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For Spring Festival holiday, home is where the meal is

Updated: 2022-01-27 09:18 ( China Daily )
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People buy precooked meal kits at a Cantonese restaurant in Shanghai on Jan 26, 2022. [Photo by GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY]

As sporadic clusters of COVID-19 infections have sprouted across the country recently, more people have chosen to buy precooked meals and have their most important family gathering meal of the year on Lunar New Year's Eve at home to avoid crowds in restaurants.

With Spring Festival several days away, Shanghai residents have started lining up at the takeout windows of time-honored traditional restaurants such as Guang Ming Cun on Middle Huaihai Road and Wang Bao He on Fuzhou Road.

"It's hard to tell when and where some COVID-19 cases will be reported, so home is the safest place for a family reunion," city resident Wan Li said at the Shanghai Classical Hotel Restaurant, where he ordered a package of precooked meals that will be delivered to his home on Monday. "It's safe and saves time."

Founded in 1875, the restaurant, featuring Shanghai cuisine, is selling three sets of precooked dishes priced at 688 yuan ($109), 1,288 yuan and 1,588 yuan.

Each package includes the restaurant's signature dish-"eight treasure duck", which is a duck stuffed with eight ingredients, including rice, mushroom and shrimp.

Chen Xiaodan, general manager of Yi Xin Zhai, a restaurant famous for its "three yellow" chicken and braised beef, said it is offering precooked meal boxes ranging in price from 388 yuan to 888 yuan.

"We have included all the materials and sauces in the meal box, and it will take only half an hour to prepare," she said.

On Jan 19, the Shanghai Restaurants Cuisine Association published a revised version of recommended restaurants that are offering precooked Spring Festival meals.

The number of recommendations has increased from 434 restaurants last year to 1,616 this year as more eateries are taking advantage of the trend.

E-commerce platforms that focus on fresh food and grocery delivery are also getting in on the act.

Freshippo, the grocery retail chain of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is taking orders for its own Lunar New Year precooked meals consisting of six different pot-sized dishes that can feed six to eight people, including the renowned Fujian dish fotiaoqiang, or "Buddha Jumps over the Wall"-a variety of seafood soup featuring ingredients such as abalone and sea cucumber.

The results of a survey on the Lunar New Year catering market published by Freshippo showed that about 50 percent of participants aged 30 to 35 said they were responsible for organizing family reunion dinners, an indication that younger people are more willing to buy precooked dishes than their parents.

On Jan 20, Dingdong Maicai, another fresh-food delivery platform, started offering many easy-to-cook dishes for the holiday, such as sweet rice pudding.

Zhu Hong, deputy executive chief at Sunya, a popular Cantonese restaurant in Shanghai, said: "The taste of our precooked dishes is nearly the same as those cooked in our restaurant, as central kitchens and cold-chain delivery in China have become very mature. We are confident that customers can have a delicious reunion meal no matter where they choose to dine, at our restaurant or at home."

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