How I Rediscovered Chinese Cuisine

I’ll admit it. I didn’t start cooking for myself until I was twenty. The most I knew how to make before then was scrambled eggs, and they weren’t even good scrambled eggs.

I’ll admit it. I didn’t start cooking for myself until I was twenty. The most I knew how to make before then was scrambled eggs, and they weren’t even good scrambled eggs.

Things changed when my brother and I convinced my overprotective dad to go on a trip back to Taiwan and leave us in Canada for two weeks. Suddenly, I had to learn how to cook — and fast.

I started by making pasta, because it was simple and easy. I also made dumplings from the frozen aisle at T&T, my local asian supermarket, and a lot of instant ramen. After the first week, I was feeling so unhealthy that I knew I couldn’t continue on this way.

I began with Google, looking up so many variations of “easy dinner recipes” that I started getting Youtube advertisements about them. Unfortunately, most of the recipes I found were useless to me. Sandwiches for dinner? Uh, I think not. The other option was to wait 18 hours for some pressure cooker or crockpot to cook something for me, and that definitely wasn’t going to happen, least of all because I didn’t own any of the equipment.

I realized I had been approaching this all wrong. My idea of a proper dinner was always going to be different than a Western point of view, which was what all of my Google searching had been pulling up. My idea of dinner was rice or noodles paired with a couple of side dishes. So for that reason, I needed to cook Asian cuisine. The only problem… I didn’t know any Asian recipes. Uh oh.

I turned to Google once more. It was an unbelievably shameful moment for me. I couldn’t believe I had to go to Google to search for recipes that I should’ve already known. I couldn’t believe I was looking at recipes written by non-Chinese people about Chinese food, where the only “Asian” aspect of the dish was the use of soy sauce.

Why didn’t I learn more when I was actually visiting my relatives in Taiwan? Why didn’t I observe my dad while he was cooking more? All of these thoughts were running through my head at that moment.

But since my dad was gone and I had no one to turn to, I pushed those thoughts aside and began picking through the recipes. Some of them weren’t bad and were actually quite informative once I started really digging. I tried making some Chinese pickled cabbage first. It turned out delicious and just as I remembered when I was as a child.

So my search continued.

I learned how to make side dishes like tomato scrambled eggs, broccoli with ginger, honey garlic chicken, and savoury rice cakes. My initial need for food survival turned into a culinary flood of curiosity.

When my dad came back, I watched him make hama soup — clam soup — with lots of ginger and learned that the secret ingredient to most Chinese cooking is a pinch of chicken powder stock. I watched him make his many variations of fried rice and fried udon, dumplings, and potstickers.

A simple soup made out of wintermelon, carrots, mushroom, and beef balls.

I even asked some of my dad’s friends for their recipes and was invited into their home to personally watch them make it. One of their recipes has now become one of my go-to’s.

For New Year’s Eve, my family was invited to a party and we all made dumplings from scratch. I can honestly say they were the best dumplings I ever had.

Handmade dumplings on New Year’s Eve in 2017. Photo credit to Marcus Blackstock. 

Take it from me: it’s never too late to start learning. Once you’re open to the idea, you can find opportunities everywhere. Hover annoyingly over your parents shoulder if you can. Look on Google or ask your relatives. Ask whoever you can get your hands on and most times, people will be happy to help. They’re happy to share a piece of their culture with you. And ultimately, that’s what it all boils down to.

Pun intended.

Still lost? Start here!

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