Cooking becomes popular hobby amid outbreak

Li Anlan
With many restaurants closed and people confined to their homes, China's amateur chefs are learning how to prepare tasty, healthy meals on their own.
Li Anlan

It’s no longer safe to dine out and many food and beverage businesses remain closed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, so many are now cooking at home for safety concerns. In fact, heavy traffic to the popular Chinese recipe website xiachufang.com was so great that it crashed briefly on Tuesday.

Before the outbreak, few young people cooked at home due to the availability of good restaurants and convenience of delivery services. To avoid infection and relieve boredom, many have decided to take this opportunity to learn how to cook.

Manny Zheng, who lives in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, used to eat takeout or instant meals at home. Now, she cooks two meals per day and has learned to make new dishes like pumpkin pancakes, scrambled egg with bitter gourd, pork and Chinese cabbage stew and curry rice.

“The fun part of cooking at home is talking to friends and learning new recipes. The trouble comes from inexperience and the need to buy necessary ingredients,” said Zheng.

Zheng goes out every two to three days to buy groceries from a supermarket. She usually stocks up on vegetables with longer shelf life, such as tomatoes, carrots and Chinese cabbage. She also shops online for meat, rice, flour and instant noodles.

Cooking becomes popular hobby amid outbreak
Ti Gong

Pumpkin pancakes made by Zheng.

It’s easy to cook basic Chinese dishes with common ingredients and many require just a pot and a pan. Stir-fry and stew recipes are easy to follow and easy to adapt by changing ingredients.

Chan Chen, who used to cook dinner every day and dine out on weekends, now cooks three meals per day at home with her family.

Chen purchases her groceries online and in the supermarket. The dishes she makes most often are noodle soups, pasta and sukiyaki hotpot.

“The inconvenience of cooking at home during the outbreak is whether we can buy the ingredients needed. There’s some pressure when cooking for a family of three but we’re eating healthier and fresher food. We also make sweet treats like waffles and muffins,” said Chen.

She’s stocked up on both Western and Chinese cuisine seasonings and sauces — including those for sukiyaki and pad Thai — over the past two weeks to make new dishes more conveniently.

Nancy Shu stayed in Shanghai for the Lunar New Year. She used to order takeway for the majority of her meals, but between January 23 to February 5, she cooked two meals every day with the exception of two McDonald’s orders.

“I would think about what to eat every day but would not plan menus or recipes. I’ve cooked hotpot, noodles and stir-fries depending on what I had in my fridge,” said Shu.

Shu shops in the supermarket every two to three days. Because the supermarkets are well-stocked, she hasn’t stocked more food except some dried noodles.

Cooking becomes popular hobby amid outbreak
Ti Gong

Spicy hotpot made at home by Shu.

As more people are buying groceries and cooking at home, sometimes it’s not easy to buy desired vegetables and meats. Delivery services like Freshippo and 100.me often sell out of fresh produce almost immediately after stocks replenish. Many people stay up late or wake up early to grab what’s available.

Numerous netizens are sharing the fruits of their cooking labor on social media like Weibo and WeChat. Though many people didn’t write down cooking in their New Year's resolutions for 2020, the outbreak has trained more home chefs who are now seeking to live a healthier lifestyle.

Cooking becomes popular hobby amid outbreak

Chinese people are sharing new dishes they've made while staying home to avoid the coronavirus.

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