Monday, November 29, 2010

Affordable Eating-Out Increases A Country's Productivity

Lunch: Yam Rice
Lunch: Pig's Stomach with White Peppercorn Soup
Lunch: Fried Fish and some kind of Squash or Gourd
Dinner: Malay curried mutton, fried, egg, fish, vegetables with rice and Chili
Would you believe that I have not cooked a meal at home in three years, ever since I came back from the United States? Though this sounds strange to Westerners and Americans, it is not uncommon to find working people in Hong Kong and Singapore who eat out for every meal-breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of the reasons is that people here and even more so in Hong Kong work long hours, and there is no time to cook. But the main reason is that eating out in Singapore and Hong Kong is relatively inexpensive. Inexpensive not only in the amount of dollars a meal costs, but inexpensive also in the sense of comparing the $ x time that need to be sacrificed if you need to cook at home. Time, that for some, could be spent earning more money or doing more business. If you don't count tasteless quick meals like instant noodles or canned food, the time spent on a proper meal: cooking, shopping for the ingredients, rushing home to prepare, and so on could add up to an average time cost of two hours a day. And finally I must say that eating out three times a day is O.K. [and indeed quite enjoyable] when you have such a wide variety of cheap, delicious food. But first I must tell you that I don't eat fast food, greasy, spicy, processed,and generally unhealthy food. And I don't tolerate food that tastes like cardboard, pig swill or chemical substances. And I make sure I have my daily dose of greens and fruits. I also don't patronise commercialized food courts where the cooks are those that cannot earn a living from other means. Even with these constraints, I am able to eat well and eat economically- three, sometimes four times a day if you count late night supper. I look for good food in the older, less crowded parts of Singapore where cooks who love their jobs still exist, and because of the multi-racial nature of this country, I can eat English food for breakfast, Chinese food for lunch, Malay food for dinner and Indian food for supper. Even within Chinese cuisine, I can choose from the unique cuisine of various Chinese dialect groups- the noodles and prawn rolls of the Fujian people, the porridge and steamed fish of the Teochew, Chicken rice of the Hainanese, herbal soups of the Cantonese and so on. What I am leading up to is that if meals are affordable and delicious, [and if everyone is responsible and will not pig out on unhealthy or large portions of food] it will make happy workers have the time to work harder and overall the country's economic productivity will increase. Somebody should measure how much of Hong Kong and Singapore's economic dynamism is due to the availability of cheap, healthy and delicious meals outside the home, every meal, all the time.
Yesterday, I had black coffee and a bowl of minced pork noodles for breakfast: total cost: US$ 2. 30. For lunch I really splurged [see above] (a)Yam rice mixed with bits of pumpkin, belly pork, mushroom and dried shrimp. (b) Pig's stomach and pork ribs soup cooked with lots of white pepper. (c) fried fish with some kind of Squash or Gourd stir-fried with carrots. And a bottle of mineral water: Total cost: US$ 7.70. Dinner: Malay 'Nasi Padang' or mixed rice with fried fish, fried egg, and vegetables. And a glass of Apple, Beetroot and Carrot juice. Total cost US$6.20. Supper: Vietnamese corned beef baguette with pickles and Vietnamese highland drip-coffee: US$6.50 (this was in a cafe in the heart of the financial district, so is relatively expensive]. So my total foodcost for the day is US$22.70 or about US$660 a month. I would like to hear from readers of other countries whether this amount is enough for them to eat out all the time; and whether it is practical to do so.
Despite what I have written, even better eat-out meals can be had in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong people are fussy with their food-bad cooks are not tolerated, so everyone is of at least some standard. I can't say the same for all Singaporeans-the young and ambitious often do not care about the quality of the food the pay for.

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