The big food conundrum


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  • Saturday, 14 Mar 2015

Size matters: One of the current hot topics in Ipoh is shrinking food portions after a series of price hikes.

PERAK is famous for its good food. This has been proven again in terms of the number of outlets when the state emerged second in the list of Malaysia’s 100 Best Coffeeshops recently.

Sixteen of the 100 outlets are from Perak.

Johor tops the list with 18 outlets while Penang came in third with 10.

The ranking, released early this week, was conducted by the Malaysia-Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors’ General Association.

While details on the listing criteria have not been made known, I think the number of popular or famous outlets in Perak are more than that.

In fact, coffee shops in Ipoh Old Town, for instance, are tourist spots over the weekends and public holidays.

And the tourists include youngsters and the middle-aged people who had left Ipoh to work or do business in Kuala Lumpur and some as far as Singapore.

One of my childhood friends who had migrated to Singapore said she, her husband and children would eat in coffeeshops everyday whenever they were back in Ipoh to visit her in-laws.

Her three children, who were born and bred in Singapore, also loved the food.

So, good food is not news for Perakians.

But there is a popular coffeeshop topic in Ipoh recently - the serving portion size.

On Wednesday, a couple whom I was sharing a table with at a coffeeshop were talking about eateries where the portion of food they served had shrunk.

The woman was naming eateries which she said had reduced the chicken and roast pork rice portion after the Chinese New Year celebrations recently.

I assumed they were a married couple having a conversation over their meal, but I soon found out I was wrong.

They introduced each other before they left the table; the woman works in a sundry shop while the man is a salesman for soy sauce.

Well, she must be feeling the pinch, as she was willing to voice her complaints in front of two strangers!

And her complaint was not without basis.

That was not the first time I heard about shrinking food portions and the plight of the working class.

Many working middle-and low-income people have no choice but to eat out for lunch.

The rising cost of living, including prices of food sold in coffeeshops, has been a cause for concern for the working class in the last two to three years.

While I do not know whether the spiralling prices are justified, I guess the food operators have to see what else could be done apart from drastic measures like price hikes or reduce food portion sizes.

Such measures will definitely take a toll on the customers and backfire on the business.

A plate of chicken and roast pork rice costs RM4.50 in a coffeeshop in a housing estate in Ipoh or a bit more in the city centre these days.

Assuming we eat the same dish for lunch for 20 working days, we have to fork out RM90 per month or 10% of the RM900 minimum monthly income.

And we add in 40sen a day for plain water and the total bill for lunch alone comes up to RM98.

Well, I guess many food operators would have realised this and thus, resorted to reducing the food portion instead of raising prices, which they had done so over the last two to three years.

Reduced portion size is equally bad for the customers.

For instance, those who have physically strenuous jobs like labourers and construction workers, usually eat more food for energy.

I did notice a pattern of workers piling their plates with rice and lots of gravy — an obvious way to counter the rising food prices.

It is a sad sight that mirrors the financial difficulties plaguing the working class these days.

The side effects of a grossly unbalanced diet — too much carbohydrates and little to no protein and fibre — will definitely take a serious toll on their health sooner or later.

I hope food operators would have a conscience and find ways to cut cost without undermining their customers’ interest and not purely focus on making profits.

For instance, some eateries in Hong Kong will charge for soy sauce and chilli sauce, and customers have the option to take it or leave it.

I think this is not only a good way to cut cost but to prevent food wastage as well.

For instance, food operators should reduce prices for customers who bring in their own containers for take away food and drinks.

In fact, some customers have been bringing their own containers for health reasons.

The reason is food or drinks react with the plastic bags or styrofoam boxes they are packed in, which is very harmful for health.

Besides good food, it is also time for food operators to introduce good practices to have a win-win situation with customers in the long run.

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