Asian, Western, fusion – you name it, Hong Kong has it. When it comes to dining out, our city has an insatiable appetite for the latest, tastiest, and trendiest cuisine on the block – so much so that choosing a place to eat with friends can become an overwhelming challenge. With so many restaurants vying for our attention (and wallets), it’s hardly surprising to discover that one group of passionate foodies are venturing off the eaten track to bring dining back to basics – home-cooked and straight from the oven. And it’s all thanks to a little app called PlateCulture.
Dubbed as the ‘Airbnb for foodies’, the quirky app is the latest trend taking Hong Kong’s foodie world by storm. The concept is pretty simple, it connects people who love cooking with people who love eating authentic home-cooked meals. Guests have a unique opportunity to dine in the home of a host who gets to showcase their culinary skills without leaving the comfort of their own kitchen. The culturally diverse nature of Hong Kong means that diners can feast on cuisines from all corners of the globe – be it French, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Greek, Turkish – the list goes on.
Here’s how it works – simply browse the profile of hosts on the app, read about their background, dishes, and how much they charge each diner for their meal, and sign you and your friends up on your preferred date. Once you make the payment via PayPal, you will receive a booking confirmation on your phone. Each host is assessed, sampled, and approved by the PlateCulture team before they are allowed to join the app, meaning only top-notch cuisines make it to your plate.
Now, rocking up to a stranger’s flat with a bunch of hungry friends and expecting a slap-up meal might sound like a bizarre concept, but after spending one afternoon munching my way through the Roasted Chicken and Meatballs Combo menu in the gorgeous North Point home of Turkish master chef Papa Theo, I’m totally sold on the idea. And it seems I’m not the only one.
Since launching in Hong Kong a year ago, PlateCulture has garnered over 5,000 subscribers, and close to 50 hosts, and now features cuisines from 15 different countries. In the case of Papa Theo, the man who will “only serve you food that is good enough for (his) two sons to eat”, the menu is overflowing (quite literally) with traditional homemade recipes from Turkey, which he learned from his mother and his teachers in school.
“Cooking is the biggest passion and hobby of my life,” Papa tells us, as we nibble our way through twelve dishes in his spacious family apartment adorned with colourful paintings, beautiful French windows, and a very neatly organised children’s craft table.
A stay-at-home chef by day, a stay-at-home papa by night, this man was born to cook and play host, and today we are treated to his family favourites, including Babaganoushy Eggplant Salad, Classic Shepperd’s Salad with Pomegranate Sauce and Fried Halloumi Cheese, and the most incredible Classic Hummus I have ever tasted.
By the time his 12 Hours Marinated Roasted Fresh Chicken and famous Signature Meatballs with Home Made Tomato Sauce and Goat Cheese arrive at the table, I barely have room left in my belly – but I push through, because this meal just gets better and better.
Bursting with flavour and beautifully presented on colourful plates which display the vibrant colours of his homeland, it’s hardly surprising to learn that Papa Theo is now one of the most sought-after chefs on the PlateCulture app. Despite never having worked in a professional kitchen, he learned the tricks of the trade while studying Tourism and Hotel Management and working in the service industry more than twenty years. Managing restaurants and F&B outlets in Turkey, Thailand, Dubai, Australia, and China clearly taught him a lot, so inviting the city to dine at his table was an easy decision.
“I’ve been cooking for myself, my friends, and my family for many years”, he tells us. “I pride myself in making everything by myself and from scratch; even the beef stock and tomato sauce that goes on top of your meatballs is personally made by me. Whatever I cook for you, you can rest assured that it will taste authentic and have you coming back for more!” He isn’t wrong there – we couldn’t get enough of the yoghurt sauce coated baby capsicums, the devilishly moreish hummus, and the delicious Turkish bread (pictured below) which he prepared from scratch that very morning.
If there is one thing to take away from the PlateCulture experience, it is the knowledge that every bite you savour is made with love – and with Papa Theo, the affection doesn’t stop at the food. As we round off our feast with a serving of mysterious Kunefe, Shredded Sweet Pastry with Cheese, and a cup of Turkish Coffee with Turkish Delight, two excitable little cherubs come bursting through the door into this warm and intimate domestic setting. School has finished for the day, and it’s back to daddy duties for Papa Theo – and boy are those kids in for one delicious meal!
Keen to try it? If you’re looking for a totally unique dining experience, check out PlateCulture and browse close to 50 chef profiles. Papa Theo’s Roasted Chicken and Meatballs Combo serves from 4 to 8 guests, and costs $430 per person. You can also find out how to become a host.