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