Hakka community

Opening ceremony at Toronto Hakka Conference 2016

Dr. Vivienne Poy and lion dance opens Toronto Hakka Conference 2016

Growing up in a small primarily all-white town, I never felt like I belonged to a Chinese community. I didn’t know any other Chinese besides a few relatives. I understood some Hakka but never was very fluent.

Even when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where lots of Chinese lived, I never identified with any specific Chinese community. I rarely met any Hakka.  Most Chinese spoke Cantonese or Mandarin, which I tried studying, but never really mastered. The only language that spoke to me was the food. I grew up eating Chinese food and it was always my go-to comfort food.

It wasn’t until I went to Toronto that I felt I belonged to a Chinese community. There I met Hakka who had migrated from all over the world. They were like me. We had a shared history of migration. Many didn’t speak or write Chinese but we could communicate in English.

When I went to my first Toronto Hakka Conference in 2008, I had never seen so many Hakka gathered in one place. Finally, I found my Hakka community.  At the most recent 2016 Toronto Hakka Conference, I recognized people I had met on previous trips. I also met new people who were also searching for their cultural identity through food, through their ancestry, and through the conference. One of the greatest benefits of the Toronto Hakka Conference is connecting with Hakka from all over the world. This year some attendees came as far as India, Portugal, Australia, Hong Kong, Jamaica, and Mauritius. The majority of the attendees live locally because the greater Toronto area is home to many Hakka.

For me the conference celebrates being part of the Hakka community.

 

 

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Being Hakka

Dr. Shui Loon Kong at Toronto Hakka Conference 2016

Dr. Shui Loon Kong at Toronto Hakka Conference 2016

What does it mean to be Hakka? It’s a question that I sought the answer to most of my life.

Keynote speaker Dr. Shui Loon Kong answered my question at the Toronto Hakka Conference 2016. I could identify with his remarks.

Being Hakka means adaptation. We Hakka learn to fit into the environment and transcend it. We achieve it in five ways: Accept, Access, Activity, Achievement, and Appreciate, said Dr. Kong.

A long history of migration forced the Hakka to new environments, often harsh and inhospitable. To survive, the Hakka learned to adapt. They accepted their new phase, figured out how to best survive in these new conditions, and acted to succeed. This is the Hakka story, repeated over and over, as they migrated all over the world. For me, Dr Kong distilled the essence of being Hakka in just one word, “Adaptation.”

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Toronto Hakka restaurants

Chili Chicken at Royal Seafood Chinese Restaurant

Chili Chicken at Royal Seafood Chinese Restaurant

In my last post I asked for Hakka restaurant recommendations in the Toronto area. With my upcoming trip to the Toronto Hakka Conference, I wanted to try some of the local Hakka food. Interestingly, most of the suggestions feature Hakka-Indian food (aka Indian-style Hakka Chinese Cuisine). Hakka chefs from India created this cuisine by blending Indian spices with Chinese cooking techniques. Often the resulting dishes such as Chili Chicken, Crispy Ginger Beef, and Shrimp Pakoras have a crisp texture and spicy flavor that customers love.

A few people also mentioned a couple of new restaurants run by young Hakka chefs who grew up in Canada and trained in Europe. Their parents are Hakka who migrated from  Jamaica or South Africa and India. Their cooking reflects their multi-cultural background.  Based on their online menus, a few dishes reflect Hakka inspiration, but most of the dishes are creative fusions cooked with Western techniques.

With the concentration of Hakka population in Toronto, I am puzzled why there aren’t restaurants that feature Hakka Chinese food. At Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant and Esquire Great Eastern Restaurant–both Hakka Indian restaurants–I have eaten Hakka Chinese food in the past. Friends called the restaurant in advance to arrange for a Hakka Chinese meal. So perhaps, you need to call in advance to see if the chef is willing to cook a Hakka Chinese meal. I see on the website of Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant, they now offer some Hakka Chinese dishes. Also where are the Hakka-Caribbean, Hakka-Singapore/Malaysia, Hakka-Taiwan, Hakka Mauritian restaurants?

Following are the suggestions from local Hakka. I haven’t tried them yet except for Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant who I interviewed for The Hakka Cookbook.

Royal Chinese Seafood Restaurant, 735 Middlefield Rd. Unit 4- 5, Scarborough, ON M1V 5H5, Tel. 416 292 8888

Fedrick Restaurant,160 New Delhi Drive (off Markham Rd) , Markham Tel. 905 472 1682 OR 1920 Ellesmere Rd, Scarborough, ON M1H 2V6 Tel. 416 439 9234

Lotus Garden, 3460 Danforth Ave. Toronto, ON M1L 1E1 Tel. 416 686 7500

Lin Garden Restaurant,1806 Pharmacy Ave. Scarborough, ON M1T 1H6, Tel. 416 491 8484

Wanlee Loy, 5651 Steeles Ave. E. #7, Scarborough, Toronto, ON M1V 5P6, Tel. 416 291 4699

Patois,794 Dundas Street W, Toronto ON  M6J  1V1, Tel. 647.350.8999

Dailo, 503 College St. (at Palmerson Blvd), Toronto, ON M6J 2J3,  Tel.647 341 8882

 

 

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Hakka in Toronto

Poster#1 THC2016 copyI’m working on my presentation for the upcoming Toronto Hakka Conference. Of course, I will be talking about food.

I will be in Toronto a few extra days and wonder where to eat. Do you have any suggestions for restaurants with Hakka chefs in the Toronto area? Would love to know where you eat and what your favorite dishes are. What’s new? I know many Hakka chefs come from India but have heard there are some with Jamaican roots. Please share your suggestions with me!

Visit Toronto Hakka Conference to register and see the program. From July 1 to 3, participants have a chance to meet Hakka from all over the world. Listen to experts speak about subjects ranging from Hakka genealogy, food, dialects, history, and much more. The Toronto area holds a concentration of Hakka from that spans the globe. At my first conference in 2008 I connected with many Hakka and interviewed them for The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World.

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Stir-fried Chinese lettuce

Chinese lettuceLast weekend, I saw the whole stalks of Chinese lettuce (芹 萵) sold in San Francisco Chinatown. With leafy greens sprouting from a long, thick stem, it looks like a little tree. This vegetable goes by many names–A-choy, stem lettuce, Taiwan lettuce, celtuce, won sun, ching woh, qin woh sun. The tops resemble romaine lettuce, which makes a good substitute. The thick stems have the texture of broccoli stems or kohlrabi with a lettuce flavor.

In China, I saw the vegetable sold with leaves attached to the stalk. In America, I find the tops and stems are often sold separately. The thick stalk-like stem resembles a broccoli stem in texture. Peel it deeply reach the tender interior. Slice the stems to use for pickles, stir-fries, and soups. The leaves can be cut and stir-fried or added to soups.

Stir-fried Chinese LettuceOn page 57 of The Hakka Cookbook, try the recipe for Stir-Fried Chinese Lettuce, Garlic, and Black Beans. If you can’t find the Chinese lettuce, use romaine lettuce but cut the leaves in half lengthwise if wider than 3 inches. The process is simple. Cut the lettuce leaves into about 3-inch lengths. Wash and drain well. In a hot wok, stir-fry sliced or small whole garlic cloves, fermented black beans, and minced fresh ginger in oil until aromatic. Then add lettuce pieces, a splash of water, and a little soy sauce to taste. Stir-fry just until leaves are slightly wilted. Enjoy!

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Cooking classes at home

grokker videoInterested in watching cooking, yoga, and fitness classes at home on demand from your computer or other device? I cook Chinese dishes (including some Hakka recipes) on a subscription food and fitness website www.grokker.com  You will find 59 experts teaching cuisines from all over the world plus other topics such as healthy eating, baking, gluten-free, vegan, and techniques. After all that eating, choose from over 2000 yoga and fitness videos with topics that range from pilates to Hatha yoga.

Grokker is offering a special promotional price to my friends. For $99 for a 1-year subscription (45% off normal price) you have full access to the site. If you’re interested in this special price, use these codes: Checkout code: lindaa99 OR https://grokker.com/create-account/lindaa99 OR http://grok.kr/yhr9da  Cancel anytime.

For a preview glimpse, check out this video on how to cook Hakka Noodles with Pork and Mushroom Sauce.

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Hakka in Suriname

Bitter melon braised with Madame Jeanette pepper, 5-spice powder, star anise, garlic

Bitter melon braised with Madame Jeanette pepper, 5-spice powder, star anise, garlic

Before I met Stuart Lee at the Toronto Hakka Conference 2012, I did not know Suriname, his home country. I learned this former Dutch plantation colony is located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America with Guyana to the West and Brazil to the south. Many Hakka, as well as many other ethnic groups, live there.

Recently Stuart shared photos of the diverse food culture of his home country. Here are some of his photos and comments.

Stuffed tofu (ngiong fukah) by Surinamese Creole

Stuffed tofu (ngiong fukah) by Surinamese Creole

The Hakka placed their footprints on Suriname in 1853. Their contribution to the New World is huge. Chinese medicine, foods, kite flying, fireworks, mahjong–all ethnic groups in Suriname use these gifts from the Chinese. Their influence is seen in many Surinamese dishes, often blended with local ingredients, and multi-cultural tastes.

Chicken in hoisin and wine sauce with ever-present yellow pepper

Chicken in hoisin and wine sauce with ever-present yellow pepper

 

 

Dutch split pea soup with Chinese dumplings

Dutch split pea soup with Chinese dumplings

 

“As Suriname is probably the third most ethnic diverse country after USA and Canada,” says Lee, “ it is not uncommon for us to eat a lunch or dinner plate with boiled or fried cassava, plantains, ham choy with chicken and a sambal made with chicken hearts, gizzards and livers.” Dutch, Indonesian, Jewish, Hindustan, and African also play a strong role in this multi-cultural cuisine.

Pom, national dish of Suriname

Pom, national dish of Suriname

All cultures also embrace the Suriname national dish Pom. It is only available in Suriname, Holland and the Netherlands Antilles. “I have to thank the Jews who came to Suriname 400 years ago for inventing this dish!”

This baked casserole is made with root called pomtayer, similar to taro used to make poi. “I think the root is only grown in Suriname by the descendants of African slaves or the Creoles. My Mom marinates it with orange juice for the nice orange color, fills it with braised chicken and salted cured beef. The salted beef is also a Jewish influence. My grandfather and father would import shiploads of salted beef that were packed in wooden barrels similar to the wine barrels. Hakkas like my family were the ones who got the salted cured beef from New Brunswick. We also imported salted cod from Halifax that were the size of a small desk and came in jute bags and also salted pig tails, salted herring from Holland, and cured hams from Virginia. All these were poor man’s foods.”

Thanks to Stuart Lee for sharing a glimpse into the Surinamese diverse culinary history.

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Hakka soul food cooking class

IMG_1363I have been busy giving cooking classes and slide presentations at four branches of the San Mateo County Library the past two weeks. This Saturday, February 20, marks my last event in East Palo Alto. Come to learn about the Chinese migrants known as the Hakka and Chinese New Year foods and traditions. I will cook three Hakka soul food dishes and tastings follow. If you have a copy of The Hakka Cookbook, bring it and I will be happy to personally autograph it. There will also be copies for sale.

IMG_3853I love meeting people at these presentations. In Foster City, I met a young couple who told me they had cooked three recipes from The Hakka Cookbook for their Chinese New Year’s dinner. These were some of the more labor-intensive Hakka classics such as Salt-baked Chicken, Stuffed Tofu, and Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens. I am so proud of them!

One member of the Millbrae audience said her father was Hakka from Jamaica. She was thrilled to buy a book with her Hakka history. Another attendee told me she had read the book from cover to cover and appreciated the research and stories. She admitted she was not much of a cook so she focused on the simpler recipes. She was so happy that the results were successful.

Comments like these are my reward.  When a person understands and uses the book, it makes all those years of research and testing worthwhile.

Catch the last event: February 20, Saturday, 2 pm. East Palo Alto Library, 2415 University Ave., East Palo Alto, CA 94303. 650. 321. 7712, ext. 225.

 

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Chinese New Year cooking class

LNY Double Cooking ProgramHappy Year of the Monkey! Visit the Millbrae Library Tuesday night, February 9 for a special double-header Chinese New Year event.

Come at 6 pm to see Jimmy Zhang, founder of Art Chef, Inc., carve fruit and vegetables into intricate shapes.

At 6:30 pm I will be showing slides on Hakka soul food and history and Chinese New Year. Watch me cook three dishes adapted from The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World. Stay for a taste of the Ginger-Garlic Noodles, Snow Peas and Tofu Stir-fry, and Chinese Lettuce with Garlic and Black Beans. Bring your copy of The Hakka Cookbook and I will be happy to sign it. I will also have a few copies of The Hakka Cookbook for sale. Advance sign-up needed. Click here to sign up for the event.

The library is located at 1 Library Avenue in Millbrae, California. I hope to see you there. If you can’t make it, come to my cooking class at Foster City Library on 2/11/16 at 6:30 pm or East Palo Alto Library on 2/20/16 at 2 pm. Click here for more details.

 

 

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Chinese New Year

IMG_7650Khiung Hee Fat Choy! Wishing you a prosperous new year! Welcome to the Chinese year 4714 on the lunar calendar which begins on February 8, 2016. This is the year of the monkey.

Last night, I gave the first of four presentations for the San Mateo County Libraries on Chinese New Year and Hakka Soul Food (click here for event schedule). In my talk, I showed slides of many foods eaten during the two-week celebration.

Many dishes served for the Chinese New Year dinner have ingredients with auspicious meanings or symbolism. The Chinese word for fish sounds like abundance. Spring rolls look like gold bars and kumquats resemble gold coins. Green vegetables suggest growth in business. Noodles symbolize long life.

taro abacus beadsI also included photos of Hakka new year specialties such as Taro Abacus Beads (芋 頭 算 盤 子 Hakka: wu tiuh sun pan jue) that I tasted in Malaysia and Singapore. These chewy disks made from mashed taro and tapioca flour are shaped to resemble the counting beads on a Chinese abacus. Boiled and stir-fried they likely represent wealth. In Hong Kong, the popular multi-course banquet layered in a wash basin known as Basin Feast (盆 萊 Hakka: puhn choi) represents unity.

Last year I conducted an informal survey in Facebook Hakka groups and found many people serve humble family favorites such as Steamed Minced Pork with Egg or steamed fish. Others opt for more labor intensive Hakka specialties such as Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Green (扣 肉 梅 菜 Hakka: kiu ngiuk moi choi).

I am still planning my menu.  What are you cooking for Chinese New Year Dinner?

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