No 1:[R]estaurants (Menu)

Why do restaurants in Hong Kong have so many menus? Before I ever came to Hong Kong, I was content with the fact that a menu should only have one menu. Sometimes already lying on the table and sometimes given to you by the waiter. Ideally the maximum number of menus should be two, one for drinks (usually those that make you dizzy) and one for food. In extraordinary situations three menus could be encountered, in which case deserts take up a claim and form their own sovereign territory or menu-dom. A menu, as I had known it would either be on the table, usually held up by some wooden-block-device, or a compilation of laminated papers.

        In Hong Kong however menus are a form artistic expression. The menu is liberated from paper prison and can be written on walls, tables, doors, or whatever suits the restaurant owner. Not only are they liberated from their form but content wise menus in Hong Kong have also made their claim. Lunch menus, afternoon tea menus, dinner menus, set menus, combination menus, the list goes on. Handwritten menus also enter the fray, as some (usually the afternoon tea and lunch one’s) will be handwritten, while others are printed out. Sitting in some restaurants, you are surrounded by menus as they are stuck onthe wall, in your hand, laminated on the table. One would think that in this jungle-menu the waiter would be sympathetic to the customer, this would not be farther from the truth, however. It seems that as the number of menus increases the speed by which the customer should order increases too. Meaning that when you are busy figuring out which of the five (differently coloured, some handwritten, some printed, some folded, some not) menus you need to choose from the waiter will pop up and ask “你想食咩*“ (what do you want to eat). This to me only increases the panic as now there is an element of pressure in figuring out how these menus work! Furthermore, the one’s on the wall seem to look very different or older than the one in my hand, which one should I follow as being the most up to date one? Seeing the locals around me come in , sit down and simply ordering some dishes in 2 seconds through a quick glance further increases my confusion.
Menus in Hong Kong are a form of artistic expression in a city that thrives on speed and effectiveness. Next time when you are in a restaurant think of the variety of menus and options available to you, as well as the care put into them. Many restaurants in Hong Kong offer very similar meals (think 茶餐廳 style), but they still find ways to create difference, voice themselves. And luckily for those less brave in daring the five menu restaurants, there are always the canteen style chains that present their menu on a wall near the entrance in a clear, understandable manner. But for those willing to brave the woods, I’m sure there are many surprises to be found.

Milan Ismangil

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