In Defence of the Cheap Meal

Picture this, you’re having a good time with a few of your friend – possibly at a location recommended by one of the Hong Kong’s many food blogs. The ambiance is lovely, the food exquisite, the glasses of vino full… At the end of a very satisfying meal, you call the charming waiter/waitress for the bill, who presents it to you with a beaming smile.

You flip open the leather bounded file where you see the cheque for this pleasant experience. Chances are, if you are an ordinary person like me, the numerical figures on the bill would make your skin white, your hair frizzle and your heart freeze. As your credit card fizzles and spontaneously explodes inside the terminal, you realise that for the remainder of the month, you will have to eat on a tight budget.

Was the experience worth it? You might say yes – after all, your food was prepared by a renowned chef (none of that Jamie Oliver rubbish) with the finest of all ingredients; the wine you sipped a vintage; and the service spot on. You may think that establishments confident enough to charge astronomical figures for their food have the quality to justify such costs. But sadly, that is not the case. How many times have you stepped out of a restaurant, wallet empty, questioning if the experience was really worth the bill? Reality is, most restaurants will disappoint you, even the ones showered with accolades and awards. Rather than an earth-shattering  bang, the meal hums along gently and gets lost in one’s memory at the end of the night. The costs for the finest ingredients for your meal? Still a fraction of the actual price on the menu. For example, megastar chef Pierre Gagnaire charges HK$780 (US$100) for his Summer Vegetables appetiser in his eponymous restaurant Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental. Thats HK$780 for bits of tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and cheese.

What you end up paying for is the service, the brigade at the kitchen and the ambiance. But yet, smart individuals like yourself must know that the charming waiter/waitress is only behaving politely for a customary tip (a practice in fine dining restaurants we ought to eliminate). Yes, the ambiance is lovely, but tell me, are you truly comfortable eating in such a setting? Look around you next time you treat yourself to a fine dinner, the atmosphere is more sterile than ambient. There is barely any laughter, joy or life. You are forced to dress formally, eat formally and speak in hushed tones – now where’s the fun in that? Look around you, are the people that you share a dining room with people you really want to hang out? Food critic Jay Rayner once declared that good food is mainly consumed by people who do not deserve it, spoiling whatever good food is on the plate with the tepid stench of snobbery and excess.

So then, why would people still choose to eat in such places? Much of it is indeed due to the belief that eating in fine dining establishments automatically elevates us to a higher status. Contrastingly, eating in small, local places – despite having excellent food – is deemed second rate, and thus, undesirable. But what people fail to notice is that these small local places are a part of our identity as Hong Kong individuals, and they are to be embraced, not neglected. As citizens, it is our duty to preserve and promote it. If the food is damn good , then it should be shared to everyone else – regardless of ambience of service (yes, most servers at local places are correctly judged as rude). This is the sole aim of Wong Eats Hong Kong – to explore places where you normally would not find in ‘regular’ blogs and share it to the world.

Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken
The epitome of a cheap meal – the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world

Ending on one final note: When the Michelin Guide was released in Singapore this July, an eatery known as Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle received a Michelin star. However, the establishment was not some fine dining restaurant, but a small hawker stall in an old food complex in Chinatown. People instantly flocked to it and queues reached as long as six hours (I was there, sweating profusely from the lack of air conditioning). But even without the Michelin Guide, Singaporeans are fiercely proud of their local cuisine, and the most popular eateries are usually the hawker stalls located all over the city’s food centres and housing projects. Perhaps we should emulate our Singaporean neighbours and do the same? After all, Hong Kong does have a lot of good food yet to be fully discovered. So this then is the ethos behind Wong Eats Hong Kong – to discover great tasting food that doesn’t require you to mortgage your house or sell a kidney. Believe me, there are ways to eat like a king in Hong Kong without selling a kidney or mortgaging your apartment. So I hope you get something out of this website, be it a new humble, local restaurant, a recipe, or simply just by learning something new.