Admiring the most amazing table of food at my grandma’s with my aunt
This weekend was mostly spent binge-watching Dave Chang’s Ugly Delicious on Netflix. For those who are unfamiliar with Dave Chang, he’s the chef and restaurateur of the Momofuku group which began in New York. He’s pretty prolific, not afraid to speak his mind and as mentioned in the series, you either like Dave Chang, or you don’t. Whether you’re a fan or not, you can’t deny the fact that he’s really passionate about food and I appreciate that.
Even though the series wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed it. One of the main issues for me was his take on authenticity where in one episode he explored different types of pizza around the world and in the end, championed flavour over origin. He later mentions that he has a problem with non-Korean chefs cooking Korean food and presenting it, but in his own chain of restaurants he creates variations of Asian style cooking including Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese. I kind of get what he’s saying, but it’s confusing territory and one that he doesn’t explain very well.
Eating dinner at my grandma’s house
Ugly Delicious made me think a lot about food and my relationship with it. The main thing I wanted to discuss is Chang’s recent embrace of the food he grew up on, Korean home style food. It’s the fact that he now values something he didn’t consider restaurant worthy, food that he was embarrassed about when his friend’s visited his house as a kid. However the wholesome Korean food he grew up on is now the type of food he wants to put on his menus.
I relate to this in a lot of ways in terms of the change of attitudes to the food I grew up with. Food has always been really important in our household and for years, like so many British Chinese kids, we lived above my parent’s take away and I loved that little flat. The sight of my mum de-veining endless king prawns, vats of spare ribs marinating away and my dad standing at his noisy wok station with the fiery heat and dancing flames, all remain ingrained in my earliest memories.
My sister and I celebrating her 3rd birthday in our store room/dining room area of our take away.
I used to gloss over the fact that my home-cooked Chinese food was different to my friends. I wasn’t about to tell my friends that my mum steamed an entire fish with the head and tail for our dinner and that my sister and I used to fight over who got to eat the silky meat found in the fish cheeks. Or that one of my favourite meals included a dish of wobbly steamed egg, fried spam with eggs or salted fish with pork. I’d much rather pretend that fish fingers, chips and beans were my usual meals.
I remember keeping a diary for school and writing about the first meal in our new house – finally moving out of my parent’s take away. I was seven years old and I remember the dish well, clay pot rice with Chinese sausage, cured pork belly and spring onions which we ate gathered around a tiny little coffee table on the floor as we were still awaiting the delivery of our dining room furniture. It’s an incredibly nostalgic memory which sadly didn’t make it into that diary entry.
My cousin and I enjoying a feast for my sister’s one month celebrations at my grandparent’s restaurant
I never elaborated on my family’s weekly dim sum lunch on Sundays because I didn’t know how to explain it to the other kids. I was not about to tell them that my favourite dim sum included braised chicken feet in black bean sauce, far too weird. I often just referred to it as ‘Sunday Lunch’ which in the UK almost always means a roast dinner. These days, I watch ‘Fresh off the Boat’ which is TV show about a Taiwanese family in the US and in the first episode, Eddie asks for Lunchables instead of the noodles that his mum packed for his lunch and I can definitely relate. Kids just want to fit in and I definitely had moments when I wish I had been from an English culture rather than Chinese.
Dim sum in Hong Kong with my grandma aged 14
Now that I’m older, I’m the total opposite. I’ll proudly talk to people about my traditions, and I enjoy the reactions and questions I get when I tell them about the traditional foods I eat. Dim Sum is now really trendy and a lot of people know the difference between a har gao and siu mai dumpling which is amazing. I often instagram Chinese home cooking and whenever I’m back in Hong Kong, all I do is share pictures of food because I want people to see the delicious and unusual food that I get to experience.
I guess what I’m saying is that I appreciate those differences these days. I’m not embarrassed about what makes up Chinese culture and I completely embrace it. Sure, it comes with age and the realisation that food is such an essential part of Chinese culture and who I am. It helps that I have a better understanding that goes beyond the little bubble you live in as a child. Of course, having people in the media who you can relate to helps a lot. Representation in the media is few and far between but the small fact that I can watch a TV show about a Taiwanese family or watch Asian YouTubers and bloggers are all steps in the right direction when it comes to learning to embrace culture and being proud of who you are.