A Recipe For Dis Easter


A lot of people knocking about here in HK and also on the mainland, seem to think that all things Chinese are only for or should only be undertaken by Chinese people.

Take Chinese cooking. Saturday afternoon I had a little lunch party chiefly to warm up my living room with a bunch of 37 degree bodies, and rustled up some Sichuan food to increase everybody’s inner temperature.

As I was making dumplings a Chinese guest said: “I’m so impressed that you can make dumplings!” I wasn’t surprised. Since I set up my Sichuan cooking classes and catering, I’ve been told countless times how “impressive” it is that I can chop up some vegetables and cook them in a certain way. The ones who aren’t impressed seem almost appalled. “You can’t cook Chinese food!”
“Because you’re not Chinese!”

Then there’s the language, which every foreigner living in Hong Kong has been told dozens of times by helpful locals is “too difficult for them” (but apparently not for Filipino and Indonesian maids and overseas Chinese, six generations away from the motherland, who are expected to learn Cantonese by symbiosis as soon as they touch down on HK soil.)

Many HK people, when they’re not laughing their heads off or applauding like sea lions in Ocean Park when I say for example “hello” in Cantonese, seem affronted by the fact that I teach Cantonese to foreigners.

“You can’t teach Cantonese to people!”
“Because you’re not Chinese!”
“But Chinese people teach English?”
“Well, that’s different.”

I wonder how Chinese people living abroad or even here in HK would take it if westerners kept complimenting them on their sandwich-eating skills, or expressing surprise over the fact that they were even familiar with the concept of sandwiches, a non-Chinese food. I wonder if they would think people were mad if they kept telling them never to attempt to learn English as it’s too difficult (for them but not other people), or even, if they were thus inclined, would find the applauders and “don’t learn it”-advisors a teensy little bit patronising?

Why is it that the whole world is expected to know about Hollywood stars, but any foreigner having heard of Lau Dak Wah (Andy Lau) whose mug has been staring down from every billboard and out of every magazine and film poster and whose dreary voice has been droning saccharinely from the radio for the last 20 years gets a round of sea mammal applause?

Why are most of the chefs in pizza restaurants in HK Chinese, but me being able to squeeze some minced meat into a dough wrapper “impressive”?

I wonder: Do Chinese people whether in HK or on the mainland, think that Chinese things are so inaccessible and complicated that only Chinese people can understand them? Or is it that the Chinese are so used to looking down on their own culture that nobody else could possibly be interested? Or do they want to keep the language, cooking and Canto-pop stars to themselves?

It’s hard to tell. But as much as I like compliments and ego-boosting, I think personally I would prefer that people just treated me like a normal human being instead of clapping and carrying on every time I utter a word in Chinese or express a knowledge of anything iconic in a city I’ve been living for more than 18 years. Sometimes when I say: “How much is this” or ‘do you have anything in red” people carry on as if I were a dog being able to ride a bicycle while talking on its mobile. It gets boring.

A bit of a nadir, I suppose, was last December when I jumped into a taxi holding some heads (?) of garlic. The taxi driver: “Wah! You even know how to buy garlic!”
Yes, fancy that.

Anyway, here, once and for all, is a recipe for how to make … TA-DAAAA!


450 grams of minced pork (You can get it ready minced from thesupermarket!!)

a lump of fresh ginger, about the size of three thumbs. Crush it and put it in half a cup of cold water
1 egg
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (vodka or brandy will do)
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper (8 turns of pepper mill)
chopped chives or spring onions.

You can get dumpling wrappers from traditional dried noodles shops.

Mix the pork, egg, salt pepper and wine in a bowl and add the ginger-water gradually (without the ginger) to make a nice paste

Put one teaspoon of paste on a dumpling wrapper and fold the edges together like a pleated skirt. Boil water and chuck 10 to 15 dumplings in at a time. When they are all floating on the surface, they’re done.

And for a fantastic dip:
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons chilli oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed (add garlic just before consumption)

So easy even a westerner can make it!

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11 Responses to A Recipe For Dis Easter

  1. ulaca says:

    When I was serious about learning Cantonese, I used to respond to those (a third category besides the Laughers and the Stunned) who spoke back to me in English by saying (in Cantonese, of course): “I am from Yugoslavia” (they still had one then) or “I am from Bulgaria”. The chances of happening upon someone who spoke Serbo-Croat or Bulgarian were, I estimated, fairly slim.

    You may be familiar with it, but Taiwanese poet and novelist Po Yang (Baat Yeung in Cantonese) – who spent a decade or so in prison for his dissident views – in his best known work “The Ugly Chinaman” discusses the traits you identify and the reasons (in his opinion) for them. The most striking observation he makes in the piece is that “Chinese people are the same anywhere in the world”.

    Email me if you want me to fax a copy.

  2. kim says:

    Wah liao! Lambasted in 2 consecutive posts–some kind of site-specific record? double seal of friendship?

    But come on, Ah Sin, you’re a rarity. How many Canto-speaking, Sichuan-cooking blondies (undyed) do you know? It’s not ability–yup, those recipes look idiot-proof—but scarcity. We’re pleased and surprised you bothered when most people of the Western persuasion don’t, since they don’t have to, being surrounded by smart, English-speaking, pasta-cooking, sandwich-making Chinese in Westernised HK. Bask in the applause lah. You won’t be impressive much longer, with more & more laowais speaking fluent putonghua and going to Sichuan cookery schools. High time.

  3. cecilie says:

    Yes I’ve read The Ugly Chinaman more than once, and had a good chuckle, especially over the reaction from certain quarters: “Bo Yang is a traitor!” “Bo Yang has vilified the entire Chinese race! He should be shot!” etc.

    And dear lambasted one – really, it’s not about the rarity. It’s the smallest thing:
    “Wah, you can use chopsticks!”
    “Wah, you’ve even heard of Deng Xiaoping!”
    “Wah, you can drink Chinese tea!”

    What I’m saying is: It seems that most people think that only Chinese people can (and should?) deal with things like Chinese tea (other than jasmine, which is what they plonk down in yam cha restaurants even if you order Bo Lei, Seui Sin or whatever, because all foreigners drink jasmine and that’s set in stone,) Chinese food and most of all, the Cantonese language. And all the other things.

    It’s not the rarity. How long have foreigners lived in HK? Locals should be used to one or two of them actually not being tourists fresh off the boat by now.

    Yeah, at the end of the day I’ll probably go with “patronising.”
    “Wah, you can buy garlic”… I mean, come ON!

  4. Delifiction says:

    It is “patronising”. When I cracked the secret of Chinese knotting and taught my local Chinese friend how to do it, I overheard her telling a postman “wow, I was convinced that all westerners were dumb, but she, somehow, is different, more like us. Wonder if that’s because she lived in Beijing for so long and can speak Mandarin”.

  5. Walnut says:

    All I need to do is ask “Would you like a coffee?” to someone in Cantonese as I head downstairs, and I get treated like a pop star. It’s awesome…

  6. cecilie says:

    Yes it is, for sure. But after the pop star treatment for years and years, now I suddenly find myself preferring to be treated like a normal human being, i.e. getting surly and grumpy service from taxi drivers and the like, but in Cantonese, and without the “Wah, you can speak Cantonese, wah, but you should learn Mandarin instead, Cantonese is completely useless” etc etc.

    But it will never happen.
    Oh well.

  7. julia says:

    admittedly, it is also quite amusing to bump into a first generation chinese-american who asks you in seemingly perfect mandarin, if you speak chinese (ZHENDEMA?!?!?), only to realize that you do in fact speak it, and better than the presumptuous git asking you seeing as he never bothered to learn mandarin until it was the “in” thing to do in college. and then you add that actually, being a first generation american yourself, albeit white, you also speak a european language which you weren’t too lazy to keep up with despite being raised in the states. ha. a moral victory of sorts for embittered foreigners.

  8. cecilie says:

    Ah yes, the Mandarin. It’s the new English. Now it is the mainlanders expecting people to speak their language wherever they go, not bothering to learn, and even looking down on, Cantonese, when they move to Hong Kong.

    Embittered! I’m glad you brought up that word. I suppose I am a little bit embittered, or at least disillusioned with the whole thing. But now my life goal is to make Cantonese a world language and fight back against Mandarin imperialism so I’m okay.

    Please access our radio programme through my blog – evidently Cantonese is so much more fun in every way than staid, stick-in-the-mud Mandarin!

    Bah humbug to the language of interminable fall-asleep communist party boring speeches!

  9. julia says:

    agreed, cantonese much more exciting. however obstinately refused to be acknowledged as a modern foreign language by the faculty of the chinese department at georgetown university, leaving one with few options aside from the mundane/ridiculously full of nonsensical exceptions romance/slavic (respectively) languages. i suppose i could have opted for arabic, but picking sand out of my teeth amidst flying shrapnel…not my scene.

    podcast very enjoyable, indeed helped me survived a sejour in beijing during which my gmail must have been blocked by chairman mao himself for the amount of time it took to load. thus had to amuse myself otherwise.

    speaking of imperialist languages, however, i think japanese may be a better pick. and the cab driver who refused me service on account of my japanese ethnic heritage would agree. indeed, there was no telling him that westerners, do on occasion, have really dark and straight hair, prominent cheekbones and smallish eyes. although singaporeans, being so ethnically confused themselves, tended to assume i was a halfbreed of sorts also. in the end, yes, putonghua, ugh. nongren, double ugh. honkies are by far more amusing, especially when they knock you down staircases with their giant vivienne westwood shopping bags that probably cost more than my rent.

  10. ulaca says:

    Ah, but on a staircase with enough room for two people, the rule is one lane for the human, one for her bag…

  11. cecilie says:

    Apparently (according to former student of mine) when foreigners come to Hong Kong and embark upon a course of Cantonese at the university, the first thing their teacher tells them is that they probably won’t learn it anyway. However if they really insist, they can learn spoken Cantonese but not to bother with the characters as it’s “too difficult for them.”
    The only proper dictionary for English to Cantonese also comes without Chinese characters!

    Ahhrggh. Vexing. As much as I dislike the imperialist Mandarin, at least the teachers of that language include the written language and don’t patronise the students saying they can never learn it…

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