating out at restaurants, hotels and clubs, compared to A$10.94 spent by Australian-born people.

The next highest spenders were people from Malaysia at A$19.77, and China at A$6.70.

''It bears out what we all knew, that when you go to an Italian restaurant in Australia you don't see many Italians, but in Chinese restaurants you see a lot of Chinese,'' said Dr Symons, who interviewed migrants from many backgrounds to discover reasonsfor the differences.

''Italians in Australia are very much from rural villages where food is centred in the household and they are not used to going to restaurants.

''But people from Hong Kong are coming from a dense urban area where many don't even have kitchens and people are used to getting perhaps even all their meals in the street from hawkers.

''Also, the Chinese have paid a great deal more attention to the pleasures of meals than some other groups.'' Hong Kong-Australians said they ate out regularly citing price and variety and major attractions. Most said they did not eat out as often as in Hong Kong.

Douglas Chan, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's Australian representative, said he and his wife ate out about twice a week in Sydney - not as often as in Hong Kong, where they ate predominantly in Chinese restaurants.

''Here we try a different one every time, a French restaurant or modern Australian, sometimes Italian or Thai or Vietnamese.

''Hong Kong people entertain more in restaurants than Australians do. In New South Wales and Melbourne and maybe Queensland sometimes you invite friends in for a barbeque, but in Hong Kong people eat in restaurants most of the time, because of the lack of space and the environment.'' Clive Chan, international department manager with a Melbourne property agent, said he and his wife ate out two or three times a week for dinner, either alone or with friends, and once a week for yum cha.

''Compared to Hong Kong it is so cheap here and you have so many choices,'' he said. ''You can get top quality in Hong Kong but generally it is more expensive.

''In Hong Kong I would probably dine out four or five times a week, but here we are in a transitional stage as new migrants.

''On Sunday we always go to restaurants. A lot of Western restaurants are most crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, but Chinese restaurants here are most crowded on Sunday.''