Each to his own at the table

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 25 May 2003


BEIJING: China's caterers are being told to foster a “culinary revolution” to fight the spread of SARS – asking people to essentially change the way they eat. 

The China Cuisine Association has asked its members to promote Western-style a-la-carte menus with individual servings or provide buffets in their restaurants. 

The move would be revolutionary – hoping to change an eating style thousands of years old, where several dishes served in common plates are placed at the centre of the table and shared by all. 

Bian Jiang, deputy secretary-general of the association, listed individual servings as one of the key measures to help the sector recover. 

Promoting healthy eating was the best way to build up public confidence in dining out, he added.  

The association has also advised restaurants to pay close attention to disinfection, ventilation and hygiene measures while increasing the use of disposable tableware. 

It is not the first time that a proposal has been made to change culinary habits – a campaign in the 1980s to promote better hygiene fizzled out when it met strong resistance from people who preferred the traditional way of eating. 

Today, however, diners have mixed feelings. “If we eat Western style, we would not be able to try several dishes. Also you miss the intimacy of Chinese-style dining,” said Cang Wenhua, a civil servant in Guangzhou. 

But he is prepared to make a change for health. 

“It would take time for me to get used to Western-style eating but from the hygiene point of view, it is better,” he added. 

The catering industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors in the wake of the epidemic as people shy away from eating out.  

Restaurants have tried to attract custom with better hygiene measures and pushing take-away services. 

Even if all these measures pay off, Bian predicted, it would be impossible for the industry to match last year's growth. 

Before the SARS outbreak, Bian's association forecast turnover to top 600 billion yuan (US$72.5bil) this year but it is now estimated that at least 100 billion yuan (US$12.09bil) has to be knocked off the figure.  

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