I recently sat down with (aka sent an email to and got a response from) my dad, a former restaurant chef and owner, to whom I am indebted for my stubbornly pudgy physique and love of home-cooked Chinese food. My last meal on earth would undoubtedly include some of his dishes — maybe a classic Chinese soup of simmered pork bones, wintermelon, and wood ear, soy and vinegar-braised chicken feet, saucy tomato and eggs over rice or steamed eggs with “fun see” drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil, and a couple salmon steaks with lemon and butter, for starters. He’s the reason I crave peanut butter and carbs for breakfast, have an overdeveloped sweet tooth, and could probably survive on steamed fish alone. In college I frequently had cravings for the food of my childhood, and I feel blessed to have grown up dining daily on quality meals. For my dad, food really is the vehicle for expressing love and all its related sentiments, for better or worse.
Basically, it’d be wrong not to start out this interview series with my dad, considering how much of my experience of food is filtered through him. When I thought of questions to ask him, I realized how little I knew about his food preferences. I’m always so focused on what I like about his cooking that I hadn’t really given much thought to what he favors and how he views food.
Q: Dad, I’m curious to know what your favorite food was when you were a child?
A: My favorite food was flat noodle roll-ups with dry shrimp and green scallion (chu-cheung-fun), eaten with soy sauce, hoisin sauce and hot sauce.
Q: Dad, I know from first-hand experience that you are an excellent chef. Do you have any secrets or shortcuts to cooking the way you do?
A: I want to let you know I am not an excellent chef, but I enjoy cooking. I enjoy to prepare meals for my family. My secrets are that I learn from failure [and] I try to eat out to see what other people do and learn from them.
Q: Describe one of your most memorable restaurant meals.
A: When I was young in HK, I didn’t cook and I didn’t know how to cook. I couldn’t not afford eat out in HK. I did sometimes eat at the stands on the street (called tai-pai-don). They were a lot cheaper. My most memorable meals always were roast goose with fresh thick rice-noodle soup, roast duck with egg-noodle soup and wonton noodle soup.
Q: Complete this sentence with the first ingredient, dish, or cuisine that comes to your mind: “I cannot imagine life without…”
A: …salt, ginger, and green scallion for steamed fish.
Q: Tell me one dish you would want me to cook for you on Father’s Day.
A: I like surprises, I am looking foward to that. I have so much fun and enjoy answering these questions.
Even though he’s a man of few words, I can tell that his memories of food are strong. It makes me angry to think that as children, my parents were so hard-pressed that they couldn’t afford to eat proper meals. When I see my mom scraping the mold off a piece of bread as if it were dust on a tabletop, or do something similarly telling, I often get blindsided by waves of fury. On the other hand, they have internal constitutions I couldn’t begin to match and I know they are survivors, through and through. I’m proud of my Dad’s cooking skills (I brag about them all the time), but I’m even prouder of the lack of self pity, the mettle to rise above his circumstances, and the commitment to his family that his life represents to me. Now that I’ve made myself sufficiently teary-eyed, I think my work here is done 🙂