Why A Simple $4 Lunch Is So Popular In Hong Kong Right Now

Bringing a packed lunch to work is done in just about every culture around the world, but there are few as versatile — and as tasty — as the Asian bento box. These types of lunch boxes originated in Japan during the Kamakura Period from 1185 to 1333, per Japan Info, even though its name is derived from China and its Southern Song Dynasty's term for convenient or "biandang" (via Timeline). Today, the boxes have become the gold standard for packed lunches in many parts of the world.

Bento boxes usually come with portions of carbs and mains, and they are available in all sizes and prices in Hong Kong. A gourmet meal box with stir-fried and shredded Iberico pork with rice noodles and a Peking duck spring roll could set you back about $16 dollars from upscale Mott 32, per Deliveroo, while an order of mushroom udon is priced at $22 at the popular Yardbird, per Deliveroo. Just keep in mind the difference between udon and soba noodles when ordering.

Nevertheless, cheaper bento boxes can be seen at the cheap and cheerful takeouts that now dot the Hong Kong landscape, where they can be had for $4 apiece and can contain an order of rice as well as two portion sizes of mains. The New York Times, which reported on the cheap dining trend, says these quick takeout places have become the quick go-to meal for Hong Kong's working classes. 

The $4 lunchbox fills a need

These $4 lunch boxes are far away from the gourmet bentos available in Hong Kong's pricey hotels and restaurants. As The New York Times points out, the two mains that come in the box aren't much to write about, since the takeout joints that sell them offer up simply cooked dishes with choices like tomato and scrambled eggs or sweet and sour pork. But this simple lunch box has become an in-demand food item that has not only helped desperate restaurant owners stay afloat but is also keeping food insecurity at bay for the wider community, which was a problem long before Hong Kong's economy was negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, per Tung Wah Group of Hospitals

Even though patrons may say they don't go to these cheap and cheerful takeout places in search of good food, the drive to find the best taste for the most value still lies at the heart of the Hong Konger, which is why it should come as no surprise that fans of the two-entree meal now get together on social media, where they exchange images, comments, and tips involving their eating experiences. Some point out the best deals and the yummiest eats, while others call out "caveat emptor" on places they've tried.

Hong Kong is ending its stringent COVID-19 lockdown, leading to fears the days of these value meals are numbered. But others aren't sure this will happen, especially since there will always be a market for good eats that are easy on the wallet, even if the options may not always be what you would find in traditional bento boxes.