Last night I had my first (British) Chinese takeaway and it was emotional.
Maybe it’s the culmination of a lifetime of identity politics and cultural confusion, intensified by an explosive year of anti-racism protests and anti-Chinese sentiment. Maybe it’s just that I ate too much.
Relevant context: I’m 100% physically Chinese and have lived 99.5% of my life in Australia and England. Husband is 100% white. Kids are whatever they feel like.
Also, I am using the general term ‘Chinese takeaway’ to refer to Chinese-style fast food (usually Cantonese-influenced) adapted for British tastes. If you’re interested, see the British Chinese food timeline.
Why did we try our first (British) Chinese takeaway?
- Curiosity. People speak of it. I read about it. I see it on TV. Thought it was time to give it a go.
- Duty to support local business. I don’t want all the local businesses to close because of COVID-19.
- Laziness. Was working all day and couldn’t be arsed cooking.
- Britishness. Every street of shops seems to have a Chinese takeaway. Like curry or fish and chips, it’s a very local thing to eat.
- Chineseness*. This is the food of my people.
*Note: my spellcheck is fine with ‘Britishness’ but is picking up ‘Chineseness’ as an error. Is it trolling me?
What did we order?
Husband and kids were very surprised and excited that we were going to try a Chinese takeaway. I told them to pick some classics, so we had:
- Sweet and sour pork
- Kung Po chicken
- Satay beef
- Fried chicken with noodles
- Egg fried rice
- Steamed rice
- Prawn crackers.
Well, the food was pretty much as expected. Too oily; too sweet; too fried; too salty. But also hot, solid, filling and comforting.
More importantly though, the meal was a meaty manifestation of all sorts of complicated feelings I have about my race and my identity.
My ABC (Australian-British-Chinese) family enthusiastically shared this British-Chinese meal with me. We served ourselves from sweaty rectangular plastic boxes in to refined ceramic Chinese bowls.
For them, it was an interesting new type of takeaway. For me, this food was equal parts familiar and alien. Chinese and not really Chinese. Local and foreign. Just like me.
Are you what you eat?
I’m surprised at how I perceive negative comments about Chinese food. I know that it’s just a comment about preferences and taste, yet I am also embarrassed and offended. I feel as if they are commenting on me, rather than a particular combination of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables.
Some people are direct: “I don’t like Chinese food.” “Everything just smells weird.”
There are variations. “Let’s get a dirty Chinese meal!” “I just don’t trust what’s in it.” “I don’t know why, but Chinese food always makes me sick.”
Food is personal. As a family, we have decided to embrace the Chinese takeaway, and figure out what the hell ‘chop suey’ is.
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