Date
13 December 2017
This automatic cooking machine can be controlled from a smartphone. You pick the menu and prepare the ingredients as specified and the machine will do the rest. Photo: Internet
This automatic cooking machine can be controlled from a smartphone. You pick the menu and prepare the ingredients as specified and the machine will do the rest. Photo: Internet

A glimpse into the future of Chinese cuisine

For several days, I went back and forth to HOFEX, a biennial trade show on food and hospitality held recently at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.

It was an exciting show dedicated to the hotel, restaurant and catering industries. There was so much to see at each of the specialised zones with the latest kitchen equipment, food and wine and many more.

I bought four boxes of new toys. My favorites were dining plates with a state-of-the-art design and they were impossibly cheap. Each cost no more than US$4.

There were two machines on display which made me think that I was seeing the future of Chinese cuisine.

The first was an automatic stir-frying machine, showing the making of fried rice with diced salted fish. Oil was first injected into the wok. Next came the salted fish dices and egg pulp liquid. After that it came rice and lastly a sprinkle of ginger and spring onions. All this time, the wok was thoroughly tossed.

The offering prepared by this unmanned robot had sufficient “wok hei” (breath of the wok). The fried rice dish was as good as a human chef could produce.

And this machine could do a lot more than toss rice. It is programmable and could execute more than two hundred dishes, meaning that it basically could handle every fried Cantonese dish on the menu.

It could replicate the style of a chef as long as it was keyed in with the designated portions of ingredients and seasoning. Plus, the speed and frequency of wok tossing could also be adjusted accordingly.

The only shortcoming I noticed was it could not yet sear meat by hot oil. I bet the function would arrive in the next update.

Anyway, such an all-around machine is priced at HK$200,000, lower than the income of a human chef in a year. The machine is particularly appealing, especially when it is so hard to secure a chef in the industry nowadays.

As far as I know, local restaurant chains like Tai Hing and Tao Heung have been using this kind automation for some time.

Another impressive machine was a dumpling maker.

The Shanghainese soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, came with extraordinary thin wrappers. The dumplings were lined up in an orderly fashion. 

The food and catering industry is entering the age of machines and it would only be be a matter of time before it comes to embrace technology.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 15

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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You can choose from hundreds of dishes, from chilli tofu in Sichuan style to steamed hairy crabs. Photo: Internet


HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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