A friend of mine recently posted close-up pictures online of the dishes on offer at a Fanling eatery that is known for pork knuckles.
The images prompted me to make a trip myself to the restaurant.
Well, it was a hot summer day with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. But to my surprise, I found that the eatery didn’t have air-conditioning.
You can guess how terrible it was sitting inside a stuffy, enclosed space and having a bowl of hot noodle soup.
One would imagine that an outlet such as this which apparently didn’t seem to care about providing a comfortable atmosphere for its diners wouldn’t be doing too well.
To my astonishment, however, I discovered that it was actually teeming with customers and that business was flourishing.
Now, how do we explain this?
Well, the truth is that when it comes to many diners in our city, if they take a fancy to the food served by a particular joint, they are only too willing to put up with all sorts of inconveniences.
If the food is good, the diners are ready to overlook issues such as chaotic dining atmosphere, filthy utensils, ill-mannered waiters, and so on.
In fact, some people, rather than condemning the facilities, would go to the extent of praising the eateries as having special “character”.
This makes for an interesting research topic: how some diners are a submissive lot, apparently relishing the punishment meted out by their food joints, which, in turn, seem to be taking a perverse delight in treating their customers shabbily and getting away with it.
Coming to the outlet that prompted me to write this piece, it is an extremely popular eatery and is always crowded after it usually starts serving pork knuckles from 3pm.
The owner is no doubt making a lot of money due to the roaring business.
Given this, one would expect that he would devote some resources to improving the restaurant interiors, install air-conditioning and offer a better environment for his patrons and employees.
Yet, that was not the case, as I found that the owner had done absolutely nothing to upgrade his establishment over the years.
This is the same sort of thing we notice in some other popular food joints in town, including an outlet in Central that sells beef briskets, a shop in Sheung Wan that is famous for its claypot rice and a busy cha chaan teng outlet in the Jordan area.
Not only are the owners not showing any gratitude to their loyal customers, they almost seem to regard the diners as some sort of old enemies.
Forget quality service, some owners seem to even enjoy hurling insults at their customers, who in any case are just too many.
What is surprising is that these eateries have managed to retain their appeal, drawing even more customers who seem to take a masochistic delight in the lousy conditions, all in the name of seeking good food.
As for me, I doubt if some of the joints merit such indulgence and tolerance.
It’s been many years, for instance, since I visited the Central beef brisket outlet that I mentioned before.
I stopped patronizing the joint after I found, during my last trip there about a decade ago, that the meat was heavily coated with oil and monosodium glutamate.
The chef was so arrogant that he didn’t care about the texture of the beef brisket and chopped up the pieces messily without considering the direction of the grain and the cut.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 22
Translation by John Chui with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]