For years Hong Kong proudly billed itself as the gastronomic center of the Orient - but the mouthwatering plates of Peking Duck and Hainan Chicken are being shoved aside to make room for Western-style fast food.
While food fans in Singapore or Bangkok may disagree over which city is the epicurean leader, it is a certainty that Hong Kong's tempting array of Chinese regional cooking is facing a strong competitor in the all-American hamburger.Fast food restaurant receipts in the first half of 1990 surged seven percent from a year earlier, while spending at traditional Chinese restaurants slumped five percent, government figures show.
"It's sort of an American cultural experience - it would appeal if you aspire to that lifestyle," said Angela Bassage. marketing director of McDonald's (Hong Kong) Ltd, talking about the popularity of the hamburger chain's products here.
This year one of McDonald's 50 Hong Kong outlets shouldered its way into the company's record books by scoring a world record for a single day's transactions, and 10 of the company's top 20 restaurants, as measured by turnover, are in the colony.
"I think actually the eating habits of Hong Kong people are more adapted to the fast-food concept," said Philip Suen, marketing manager at Swire Pacific Ltd, which holds the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise here.
But speed isn't the whole answer, Suen says.
Kentucky Fried Chicken began in Hong Kong in 1973 with a counter service but no restaurant seating, and was forced by poor sales to end operations only two years later.
It successfully returned with restaurant seating in 1985.
McDonald's entered Hong Kong the same year KFC closed down, launching business with modern air-conditioned restaurants and a barrage of advertising featuring its Ronald McDonald clown figure. It has never looked back.
"Compared to 10 years ago, Hong Kong people are more modernized," said Suen.
Suen cited increasing wealth and hygiene concerns as the main reason people now spurn dai pai dongs, noisy street-side restaurants dishing up traditional Chinese fare, which many in the industry call the original fast-food restaurants.
"Dai pai dongs are exposed to the elements - in the summer it is too hot and in the winter it's too cold," added Y.K. Pang, marketing and operations director at Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd, which controls the Pizza Hut franchise here.
He said Pizza Hut had effortlessly cleared the obstacle of a traditional Chinese distaste for cheese, adding that the basic ingredients of the chain's local products were no different than those found in the United States.
Some Hong Kong people want the atmosphere of a U.S.-style fast food restaurant but still yearn for a rice-based meal.
Enter the ubiquitous lunch box, a polystyrene carton containing rice plus such standbys as ginger pork or chicken in soy sauce. It can be eaten in the restaurant with chopsticks or a plastic spoon or taken to a nearby park or back to the office.
The local Cafe de Coral Group Ltd chain offers both Western and Chinese food, but follows the pattern of American-style fast-food service.
Customers order and collect their food from a counter and sit indoors on plastic furniture, but have a choice for breakfast of fried eggs or congee, a sort of rice porridge.
"We are basically following the lifestyle changes in the market," said Rory Anakotta, development adviser to Cafe de Coral.