So I’ve decided to show my face again after a month of neglect, only to show you the amazing dinner I had the other day at my Grandma’s house. Where are your usual posts filled with criticisms of the world?, I hear you ask. Unfortunately I am drained of words and inspiration, so I’ll say my hello and goodbyes and leave you with this:
Cultural clashes are a daily norm for me. It doesn’t happen in a major way; it’s not like I whip out the chopsticks in preparation for a three course meal. It is the tiny trivial things which stands out the most to me, which causes my paranoia that others misinterpret my actions as rude or hostile.
Take the ol’ tea and biscuits scenario for example. No matter where I am, be it in a work place, family gathering or anywhere that involves a kettle, my auto response when offered a drink is “no I’m fine thank you”. I forget making tea is an ice breaker and a British norm, so I will nearly always decline out of politeness of not putting the other person out. This often results in an awkward situation where I have opted out, ignoring my dehydrated brain signalling that I am dying of thirst, to five minutes later decide to fetch myself the drink.
When I do get over myself and remember social etiquette, I allow others to make me a drink, or even food, to which I try my hardest to finish it all. To me, scoffing my food in no way resembles the class hierarchy that is very much alive today; we pass judgment on the poor who presumably lick their plate clean, but the very wealthy tend toy with their food, making sure a standard amount is left over on their plate. I do not clean the plate because I am starved and poor, I just simply disagree with trivially leaving waste. From my perspective, someone has taken the time and effort to make that food, so you better show gratitude by eating it.
I am not sure whether this is inherent from only my family or if there is a bigger cultural picture, whereby most Chinese people behave in this way. I do hope it is the latter.
After counting down the days for two years, Westfield Stratford City finally opened it’s doors to public yesterday. Needless to say, I was fucking ecstatic. I ventured down after work arriving at around 5:30pm (yes, high speed is FAST). It was chaotic, as I anticipated, with people shuffling through the crowds, some deciding to randomly stop and loiter before shuffling some more. There were an assortment of people, but mainly young locals who had decided to stop by after school for a gander, not really intending on buying anything (hence the loiters). I presume the real hardcore shoppers were there at early doors.
The shops themselves were eerily quiet; the sales assistants were folding clothes with a bored expression on their face as if it was just another day. Obviously with the exception of Primark, which was manic. Strangely the clothes were not sprawled across the floor, as you would find in pretty much every other Primark in the country; a big well done to the sales assistants, that must have been hard to maintain for the full 12 hours they were open.
A not so big well done to the sales assistants in Forever 21, particularly one (I did not catch her name, let’s call her Jane) who was very rude to me. Approaching the fitting rooms with my five items, the assistant led me and another customer to our rooms. Whilst I was following, Jane grabbed me by the arm and stopped me in my tracks. She asked me rather flatly whether I had a ticket, so I informed her the other sales assistant had told me to follow. Disbelievingly, she said ‘but the other customer is with her‘, to which I responded ‘and so am I‘. The other sales assistant turned around and pointed to my cubicle and Jane strutted off without an apology. What a way to start your first day.
Another amusing experience in Forever 21 happened whilst I was browsing. A lady asked me, ‘which top do you prefer?‘. One was bright orange and sparkly, the other was black and equally as sparkly. I responded with the black top, which obviously was an insufficient answer as she pursued in asking another three times. Her reason for this persistence being, ‘you can always trust a Chinese opinion‘. Now I do not wave the racist flag very often and this was a very light-hearted comment, however I found it odd given the circumstance. Imagine if I said the same to her, ‘you can always trust the opinion of a black lady‘. That would be outrageous!
Shaking my head and brushing the awkward conversation aside, I attempted to contact a friend I was meant to be meeting. I quickly discovered that there was not one place in the centre where I could receive a signal on my phone. After attempting to call various people, I went to seek help from the concierge desk. The manager was incredibly helpful and offered me her phone to contact my friend. I could not get through as she was also in the centre and was clearly having the same issues. After attempting to call numerous times to no avail, I shuffled along to Carphone Warehouse to see if they had knowledge of any network problems. The nice, very East London, sales assistant was aware of the issue and informed me that it had been ’13 hours man’ since she last got a text.
At that point I decided to give up on my shopping venture and head back home. Sadly I did not meet the friend in the end, but all in all, my experience was positively interesting. The centre boasts of everything a shopper might want; you have the mainstream stores for a bit of stability and a selection of independent ones to throw in the mix. It is shiny and spacious, the shops are strategically categorised together and you feel at ease. Amazingly Westfield is only a 20 minute train ride for me, so I will definitely be heading back there very soon. Bluewater was once my love, but alas, I have found better…
When thinking of your favourite typical Chinese food, spring rolls will probably come to mind. However, the Western take on spring rolls is to submerge it in oil and hope for the best. If you have not tried spring rolls in a reputable restaurant (not a Chinese take-away) or from an old Chinese grandma (all old Chinese people are great cooks), you have not come close to the real thing. I have always been a bit snobby when it comes to Chinese food, but I think it is to be expected as I am of Chinese descent.
I hope to one day become a fine cook and connoisseur of Chinese cuisine, so I thought I would tackle my first hurdle and try my hand at making spring rolls.
800g of pork mince
20 king prawns
4 spring onions
2 grated carrots
100g cornstarch sticks
40g black fungus
8 seafood sticks
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp of cornflower
A splash of soy sauce
pinch of salt
1 pack of spring roll pastry sheets (usually 30 sheets in a pack)
vermicelli noodles (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)
Vietnamese fish sauce (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)
shredded little gem lettuce (optional, to eat with your spring rolls)
An hour before you start making the spring rolls, soak the black fungus and cornstarch sticks separately in boiling hot water. This will help them soften and it will be quicker to cook later on.
Prepare the king prawns and add them to the food processor with the pork mince, spring onions, chopped garlic, cornflower, soy sauce, salt and ground pepper. You may have to do this in batches, as I found I had too many ingredients to fit the bowl.
Shred the seafood sticks and grate the carrots, or get your husband to do it… After soaking the cornstarch sticks, boil for a few minutes until they become soft and transparent. The longer they are immersed in water, the better, however I only soaked them for an hour.
Add the cornstarch sticks, black fungus and grated carrots to the prawns/pork mixture and stir well until fully incorporated.
Now you are already to start wrapping. Place the mixture onto a sheet of pastry in a long rectangular shape and fold the bottom corner over the mixture.
Fold in both sides to envelope the mixture.
Roll pastry tightly to ensure the mixture is compact. When you reach the end of the pastry, dab a small amount of egg white to make sure it sticks.
Repeat thirty times until you have used up all of the mixture and pastry sheets…
Cooking the spring rolls requires lots of oil and a big pan, if you do not own a deep fat fryer. My grandma cooks them in a wok but we settled for a large saucepan instead. Do not question the use of the potato masher below, I am only an amateur cook!
If you use a large wok or a deep fat fryer, you will most probably shorten your cooking time. It took us quite a while to get through all thirty!
I finally invested in a food processor (my previous handheld mixer died) and inevitably this was going to result in another food post. I decided to make Wonton Soup without following a structured recipe, but instructions from my Grandma which is near enough the same thing.
For the dumplings:
20 king prawns
200g pork mince (half of the small box)
1 clove of garlic
2 spring onions
1 tsp of cornflower
1/2 tbsp of oyster sauce
pinch of salt
1 pack of wonton sheets (usually 30 sheets in a pack)
For the soup:
Water (use your judgment for how much you need)
Dash of soy sauce
1/2 vegetable stock cube
Start off by preparing the prawns – You will need to de-shell them and remove the intestines (as shown in my previous post). Once this is done, add the prawns, pork mince, spring onions, chopped garlic, cornflower, oyster sauce, salt and ground pepper into the food processor. You can add other ingredients too, so do not feel restricted.
Blend the mixture until it turns into one clump.
Place small scoops of the mixture in the centre of the wonton sheets. Dampen the corners of the sheets with water and bring two of the corners together to a point. Then bring the other two corners together and wrap them around. There are various techniques to folding wonton sheets, the key thing is to make sure the filling is fully concealed and the sheet is wrapped tightly.
Thirty wonton dumplings is an excessive amount for me to eat, so I have stored them in boxes of ten in the freezer.
To cook the dumplings, all you need to do is place them into boiling water for approximately five minutes; they should float to the top once they are done. To make the soup, simply boil the water, add the soy sauce and vegetable stock and simmer for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and wonton dumplings once they are cooked, sprinkle some spring onions as a garnish and there you have your wonton soup!
I decided to be adventurous yesterday and push myself to the limits. This resulted in prawn balls.
If you remember, not long ago I tried my hand at various Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese (or if you prefer, Asian) dishes, which were generally a success. This time, I attempted to make prawn and pork balls on skewers to be cooked on the barbecue. This was pretty adventurous because 1) I am quite nervous about cooking prawns because I never know if they are still raw, 2) I had only ever eaten these at my Aunt’s barbecues and had no idea how they were made. After a few phone calls to my Grandma (an expert in cooking) and my Aunt (who has previously made and cooked prawn balls) and a little research on the internet, I set forth for my big experiment.
20 king prawns
400g pork mince (the small box)
1 clove of garlic
1 green pepper
1 tsp of cornflower
pinch of salt
pepper for seasoning
So what next?
First you need to prepare the prawns. This is long and tedious, but must be done to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned. Assuming you have bought prawns that are headless, to begin with you need to de-shell the them. The next stage is to slice them right in the middle – I find it easiest to go from the top to the tail downwards. Inside you will find a string, the intestines, which can easily be pulled out from one end of the prawn. It is not life threatening if you decide not to do this, but it will taste gritty otherwise.
Once you have done this, slice them into small pieces. I slice and de-poo each prawn as I go, but do whatever is easiest for you. You may want to wash them after, but to be honest, they have been in a shell and should be fine.
Place the mushed up prawns in the food processor with all of the pork mince, a generous pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cornflower (to make it stickier), pepper (add as much or as little as you feel necessary), chopped up garlic and chilli. I tend to remove the seeds from the chilli, but if you are feeling particularly daring leave them in.
Chop your green pepper into small chunks and get your skewers ready. Roll the prawn and pork concoction into a medium sized ball on a flat surface using the palm of your hand. Make sure the prawn balls are not too big, as this will take longer to barbecue and be at risk of being undercooked. Then slot the balls onto skewers, with peppers in between; this may get tricky as time goes on as the mixture becomes stickier. I also found that they would fall off the skewers, in which case I would re-roll the ball and delicately slot them back in between the peppers.
Lastly, place them on the barbecue to cook. It is not necessary to cook them on a barbecue, you can also grill or fry them (obviously without the skewers for the latter). If you do decide to cook them on a barbecue, be wary that the prawns will be cooked quicker than the pork; it is best to place them on before the barbecue gets too hot, or perhaps as the last thing you cook.
All in all, my experiment was a success! It took a while to cook on the barbecue, probably because of my constant paranoia that they were underdone, but it was definitely worth the wait. They were very tasty and DH loved it.
Language is one of the most beautiful and unique ways of communicating. It allows one to convey themselves freely, their thoughts, feelings and perceptions. I find it amazing how DS expresses language, a way that is different to you and I, because this is all new to him. He was born a blank canvas and he is slowly digesting everything that is thrown at him.
As it stands, he is bilingual in English and Cantonese. To the untrained ear, his babble sounds like any other baby, however if you listen closely it is clear which language he is speaking. Somehow in his tiny brain, he has understood that English words have syllables and are to be pronounced in a certain way. His ‘words’ are sharp and blunt, using various short tones jumbled together to form a sentence. When speaking Cantonese, the pitch of his voice is much higher and there is more variance of tones. This is because in Cantonese, many words are differentiated solely by tone. The words are said much quicker and the pitch rises towards the end of the sentence. It is incredible he has unknowingly interpreted two disparate languages and can communicate what he perceives to be English and Cantonese.
The milestones for speech are mainly between birth and three years. I have noticed in DS that he becomes frustrated when he cannot find the right words to express himself, swiping items off the table and screaming until he is heard. We try to converse with him as much as possible, responding in full sentences, narrating his actions, to encourage him to express himself verbally. He has become very confident with his speech, often babbling away and keen to repeat new words. He would often drop the beginning or end of a word, often making him sound like he possesses a cockney accent.
Although DS is mostly spoken to in English, DH and I try our hardest to substitute an English word with the equivalent in Cantonese, where possible. I am not the most fluent of Cantonese speakers, in fact, the lack of knowledge I have is shameful. My ability is almost infantile, so at least I am safe for the next couple of years. I will have to send him to Chinese Sunday School when it is time to expand his vocabulary and learn to read and write. The most I can read and write is 1,2,3.