Fast Food

Eating alone

Online cooking show makes eating alone popular

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A few weeks ago WiC reviewed the second season of A Bite of China, CCTV’s hit show about Chinese cuisine. Meanwhile New Weekly is reporting on another programme about food, after Cooking For One became one of the most talked-about series online.

As the title suggests, it is about eating alone. The brainchild of Shanghai-based Cai Yani, it went viral after the first episode was broadcast on Youku, an online video site. Cai told the South China Morning Post that she wanted to rescue solo diners from fast food and microwave meals. This seems to have struck a chord with many singletons – the series has collected over 5.6 million views on Youku alone, although the total number will be much bigger because the series has been reposted on other online video sites.

Each episode lasts about three minutes and follows diners as they assemble a dish for a meal on their own.

The programme features dishes that are ordinary home cooking but still look mouthwateringly good. Shot through a soft filter, the camera follows the cooks as they prepare meals for single portions (by comparison, most Chinese dishes are cooked with a group of diners in mind).

“Every day we are running around for work. But no matter how tired you are, you should still relish the joy of cooking, which, in many ways, is a manifestation of your attitude towards life. Even if you are alone, you need to take care of yourself. When you get home, the least you can do is to make yourself a delicious meal. Use food to warm your stomach and soul,” says one reviewer on Douban, a social network for appraisal of books, TV shows and films.

The success of Cooking For One has even made eating alone trendy. New Weekly recently called dining by yourself “a type of lifestyle, a philosophy”.

“Today, eating alone has become a lifestyle. You can easily sort out what to eat for dinner, or you can be more critical and discerning. But dining alone is no longer considered sad. It can be grand, beautiful and pure,” the magazine claimed rather grandly.

The show is also reflective of a profound demographic shift in China. Three decades ago almost every meal would have been consumed at the family table or by groups in canteens or restaurants. But economic and social changes have created more single-person households, with many opting to stay single, failing to find a partner, or getting divorced.

One of the meals featured on the show is the egg dumpling, a traditional Shanghainese dish. The filling is just like normal dumpling, which is made of ground pork with a sprinkling of soy sauce, corn starch and sesame oil. But instead of the more standard wonton wrapper, the dumpling is stuffed inside an egg covering (imagine a mini omelette). The dumplings are traditionally made during the Lunar New Year as a symbol of prosperity. But San Ren Xing, a popular hotpot restaurant chain in Shanghai, is a good place to try them. They are cooked in scalding hot broth and you know when they are ready when they float atop the soup.

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