Hong Kong News

Nonpartisan, Noncommercial, unconstrained.
Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

Hong Kong’s ‘two-dish-rice’ is fully deserving of intangible heritage status

Hong Kong’s ‘two-dish-rice’ is fully deserving of intangible heritage status

The two-dish-rice box, beloved by Hong Kong residents and, lately, diplomats alike, is an icon of the city – it should be declared part of our intangible cultural heritage.

Current trends show an increasing awareness about eating healthier foods. And, as more people adopt healthier lifestyles, being mindful of portion control has become a top priority.

Many people adhere to the popular saying: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.” They are aware, perhaps, that nighttime eating – typically in front of the television or a laptop – results in poorer food choices, weight gain and other undesirable outcomes.

However, there is some truth in the old joke that “Chinese people will eat anything that has four legs other than tables and chairs”. To this day, many of us continue to be unconcerned with rigid eating rules, chomping away on whatever is within reach, whenever hunger pangs strike.

Despite assaults made on the traditional diet by processed and fast foods, eating is no joke to the Chinese. Food is regarded as their heaven; the sourcing, preparation and consumption rituals of many meals being elevated to the status of sacred custom.

Customers line up to order “two-dish-rice” in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon. Tasty, filling, quick and comforting; the rice box often reminds people of home cooking.

It is hard to find “bad” Chinese food anywhere in the world. The substandard will not last long, because every Chinese person likes to think of himself or herself as a food connoisseur and critic.

Having said that, mediocre Chinese food outlets do exist – mainly to cater to foreign customers who cannot tell good from bad.

In Hong Kong, even cheap, roadside eats can rock your palate. One of the most affordable meals is the versatile, bargain-basement, two-dish-rice box – known colloquially as “this this rice” because of the way people make their orders by pointing their finger at the dishes and saying: “I want this and this” to the servers.

These meal boxes generally cost between HK$25 (US$3) and HK$40.

Last week, to the delight of many Hongkongers, “this this rice” made its way into diplomatic circles after the US Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau, Gregory May, took a trip to one of the more modest eateries in Central to pick up a two-dish-rice meal box.
US Consul General Gregory May bought his “two-dish-rice” box in Central and documented it on Facebook.

May documented his eat-like-a-local adventure on his Facebook page, posting photos as proof of his “this this” ordering prowess. The consul general’s down-to-earth Hong Kong lunchtime experience became an instant hit with local residents, and earned him many new fans.

Indeed, May’s arrival in Hong Kong, a few months ago, had gone practically unnoticed until his “this this” debut turned him into a “local” – at least on a culinary level. It goes to show the value of food as a super-connector and conversation starter.

The humble rice box has been a staple of the city’s low-income sector for years, as well as a saviour for those who often experience cash flow problems before the arrival of their end-of-the-month pay cheque.

Following an economic slump triggered by the pandemic, the popularity of the meal among the general population has only increased.

The meal-in-a-box may be a pauper’s choice, but it tastes fabulously rich. To begin with, there are not many types of global cuisine – outside the Subway sandwich – that offer such a wide array of choices to customise your two-dish-rice set.

The hungry patron is often confronted by a bewildering selection of at least 10 different Cantonese dishes to add to their rice. It’s a poor man’s buffet with the underlying assurance that the quality is never poor. Tasty, filling, quick and comforting; the rice box often reminds people of home cooking.

The US consul general’s down-to-earth Hong Kong lunchtime experience became an instant hit with local residents.

Very often, if you ask the server for a more generous portion of rice, or a slightly larger scoop from one of your chosen dishes, they will comply without hesitation. That’s the common heartwarming experience of this dining model, and truly like eating at home and being served by Mum.

The everyday meal box may not appear glamorous at first sight, but it forms part of the social glue that binds people together. In difficult times, it fills not just empty stomachs but the soul of the city as well.

When the government banned dine-in services for the first time at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hongkongers were concerned about being restricted from visiting their favourite restaurants of an evening.

Not only is the rice box an icon of the city, it is the epitome of the Hong Kong spirit.

As the economy reeled, the hardest hit were often those in low- and middle-income families.

It was at this point that the uniquely Hong Kong “this this rice” dining came to the rescue. Its typically takeaway service model was ideally suited to cater for those desiring a hot meal, yet who were unwilling to sacrifice the wide dish selection offered by more costly, suddenly banned dine-in establishments.

Not only is the rice box an icon of the city, it is the epitome of the Hong Kong spirit. And, following its emergence in the international diplomatic arena, the next step for “this this rice” must surely be its placement on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list!


Related Articles

Hong Kong News
2 earthquakes in Turkey killed over 2,300 people
Powerful Earthquake Strikes Turkey and Syria, Killing More Than 1,300 People.
Turkish photographer Ugur Gallenkus portrays two different worlds within a single image. Brilliant work
Charlie Munger, calls for a ban on cryptocurrencies in the US, following China's lead
Hong Kong airlines taking bold action after the years of pandemic lockdown and travel restrictions, to make Hong Kong great again
EU found a way to use frozen Russian funds
First generation unopened iPhone set to fetch more than $50,000 at auction.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT - US Memphis Police murdering innocent Tyre Nichols
Almost 30% of professionals say they've tried ChatGPT at work
Interpol seeks woman who ran elaborate exam cheating scam in Singapore
Chinese search giant Baidu to launch ChatGPT like AI chatbot.
What is ChatGPT?
Bill Gates is ‘very optimistic’ about the future: ‘Better to be born 20 years from now...than any time in the past’
China is opening up for foreign investors.
Tesla reported record profits and record revenues for 2022
Prince Andrew and Virginia Giuffre Photo Is Fake: Ghislaine Maxwell
Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin Gets Married On His 93rd Birthday
Federal Reserve Probes Goldman’s Consumer Business
China's first population drop in six decades
Microsoft is finalising plans to become the latest technology giant to reduce its workforce during a global economic slowdown
China's foreign ministry branch in Hong Kong urges British gov't to stop the biased and double standards Hong Kong report
China relaxes 'red lines' on property sector borrowing in policy pivot
Tesla slashes prices globally by as much as 20 percent
Japan prosecutors indict man for ex-PM Shinzo Abe murder
Vietnam removes two deputy PMs amid anti-corruption campaign
1.4 Million Copies Of Prince Harry's Memoir 'Spare' Sold On 1st Day In UK
After Failing To Pay Office Rent, Twitter May Sell User Names
FIFA president questioned by prosecutors
Britain's Sunak breaks silence and admits using private healthcare
Hype and backlash as Harry's memoir goes on sale. Unnamed royal source says prince 'kidnapped by cult of psychotherapy and Meghan'
China’s recovery could add 1% to Australia’s GDP: JPMorgan 
Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
China vows to strengthen financial support for enterprises: official
International medical experts speak out against COVID-19 restrictions on China
2 Billion People To Travel In China's "Great Migration" Over Next 40 Days
Google and Facebook’s dominance in digital ads challenged by rapid ascent of Amazon and TikTok
Flight constraints expected to weigh on China travel rebound
Billionaire Jack Ma relinquishes control of Ant Group
FTX fraud investigators are digging deeper into Sam Bankman-Fried's inner circle – and reportedly have ex-engineer Nishad Singh in their sights
Teslas now over 40% cheaper in China than US
TikTok CEO Plans to Meet European Union Regulators
UK chaos: Hong Kong emigrants duped by false prospectus
China seeks course correction in US ties but will fight ‘all forms of hegemony’, top diplomat Wang Yi says
China will boost spending in 2023
African traders welcome end of China’s Covid travel curbs
France has banned the online sale of paracetamol until February, citing ongoing supply issues
Japan reportedly to give families 1 million yen per child to move out of Tokyo
Will Canada ever become a real democracy?
Hong Kong property brokerages slash payrolls in choppy market
U.S. Moves to Seize Robinhood Shares, Silvergate Accounts Tied to FTX