Food for Thought: Hakka Style Chicken with Spring Onion and Ginger

When I first started this blog I wanted to avoid being just some other food blog. I also didn’t want it to be just some other food blog about Chinese food. Not because I thought it was a terrible idea, but more because I never regarded myself as the culinary expert on Chinese food, and I’m still not.

But this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy food, I do, I just don’t consider myself a culinary expert. But that doesn’t mean I can’t share some of the other foods that I enjoy eating outside the takeaway.

A family favourite in the Wong household is Hakka style chicken with spring onion and ginger.

Hak-ka 客家(the dialect, not the war cry) literally translates to “guest family”. Hakka people (客家人) are Han Chinese people who have migrated from the north of China to the south, often settling in Hong Kong, some going as far as Malaysia and Singapore.

But anyway, one dish that is quite popular is chicken with spring onion and ginger; this consists of a boiled chicken (save the stock, and carve)

The garnish is simply spring onion and ginger chopped finely, put it into a bowl (not a plastic one), sprinkle a little bit of salt, heat some oil until hot and then pour it into the bowl with the spring onion and ginger, but don’t completely drown it in hot oil.

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Smoking Ban Woes

Smoking Ban Woes.

I can remember the first time I decided that cigarettes were evil; I was probably five or six years old at the time we were on one of our regular annual visits to Hong Kong where we would stay at my aunt’s flat and in the evenings we’d watch whatever Canto-drama was on.

In this particular episode there was a dead body with a woman crying over it. One of the baddies lit a cigarette, took a whiff, discarded it and drove off abandoning the crying woman and presumed dead man. Then the cigarette lit a trail leading to the dead body, which was then engulfed in flames causing the woman to jump back screaming in a fit of hysterics.

via Smoking Ban Woes.

Smoking Ban Woes

I can remember the first time I decided that cigarettes were evil; I was probably five or six years old at the time we were on one of our regular annual visits to Hong Kong where we would stay at my aunt’s flat and in the evenings we’d watch whatever Canto-drama was on.

In this particular episode there was a dead body with a woman crying over it. One of the baddies lit a cigarette, took a whiff, discarded it and drove off abandoning the crying woman and presumed dead man. Then the cigarette lit a trail leading to the dead body, which was then engulfed in flames causing the woman to jump back screaming in a fit of hysterics.

For a while I genuinely believed that if a cigarette made contact with the human body that they would actually be consumed by a tobacco infused inferno and eventually die. Painfully.

However as I grew older I came to realise that that theory was rubbish. But anyway I digress.

Admittedly I have no objections to people smoking, but you cannot deny that seeing people trying to order a Chinese takeaway, cigarette in hand whilst trying to conform to the smoking ban can be an amusing spectacle.

The smoking ban was introduced in 2007 roughly two years after I started working at the takeaway and I admit when I first started I took much glee in seeing customers trying to make an order whilst conforming to the ban.

Like most takeaway food outlets our shop counter is conveniently placed some distance from the door (about two-three metres). The amount of amusement I used to get seeing people wedged in between a doorway, left-hand with a cigarette on one side of the door with the other half indoors but never knowing if they should come in or not and shouting across to the other side of the room:

“Yeah I’d like a chicken chow mein, an egg fried rice, a curry sauce, a bag of chips and a bag of prawn crackers… I’ll pay you in a minute I’ve just lit me fag.”

In the period before and just after the smoking ban I used to be very anti-smoking *coughlungcancercough* and I used to be one of those annoying people who would cough very loudly every time someone smoked in front of me or if someone who was smoking walked past me.

This was a habit I had maintained for much of my early teenage years up until I was 18, where I spent a month in China surrounded by people who did smoke and people who smoked cigarettes with an unbelievable amount of nicotine and tobacco. As a result I became used to it but still maintain that it is a nasty habit.

It was also an annoying habit I employed when serving customers who smoked in front of me as I served them and sometimes if it was a particularly long order I would fake cough in between. Looking back it was incredibly childish but I was 16 at the time.

Nowadays people order first before popping out for a quick ciggie. Normally this would include a rice and/or noodle dish with a side order (most of the time it’s chips) a sauce and a bag of crackers if they fancy it. This would take about five minutes to get ready. By the time it comes out the poor person has barely had time to smoke half the cigarette and throws it away. Now that just seems a waste of money.

Customer Encounters #7 – My First Complaint

Anyone in a front of house job at a restaurant always remembers their first complaint, and the first time they have to refund an order.

I started work at the takeaway when I was 15 years old, and this was possibly a few months after I was allowed to properly man the counter on my own.

At the time it was me and my older sister working the weekend shift with the parents, so both of us would collect orders between us. In this instance I didn’t collect the order, she did. I couldn’t remember much about the order except that it was at least £40, and that she had ordered sesame prawn on toast and sweet and sour pork balls.

I remembered this customer was female with curly to frizzy shoulder-length hair, was wearing a black leather jacket with a black leather skirt and black high-heeled boots. The lasting memory I had of this customer was a cross between someone who wanted to ride a motorcycle and a dominatrix.

The exchange was made and we carried on as normal until about 10 minutes later I picked up the phone to hear an angry customer complaining that her food was overcooked, and said that she wanted a refund and that she would be coming over to bring her order back.

A few minutes later the said angry woman stormed in with a plastic bag full of takeaway boxes thrown in with chow mein, rice and sauce leaking out, oil sticking to the sides (is it too much to ask to put the lids back on the boxes?

What was more, said leather-clad angry lady threw the bag onto the counter and started pulling the contents out one by one, stating specifically what was wrong with each item.

“prawn toas’ was disgustin’, the pork balls were overcooked, the beef chow mein was overcooked…”

One of the worst things about the altercation was the fact that we were serving two other customers who were regulars to the takeaway, and I felt genuinely embarrassed that they had to bear witness to all of this.

The only option really was to just deal with it as quietly as possible; in this instance it meant just refund the money, the sooner she leaves the better.

Money refunded and snatched from my hand, she walked towards the door without taking her eyes off me and shouted: “I ‘ope I don’t ge’ food poisoning tonigh’!”

(Can you get food poisoning from overcooked food?)

I was feeling quite shaken, I had never been in that situation before. all I could do was clean up the mess that she left as the two customers who were witnessing the drama went “don’t worry, I like your food”.

No one can every really prepare for something like that, and when something like that does happen you have to somehow do it without causing a scene depending on how much money a customer, which translates into how angry that customer is.

One of the things that really upset me about that particular evening (other than it being the first time I ever received a complaint at that level of anger) was the fact that we all got a telling off from the boss: my dad. It’s never fun when a customer is unhappy, and it’s never fun knowing that you have to face your dad afterwards.

As I say with all difficult customers at least I’ll never have to seem them again.

Customer Encounters #6 – “Black people are always like that”

Earlier this week a woman came in and asked if we served a beef broth soup with noodles and a bowl of dried chilies (something we don’t actually have on the menu). I remembered being quite unimpressed with this particular person because she basically stormed in and left the door wide open, allowing this rush of cold air to come in.

I explained that we didn’t serve dried chilies but could do something about the soup so I went to relay this back to the kitchen to see if we could do anything, but she she left without even closing the door. I was already serving someone else before her, who shook his head at me in disbelief and went “black people are always like that, they’re always pushing it.”

Now I know this is a really provocative thing to say, but I couldn’t help but agree with him somewhat, because of all the customers I have encountered, I have found most black people to be quite fussy with their food. This isn’t something you can say out loud because it sounds so racist, and I’m not saying I hate serving black people (for the record I don’t).

Before you completely shoot me down at the comments section I encourage you to read this post from Madame Noire about black customers who don’t enjoy tipping an yes it was written by an African-American.

From my experience I think they are more open and make their distaste more well-known compared to Caucasian customers, and I suppose it’s fair to say that they know what they want; they want to know that what they’re buying is going to be value for money, so they ask questions like how many king prawns do we put in a king prawn fried rice.

They also have no problem with being upfront about whether or not something is too expensive. When I tell them how much a king prawn chow mein is for instance and the difference between a regular and a large, I get disapproving looks from them and they ask “why is it so expensive?”

I mean I know we’re out of recession now but times are still tough for small businesses.

One of my old housemates from university who is also black proof-read this post and said that she agreed with the post 100% and added that black people tend to be a lot more upfront and blunt about their dislikes.

Shortly after that encounter another black woman came in with her son and asked us about our duck fried rice an how we cooked it, did it come in slices, she didn’t want the duck mixed in, she wanted extra soy sauce and chili oil on the side. After telling us how we should cook her dinner we effectively spent the next five minutes explaining to this person how to cook her own dinner.

When her order was ready she proceeded to open the container in front of us and said “you haven’t put enough soy sauce”, but left with her order anyway.

Now I’m not saying she doesn’t have a right to know what she bought, because she did basically tell us how to cook her meal, but the thing that really annoyed me about it was the fact that because she made her distaste well-known and there just didn’t seem to be any appreciation of the time I gave into making her feel comfortable and trying to create a dish that closely resembled what she was describing.

There was that feeling that I don’t think she quite valued that I tried the best I could to give her the meal she wanted instead of simply saying “we don’t cook it like that so you can get lost”.