Growing up in a Chinese family in Australia, having pizza for dinner was a special occasion for us. About once a month, when my parents decided to treat us, we would order two large pizzas from the Pizza Inn up the road. Invariably, one was a supreme and the other was a ham and pineapple, because when it comes to toppings for kids, putting something sweet onto a pizza is a clear winner. Pizza night was always highly anticipated, even if the pleasure was so fleeting.
All of us have some fond, and not-so-fond, food memories from childhood. Sometimes they are fond memories of Iced VoVo biscuits whenever we went to visit nana, or mum’s delicious Sunday roasts with all the trimmings. Sometimes they are not so fond memories of being served a slab of lifeless, grey liver, then sneaking it to the dog when no one was looking.
My fondest childhood memory revolves around dumplings. Every now and then, my dad and my aunt would meet up for a half day to prepare and cook big batches of dumplings. My favourite were savoury gok zai, which were made from a glutinous rice flour dough to form steamed, translucent purses of pork mince, Chinese mushroom, chopped green beans, and strands of rice vermicelli.
We would eagerly rush for the big, metal steamers as soon as they were ready so that we could gobble these tasty dumplings while they were still fresh and hot, one after another, after another. There would be so many dumplings that, even after we shared them around to our extended family, we would be eating gok zai for the next 3 days. Not that we minded at all.
If I ever had children, I would love to make my dad’s gok zai for them. I hope that these delicacies would bring them the same excitement, and create the same memorable moments, as they did for me.
I’m conscious that my parents won’t live forever. Spending some quality time in the kitchen with my dad to learn all the recipes from my childhood will undoubtedly be a bit of fun that will bring back some amazing taste experiences. I’m looking forward to making crispy and chewy jin deui, or sesame seed balls, filled with sweet red bean paste. I loved dad’s ginger chicken, where the soy and ginger sauce would be spooned over rice after all the chicken was gone, just so we could keep savouring the taste. His wu tau gou, or steamed taro cake, with chunks of soft potato and lap cheong, was a breakfast favourite, although you never wanted to find star anise in one of your slices. Then there was his steamed pork mince with Chinese mushrooms, steamed eggs, and pork spare ribs with preserved vegetables – all home-style, Cantonese fare that you would never find in a Chinese restaurant.
I still only have pizza about once a month, but unfortunately, I eat far less home-style Chinese food now as an adult. Taking on this food adventure will bring me back to my first love of Chinese home cooking. It’s difficult to imagine that my recreations could ever surpass my dad’s, but damn, it will be delicious trying!