A little more than Beef and Black Bean

December 7, 2010

I have a confession to make…until I met Ben, I thought that Chinese food was Beef and Black Bean. Sweet and Sour Pork. Honey Chicken.


I grew up in a place where almost everyone was Anglo-Saxon. There was not a lot of cultural diversity in the schoolyard – white-bread sandwiches as far as the eye could see!

We weren’t sheltered, not at all. My parents were quite learned in other cultures, especially when it came to cuisine. Although we come from English and Irish backgrounds, I grew up eating lentils, French stews and couscous along with my English and Aussie staples. Our palates were quite diverse. Except for when it came to Chinese food.

As a child, we rarely got take-away. The nearest McDonalds was not for 20km, and so any place that possessed a pair of those golden arches was so ‘city’ to me. If we did get take-away, it would be Fish & Chips from Balnarring. I have such sweet memories of our fish and chip nights, with the Skipping Girl white vinegar always on the table – you have not lived until you have tried chips with white vinegar. Very occasionally we would get pizza, also from Balnarring. In fact on reflection, Balnarring, being a tidy 10km away, appears to have been the hub of all our take-out experiences.

Once, maybe twice, a year we would go to the Balnarring Chinese Restaurant. We would order our Beef in Black Bean sauce, our Honey Chicken, some Spring Rolls and a serve of Fried Rice. Correction, ‘Special’ Fried Rice…always special.

And thus was my experience of Chinese food. Until I met Ben.

I was fifteen when I met him in all his half-Chinese glory and he rocked my white-bread world. All of a sudden I was introduced to Char Sui, Yum Cha and Congee. When I was just sixteen, I went to Hong Kong with his family. I will forever remember going out for dinner and being scarred by the cooked chicken head, with it’s creepy pointy little beak, that would persistently look at me, every time the Lazy Susan revolved my way. It did take me a while to come around to all these very foreign flavours. But, nine years on, I now love Chinese food. The proper stuff, no Honey Chicken for me – I never liked it anyway.

Ben and I recently visited Rock Kung, in Glen Waverly. Ben has great memories of this place, as he grew up over that side of town. When we were first together we would visit Rock Kung frequently with his family, as it was always delicious and open late. I am happy to report, it still is.

When we get a craving for this type of food, it hits hard. Ben’s family is mainly in Hong Kong now, and so we can’t get his Dad to cook us fish or noodles whenever we wish. We have tried cooking it ourselves, but I am afraid to say that we have a long way to go when it comes to cooking our beloved dishes. So it is very nice to have a place where we can eat a nostalgic meal. Although Ben has been eating this way his whole life, I look back at my sixteen-year-old self and see that I too have grown up with this food. And so it feels very special to me.

Sik Fan!*

Ironically, after this nostalgic-centred post, the first thing we ate on this visit to Rock Kung was something Ben rarely eats and I have never eaten – a dim sim. When I think of dim sims, I picture those very fried ones from the fish and chip shop. These are far superior. We were both actually really delighted and I am desperate to have their dim sims again.

Mapo Tofu. I cannot recall where I first had Mapo Tofu, but I am assuming that it was in Hong Kong as I have never been able to find a good version in Melbourne since. This vexes me greatly, as I just adore Mapo Tofu when made to my liking. I do not enjoy a dish that is overpowered with artificial-tasting sweet chilli sauce. I have been sent links to Neil Perry’s version, and I have Elizabeth Chong’s cookbook from the early nineties with a recipe that looks like a winner. I know I should just bite the bullet and make it myself, but every time I see it on a menu I have to try it! I’m sorry to say that Rock Kung did not deliver it the way I like. Granted it wasn’t on the menu, so I can’t complain too much, as they did whip it up especially.

We also got some Char Sui, which was really delicious. I love their Char Sui. Not too fatty and really sticky. Yum.

Lastly we got the Barramundi – what we really came here for. I adore steamed fish with ginger, shallots, coriander and soy. So fresh, so succulent. Amazing. Ben likes to eat the cheek, the sweetest bit. I get freaked out by any reference to body parts, which highlights that this was once a living creature, so I usually let him have it.

And of course, rice. Steamed rice. Not listed as ‘Special’, but this food is truly special to me…

Heidi xo

* Sik Faan translates to “Eat Rice”. It is the Cantonese version of “Bon Appetite” or, what I guess is the Aussie version, “Dig In!”

  • Hannah December 7, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Teehee! Those dim sum look like little yellow brains 😛 I adore steamed fish at Chinese restaurants… and particularly the crackling oil they pour over to crisp everything up at the end 🙂

    Would you believe I've never had Mapo Tofu? Bad Hannah.

  • onika December 8, 2010 at 9:09 am

    yum! thats so funny about balnaz. i hate the chinese restaurant there! i got take away from there last summer at mums when i was hungover and it was shiiiiiiiiiiT!!! balnaz pizza used to be awesome though – there are some good restaurants that have opened down there recently – ciao bella is really good, authentic italian (next to the petrol station).
    i want mapo tofu so bad! have you eaten at hu tong (the prahran one) i am oing tomo night with some gfs for our xmas dinner- they do awesome ma pa tofu, and xiao long bow (Sp?) nom
    i'm loving your blog heidi! all the food looks so good and i love that you're a peninsula chick too! we'll have to have a vino over summer down there xx

  • Leah December 8, 2010 at 9:15 am

    I love the way you write Heidi. It always makes me hungry, and nostalgic for my own family food memories.
    There is nothing better than a really delicious yum cha on a Saturday morning 🙂

  • Heidi December 8, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Hannah – yes the crispy crackle is so nice! and yes, bad Hannah – I demand you fix this and try it immediately, if not sooner 🙂

    Onika – Thanks, lovely! Go peninsula chicks 🙂 I have a feeling I may be seeing you on Saturday night?!! Ciao Bella is good, isn't it! I haven't been to Hu Tong but have it on my list! I've been desperate to try their xiao long boa (I think it's an 'a') for a while. Now I have another reason to go, thanks for the mapo tofu rec!

    Leah – thank you! That is so sweet of you to say. Weekend yum cha is wonderful 🙂

    Heidi xo

  • Ashley December 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Haha, it's so interesting how our palette's evolve over time, My brother and i used to not touch sushi or anything Japanese related then some random day when I was in grade 8, we were in a sushi train in Malaysia and we ate through some 20 plates of sushi or so!

    Good to hear you've come around to good chinese food 😉 I looove Mapo tofu, shame this one's not so good though!

  • Chanel11 December 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Despite also growing up eating almost every cuisine we too didn't have much Asian food apart from stir fries, and even as an adult I didn't really try many Asian recipes until I went to a Japanese restaurant (now one of my favourite cuisines) and most recently to Hong Kong after which I have a huge appreciation for Chinese food, although I still tend to eat out rather than attempt to make it at home.

  • Julia @ Boredom Abounds December 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Hee, our worlds collide again. We've eaten at the restaurant a couple of times before hitting the Pinewood cinema on a Saturday night (movie tickets for $8.95 – got to love that!). The food there is indeed yummy!

  • Heidi December 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Ashley – how funny! It is so nice when you discover that you enjoy something you previously thought you hated. I had an olive revelation last year. A great moment in my life 🙂

    Chanel – yes our Asian eating was limited to the trusty strifry too. I can imagine how you must have fallen in love with Chinese food in HK! How perfect. I think I just need to practice more when cooking it at home.

    Julia – that is so cheap! I must revisit good old pinewood 🙂

    Heidi xo

  • onika December 8, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    oh my goodness! too funny. i just clicked on the event and saw a heidi!! 😀

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 8, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Aww what a sweet story! Isn't it great how you can discover another culture, especially through food 🙂 I remember the first non Chinese dish I ate!

  • Anna Johnston December 9, 2010 at 10:45 am

    What a great post & such an interesting story of how you came to be introduced to Chinese food. I have to admit I'm a little similar because I also had a country background with Anglo Saxon community & I too thought Chinese (my ignorance knew no boundaries as I just lumped it all in as Asian food) & really didn't get with the program until I became a Chef….., no 'Asian' influences are definatly my thing….., but one thing remains…. REALLY good Chinese food is awesome (not a fan of chicken heads & beaks, don't really get that either)
    Funny thing this food journey stuff. 🙂

  • The InTolerant Chef December 9, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    It is amazing how isolated our tastebuds can be in this multicultural world. My mother-in-law had never even tried tacos until her 40th birthday. This year for her 60 something we took her to yum cha. She enjoyed the novelty value, but sadly that's all. But we're going to all you can eat yumcha tonight!

  • Heidi December 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    onika – see you on Saturday then! 😀

    Lorraine – your first non-Chinese meal, I wonder what it was?!

    Anna – it is funny and lovely 🙂 These days we have so many influences!

    InTolerant Chef – yumcha for dinner?! yes please!

    Heidi xo

  • Hannah December 9, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Looks fab!! I love Chinese food too (probably helps that I'm also half Chinese) and recently went to China where I fell in love with the beautiful tofu and vegetarian dishes such as Mapo Tofu! Although I'll admit after about 10 days I didn't feel like eating rice for another month…. 😉
    Hannah x

  • Kath December 9, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    I ate REAL Chinese food for the first time when I was in San Francisco with my parents at age 14. We were used to Chinese restaurants, but the food you get in Germany is very much "German" Chinese food. In that little place in Chinatown (where we were the only non-Asian guests) we at first got a menu that was ALMOST ENTIRELY IN CHINESE, so we just picked something and waited what came. I got funny, round moushrooms in a spicy sauce that where incredibly slippy and difficult to eat with chopsticks. But it was very, very good. And the colors were so much more intense. It was a great experience.

  • Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets December 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    YES. I cringe whenever people say they hate "Chinese food" when they've only had the Westernized version. The food's honestly one of the main things I miss about my hometown. This stuff looks great, but I'm sorry the mapo tofu wasn't up to par. One of my favs, too.

  • AtTheBackoftheHill June 27, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Actually, cooking Cantonese food is not at all that hard; the internet is full of recipes, and all you have to do is read between the lines.

    The only problem might be the ingredients…… I live easy walking distance from Chinatown, so that isn’t an issue for me.

    Loved the post.

    • Heidi July 1, 2014 at 8:02 am

      Thanks for the encouragement!! I gotta just jump in 🙂