Memorabilia: A piece of my grandpa

A few weeks ago my dad gave me this to look at, it’s a takeaway order my grandfather took when he was doing front of house. My dad does this quite a lot in that he will find things like old photographs of my aunts and Nan outside the takeaway when they were younger, an old dress my aunt wore when she was seven and so on.

This particular bit of memorabilia however was quite touching because it was the first time I saw a piece of my grandfather’s handwriting. The order reads one chicken curry 70p, one  king prawn fried rice 90p, and one fork 3p.

The thing that struck me the most was how neat and elegant his handwriting is.Now I can’t claim to be a graphologist but the the strokes of suggest someone who is quite calm and quite ordered compared to my really untidy scrawl (my order reads Chinese pork with beansprouts – or roast pork Chinese style –  for £3.50 and a bag of chips for £1.30)



Instant noodle guilt

I have a confession to make. I had two bowls of instant noodles for breakfast this morning. I am currently doing an internship which requires me to work odd hours. This morning I was up from 3:30am, started work at 4am and finished at about 10:30am. No need to fear about my rights being abused, I got to work from home.

So there I was, tucked in bed, laptop on, a million tabs open and doing my work with a bowl of instant noodles. But it was only seconds after finishing that I found myself feeling really hungry again. Soon a knock on the door came and there was mum with a second bowl (seconds? Oh go on then).


Unfortunately even after two bowls I was still feeling a bit famished. I don’t even know why I even eat it for breakfast knowing one that it’s bad for me, two that it’s going to make me feel incredibly thirsty alongside the mug of black coffee at my bedside, and three that not only is it made in three minutes but also goes through you in three minutes as well.

I think it’s just the thought of eating a bowl of cereal with cold milk on a day like this and the word “noodles” triggers that thought in your head that it is likely to be more filling than a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast.

I think it’s a sign that I’m getting older, when I was younger having instant noodles was a treat, now all I see is not only a quick breakfast that looks filling, but also something that looks like plastic before boiling and then comes out of the other end looking like congealed plastic (not that end mind you).

I’m not addicted far from it, it’s just that it’s so cheap, easy to make and the only thing in the kitchen that doesn’t take too much effort when I’m pressed for time.

I look at that picture (yes by the way that is a Winnie the Pooh spoon) it does make me go “really?” but looking back I do have fond memories of instant noodles, given that it was something that we had for breakfast everyday, Nan used to put cucumber in with German sausage (which sounds odd but was an amazing breakfast), but then again my Nan did have this habit of not only putting in the full packet of MSG but also various other things like salt and a bit of sugar. When I have time something I used to do quite a lot with instant noodles was to serve it with an egg sunny side up with either cucumber or pak choi. Just small touches like that make a bowl of instant noodles look slightly more cheerful and a little bit more filling.

But it’s cold outside!

Unless you have been hiding under your duvet for the last week or fortnight, you would’ve noticed that yes it is snowing, and once that happens the good part of BBC coverage becomes dedicated to an endless montage of photographs of shiny happy people kitted out in wellington boots, and winter warmers.

Whilst I do enjoy the snow but have yet to build a snowman (main reason being I don’t know how) I do find myself occasionally hating it because of the travel disruptions, the not knowing if school is going to be open and potentially wasting two hours getting there then finding out you have to go back home. Another reason why I don’t like it is because it’s bad for business.

Not only the driving there, and the possibility that no one will come, but because it is ridiculously freezing in the takeaway. I cannot possibly describe how insanely cold it is in the kitchen. A lot of people assume it must be nice and toasty because it’s a kitchen and that we must have the gas hob on full blast back there.

Last week I was wearing five layers, a scarf, and two pairs of socks. That was how insanely cold it was. Even the waiting area is depressingly cold and I wish I could keep the heating on for them, but with gas and electricity prices at this current rate it’s not like we can afford to do so.

The recession has forced us not only to raise prices but to choose not to put the heating on, and it really does annoy me that I can only switch the heating on when a customer comes in and off the minute they leave, knowing that they are probably just as cold as I am.

That we can’t even afford to keep the heating on for as long as we like is a horrible reminder that of how we’re struggling to cope.

Food for Thought – Steamed Salmon with Lemon

Like many Hong Kongers I am a fan of seafood, and a quick and easy way of preparing seafood is by steaming it.

This week whilst my sister revised for her A-level mock exams I was entrusted to cook dinner, which is something of a rare occurence in my house. Fortunately mum left out some salmon, so the logical thing to do was to steam it.

This is very easy to make, for ingredients all you need is salmon, lemon slices, and water. Equipment you will need a wok (or a pot), a lid large enough to cover the the wok, a metal cooking stand (pictured below) and a plate.

This meal is best served with rice.

First is to clean the fish steaks and then lay them on a plate. Slice however many slices of lemon you want and lay them on top of the steaks. I decided to twist my lemon slices just because I fancied being a little bit creative, but leaving them flat is fine.

Put the stand in the wok and then fill it with about one-two cups of water and heat up the wok. Put the plate on the stand, cover it up with the lid and leave to steam for 10-15 minutes.

The fish should have a kind of lemony fish oil, don’t let it go to waste, instead use the sauce and mix it with your rice to give it a bit of flavour. This was the kind of thing my parents would make me and my siblings do before exams, they would just pile on any fish oils into our rice in the hope that we would get loads of As in our exams.

You can apply this technique to all fishes but how long you leave it to steam can vary. I once left cod with ginger in for 15 minutes and it came out as overcooked, my nan explained I only needed to leave it in for five. So if you’re making this for the first time try checking every five minutes to see how long you will need to leave it in for.

Alternatively you can spoon some black beans on top, but lemon is a cheaper alternative.

A History of Violence

I often hear stories about attacks taking place outside Chinese takeaways, sometimes of a racial nature, other times because of the person being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I remember one evening being spooked by a Crimewatch report of a Chinese teenager from Northern Ireland who was murdered outside his takeaway as he took the rubbish out. The only thing you think really is “thank goodness that doesn’t happen here”.

Last Christmas my aunt, uncle and baby cousin came over from Singapore. My aunt was born in the UK and moved to find work in Hong Kong whilst the UK was having their recession and then eventually found herself in Singapore, where she met my uncle and they later had a baby.

My aunt like me also worked in the takeaway, but unlike me she started a lot younger, she could barely reach the counter but was taking orders past midnight from bigger men who had just come from the pub. In a lot of ways I suppose that lead to my aunt being quite tough in the workplace.

We’d often get stories from my aunt about what it was like when she worked there, how insanely busy it was, how they used to spend Christmas watching the TV in the kitchen, and the occasional police scare. It was then I realised that I never got these kinds of stories from my dad.

Whenever my aunt comes over we will bring back a pancake roll, chips and curry sauce for her, and she would get very excited, after all this was the food of her childhood.

One evening after work and she asked me how was the evening and I would tell her about the day, were there any difficult customers and so on. She then told me a long time ago, just as they were closing shop they were attacked.

My dad and my uncle got into a brawl outside the takeaway with a group of thugs who had dragged my grandfather out onto the street. My grandfather was wiping the counter at the time getting ready to close shop and out of nowhere these thugs came and hauled him out.

My grandmother told her two daughters – my two aunts – to hide upstairs. She stayed in the kitchen and began the to bang the meat cleaver on the table and making a lot of noise in the kitchen hoping that it would scare the thugs away. My aunt recalled peering through the windows and shaking as she watched the whole thing from upstairs.

She didn’t tell me if they were a regular occurence, although I imagine that they did happen from time to time if they weren’t frequent.

Of course times have changed; drunken brawls haven’t happened since I started working there. Back then there used to be three pubs quite close to each other, now two of those pubs have been closed down and built over.

Whilst I am quite lucky, it made me realise there was a lot about the takeaway I never really asked about, mainly because my dad or nan hardly ever talked about it.

Customer Encounters #10 – How Many Grains of Rice?

Now we are all obsessed with value for money, some more than others I suppose, but this often goes to the extent of asking how many prawns, pieces of sweet and sour pork there are, how many spare ribs is in one portion. I often get asked a lot how many spare ribs there are in one portion or how many prawns there are in a king prawn fried rice or king prawn chow mein.

My answer for spare ribs is normally “it depends on how many we can fit into the one box but normally four or five”. For king prawns it’s about eight in a regular dish and ten in a large or something along those lines.

For items that include things like prawn or squid people will normally ask how many prawns there are, which is a reasonable question to ask.

Just before the Christmas holidays a new  customer came in and after much deliberation asked for a large duck fried rice, and he asked me how was the duck served (as in was it one whole piece sliced and placed on top, sliced and then fried with the rice, or shredded like crispy aromatic duck and then mixed in).

He then asked me specifically how many slices of duck there are in a duck fried rice.

“erm… I’ve never personally counted but I can guarantee you that it is definitely duck in the duck fried rice.”

This seems like a bizarre question to ask, but I assume that when customers order anything they assume that some takeaways cheat their way by perhaps cutting the slices too thinly and passing them off as “more slices of duck” or cutting them too thick so there’s less but the slices are “meatier” so to speak.

That said one of our regular customers did complain that the duck in our duck chow mein is practically non-existent or too thin.

By far possibly the oddest customer question on how many slices of meat in a dish.


Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year all

Been a bit silent on the blogging front this week mainly because of Christmas, which I thought would be relaxed actually turned out to be quite hectic.

A lot of people naturally assume that Chinese people don’t celebrate Christmas because it somehow goes against their beliefs. I’ll have you know that the Chinese generally celebrate anything as long as food is involved (that said we haven’t really celebrated Ramadan or Diwali…).

But anyway Christmas was good and is always a good opportunity for us to eat (as my younger sister would say “face your fears, EAT IT!!”) It’s a new Wong family tradition that on Christmas Eve we have the traditional Christmas roast of turkey, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts and the works.

Unfortunately this year our oven had a bit of a hissy fit meaning that we couldn’t cook turkey (turn up the heat and things don’t cook, turn down the heat and things over cook).  The problem was solved after the parents bought an oven thermometer, so Christmas Eve lunch was saved. We had roast pork, parsnips, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, carrots, peas and brussel sprouts.

For Christmas Day however we have a Christmas duck instead of turkey, there’s pork with taro and potatoes, Chinese mushroom with chicken, sea bass with spring onion and ginger mixed vegetables (carrots, celery, courgettes and brussel sprouts), and duck.

For the last three years we have been going to dad’s friends’ place. A reunion with his old school friends (imagine a Chinese restaurant full of loud rowdy Chinese men playing mahjohng). The highlight of the evening is of course not watching the mahjohng (indeed I don’t know how to play it), but the big feast at the end of the evening.

There was lobster, duck, chicken, more beef with taro, sweet and sour pork, tofu stuffed with pork, Chinese roast pork, Chinese jellyfish salad, and traditional Chinese broth.

A wonderful feast it was indeed. Bring on Chinese New Year!