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.”

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

 

 

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.

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.

Many places, one people

Opening reception at the Toronto Hakka Conference

Just back from the Toronto Hakka Conference 2012.  This past weekend I spent time with Hakka Chinese from all over the world learning about our shared culture and history.

The keynote speaker Professor Shiu Loon Kong said that Hakka is a spirit, not a people. It dominates and facilitates people’s thinking and behavior. Hakka people were open-minded, proud, and strong. They emigrated all over the world. You could see that in the attendees who had migrated from India, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Trinidad, Surinam, Taiwan, and  Malaysia.

In sessions we learned about the Hakka life in these countries. Speakers introduced how to trace our family tree and make lei cha (pounded tea).  I showed a slideshow of Hakka food from around the world. We heard traditional mountain songs as well as Hakka pop music.

Thanks especially to chairs Carol Wong and Professor Keith Lowe for organizing such a thoughtful and educational conference. It was truly a special experience for the “guest people” who built China.