As I get older I really worry about losing my Chinese-ness. I grew up both as Chinese and Canadian here in Vancouver, BC… my parents were also born here, as were 3/4 of my grandparents… but as the older generations get older and the newer generations get more lofan, I sometimes wonder if my own grandchildren will be at all Chinesey whatsoever. I need to hang on to the bit of culture that I still retain… and one of the ways I can do that is through the food and memories…
Doing Chinesey stuff was always just a part of who I was when I was a kid. Red envelopes stamped with gold symbols with a crisp, flat folded bill tucked inside. Back in the 1980s, we would have to hold up our laycee to a light. One dollar? Two dollars? FIVE dollars? Ooooh our grandparents always spoiled us with fives, and then a little later those purple tinted ten dollar bills… what a thrill for a little kid. “Opening it is bad luck” we were told. We didn’t know why… so we stashed them away and opened them later when no one was looking. Spent the money on Archie comics and sour coke bottle candies.
egg foo young, with bits of shredded charsiu pork, dripping in salty buttery-flavoured gravy
For the Lunar New Year, we always ate wedges of Chinese grapefruit, and only my Gonge gonge could peel them properly. It was sort of his job, to cut into the pocked pomello and extract the thin-skin covered boats of not-quite-orange, not-quite grapefruit flavoured fruit. Flat large seeds were picked out and the grapefruit eaten, along with gin duey, a.k.a. greaseballs (sesame sweet rice flour balls with a dark red bean filling) and shrimp chips, crisp and thinly sliced and styrofoam-like in texture, “shrimp fishy” in flavour and pale coloured: light green, pink and white. My Poh poh would drop the shrinkie-dink like shriveled and dried shrimp chips in to hot oil and they would sizzle, puff up and expand, floating, scooped up and laid onto a paper towel to drain. The same delightful chips would be served with a platter of crispy skin chicken at a restaurant, tucked in around different pieces of chicken.
massive amounts of vegetarian chow mein for my tall white lo-fan husband!
A mini dumpling and my dad, Go-go (short for Gonge-gonge, grandfather on mother’s side)
CNY at my mom’s this year was a hybrid of homemade dishes made by my mom and auntie, mixed with old favourites from spots around town: Foo’s Ho Ho (duck salad), Kent’s Kitchen (veggie chow mein), Newtown Bakery (gin duey a.k.a. sesame balls a.k.a. greaseballs). My mom made lettuce wrap (sang choy bao), her filling smokey from the oysters and crunchy from water chestnut. Spoon this mixture into a crisp piece of iceberg lettuce, blob a good dollop of dark sweet hoisin sauce on there and roll up your Chinese burrito!
I always wondered if the duck salad was a Chinese Canadian hybrid dish. You don’t see it on any super Chinesey menus, but places where there’s sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken (such as Foo’s) tends to have it.
CNY ended this year with my mom’s “almond float”: pale green, sweet almond flavoured gelatin squares bobbing around with canned lychee and canned peach slices in a generations-old serving bowl, and a mountain of gin duey and fresh New Town apple tarts with its layered pastry, waxy-on-the-tongue finish and not-too-sweet apple filling.
Sweet Chinese New Year dreams…