HONG KONG — Every Sunday night since April, a Cable TV cooking show takes viewers to the heart of a thriving local subculture that, until recently, was illegal.
“Maria’s Kitchen” follows popular television personality Maria Cordeiro as she visits small, privately owned apartments tucked away in high-rise residential or commercial blocks that have been converted into eateries.
In a city dominated by massive restaurants, their smallness is part of the appeal.
“This is our most popular show after movies,” says Felix To, program developer and production controller for Cable TV’s television operations division. “This is the first time Hong Kong has had a modern personality and less of a traditional housewife hosting a cooking show. Food is a huge deal in Hong Kong and private restaurants are extremely popular.”
When private kitchens first appeared, restaurant owners pointed out the fire hazards, hygiene issues, noise concerns and general public safety as points of contention, as well as the hefty fees licensed restaurants were forced to pay. Given their popularity, the government issued special licenses exempting them from many regulations.
Diners were never bothered by the restaurants’ dodgy status. In Hong Kong, where small apartments and cramped conditions compel many to eat out often, people are happy to enjoy a meal served in a home environment with friends or family, without cooking it themselves.