Western-Chinese food is authentic — and isn’t white washing our culture

June 28, 2021

By CBC News |

This First Person article is the experience of Kathryn Mannie, a third-generation Chinese Canadian from Vancouver. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Sik jor fahn mei ah? Have you eaten yet?”

This common Cantonese greeting indicates just how closely Chinese culture associates food and well-being. My gung gung (maternal grandfather) fiercely proclaims that food and money are the two most important things to possess — in that order.

Like many second- and third-generation Chinese-Canadians, I was partially raised by my grandparents while my parents worked full time.

And at the centre of their home was the kitchen.

My gung gung would lull my sister and me to sleep with stories about owning restaurants from Liverpool to Vancouver. He chose to work in the restaurant industry because of the food insecurity he faced in rural China. He never wanted anyone in his family to go hungry like he did.

Before school, my gung gung would wake us up with heaping bowls of juk (rice porridge or congee) or one of aunty’s homemade joong (rice dumplings or zongzi), steamed straight from the freezer. After-school afternoons meant sharing steamed fish with ginger and scallions or a box of fresh buns from New Town Bakery in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

In the summer, we would pick plump goji berries from the garden to dry in box lids under the sun. Around Lunar New Year, my poh poh (maternal grandmother) would fill plastic buckets full of crispy fried gok jai pastries for us to share with friends. Every Sunday, the whole family would get together in the morning to eat dim sum.

When I moved to Toronto for university and wanted to feel close to my family, I turned to food. I would call my gung gung on the weekends and ask how to make bak chit gai (poached chicken) and pai kuat (steamed spareribs with fermented black beans).

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