Thai Rooster bowls with Hakka roots

In January, photos of charming Chinese bowls with a distinctive colorful rooster pattern caught my eye in the Bangkok Post’s feature article. Little did I know, that these rooster bowls had Hakka roots.

The story was about Yupin Dhanabadeesakul, a woman who was following her Chinese immigrant father’s footsteps in their family ceramics business. Her father, Simyu Sae-chin migrated from Guangdong to Thailand during China’s civil war. He was a ceramic craftsman and when he discovered kaolin clay near Lampang, he opened a ceramic factory and crafted bowls hand painted with a colorful rooster, the same design he used in China. When I read about his Chinese roots, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was Hakka.

Yupin Dhanabadeesakul , owner with Hakka roots, still works in the family ceramics factory

Almost a year later, I found myself in Chiang Mai, not far from Lampang. I remembered the article about the rooster bowls and suggested we visit the Dhanabadee factory. There is a museum, factory outlet and workshop where you can paint ceramic objects with your own design. Our grand children painted elephants while their parents shopped. While their painted ceramic elephants were fired in the kiln, we went on a fascinating tour of the museum that highlights the family company’s history and the production of the ceramics.

I was surprised to see Yupin, the daughter of the founder featured in the article, humbly working on the production line, trimming clay bowls. After our tour we asked if we could take a photo with the owner. She gladly agreed. My husband asked her in Thai if she was Chinese Hakka ( จีนแคะ Jeen  Kae.) She answered yes, but her father wanted to make it easier for his children to assimilate in his new country so he gave his children a Thai name. Even with her Thai name, Yupin epitomizes the spirit and tenacity of the hard-working Hakka woman.

Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum Address 543 M.1, T.GLOUYPAE, A.MUANG, LAMPANG 52000 THAILAND Tel. (+66) 05435 4011-2

Register for New York Hakka Conference

Opening night at the first New York Hakka Conference in 2015

Want to meet other Hakka? Learn about famed Hakka author Han Suyin who wrote about her Hakka ancestors. Listen to new Hakka voices such as Tao Leigh and Henry Chang who will share how to tell your Hakka story. Interested in visiting the Hakka roundhouses in Fujian province that have been declared UNESCO world heritage site? Record your own Hakka story narrative?

These are just a few of the workshops offered at the second New York Hakka Conference held from August 4 to 6, 2017 in New York’s Chinatown. More workshops will be added in the coming weeks. Register now for “Reclaiming our Hakka Heritage.” Discount conference hotel prices ends July 6. Advance registration price for 2 day conference is discounted. On-site registration, day passes, and student tickets also available.

 

Holiday gift: The Hakka Cookbook

large version of cover of The Hakka Cookbook

Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook 2012 by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Need a holiday gift for your Hakka children or foodie friend? Consider The Hakka Cookbook. It’s a perfect and unique gift especially for Hakka who want to learn more about their history, heritage, and cuisine. The book tells the story of the migration of China’s “guest people” known as the Hakka. It follows my journey to discover my own Hakka identity as I travel and interview Hakka throughout the world. These transplanted Hakka share their stories and their food. Through the easy-to-follow recipes, cook your way to the Hakka soul.

Ask your local bookstore to order The Hakka Cookbook for you. Or buy online. Check this link for sources and details. Online retailers such as Amazon (North America, France, Germany, UK, Japan, and Canada) and Kinokuniya Online Store Bookweb (Southeast Asia) have sold the book in the past.

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.

 

 

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.”

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.

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.

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.

 

Hakka Cookbook for holiday gifts

The Hakka Cookbook (med)Looking for a gift for someone who loves to explore new cuisines and enjoys culinary history? Do they like to cook and eat Chinese food? If so, consider giving them The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World. My book contains more than recipes. It also holds history, art, and personal stories.

My book uncovers the “soul food” of the Chinese migrants known as the Hakka. It is the result of my exploration to find my own Hakka identity and culinary history. As I traveled and interviewed Hakka around the world, I realized that the keepers of the Hakka recipes were the older generation. I wrote the book to preserve the recipes and stories of these relatively unknown Chinese migrants who live in scattered communities all over the world. If you have Hakka friends, relatives, or grandchildren, this would be a meaningful book to help them understand their history and food.

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2012 recognized The Hakka Cookbook as the “Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World.”

Order the book from your local bookstore or explore online bookstores such as Amazon or Kinokuniya. Click here for more options on where to buy The Hakka Cookbook, by Linda Lau Anusasananan, published by University of California Press. Read the reviews and articles written about the book to help you decide.

New York Hakka Conference

IMG_0728When I attended my first Hakka conference in Toronto in 2008, a feeling of belonging overwhelmed me. It was the first time I was in the company of so many Hakka, guest people like me. All my life I lived mostly in a Western world, feeling different than most Chinese who spoke Cantonese or Mandarin. I knew few Hakka.

The feeling of finding family came again when I attended the first New York Hakka Conference last weekend. Reclaiming our Hakka heritage was the theme. Co-chairs Dr. Keith Lowe and Paula Madison Williams succeeded in bringing Hakkas together to learn about their shared roots and history. From the evening of October 16 to October 18, attendees immersed themselves in Hakka culture, often with a Jamaican vibe since many of the attendees had Jamaican roots.

We listened to speakers discuss how to find our Hakka roots through Chinese names and cemetery records. We learned about the Chinese success as shopkeepers, bakers, and businessmen in the Caribbean. We saw photos of Hakka earth buildings and Hakka food. Revealing films took us into the lives of Hakka searching for their long lost families in China, growing up in China, and living in India.

The Hakka are one people with a shared history. Find your Hakka heritage at next year’s Fifth Toronto Hakka Conference, July 1 to 3, 2016.